Alex Smith

Health Reporter

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. 

Alex began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. He became health reporter at KCUR in January 2014.
 

Ways to Connect

UMKC

Some of Kansas City’s largest health organizations announced on Friday the launch of a collaboration centered on Hospital Hill.

The “UMKC Health Sciences District” includes the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Truman Medical Centers, Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, among other partners.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Inside a yoga studio in midtown Kansas City, Ayurvedic medicine practitioner Sarah Kucera does a consultation for a client.

In some ways, the consultation isn’t that different from a regular doctor’s checkup. Kucera asks about the patient’s health history, diet and exercise regimen while typing notes on a laptop.

But there are differences. The Ayurvedic remedies that Kucera prescribes are mostly plant-based – things like herbs and oils which are thought to be beneficial to various parts of the body.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Pretty Prairie, Kansas, population 680, had a moment in the spotlight during the confirmation hearings for new Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran mentioned Pretty Prairie as an example of a community that’s struggling because of EPA regulations that Pruitt could ease.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Medical researchers have made a lot of progress developing artificial versions of organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys, but one thing has stumped them: artificial blood.

Pixabay — Creative Commons

Prisoners from Jackson County have been removed from the Johnson County Jail in Missouri following an outbreak of violence in the facility on Thursday evening.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Many millennials now launching into adulthood have their hands full — jobs, homes and partners. But 33-year-old Ford Inbody already is thinking about a time when he won't be able to work.

He has Parkinson's disease.

Every night after work, he and his wife, Cortney, walk their two dogs through their neighborhood in Overland Park. These days, going out for an evening's stroll is easy. But many of their evening conversations revolve around a time they know is coming — when these walks will be more difficult.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

Bryan Sheppard, who was convicted for the explosion that killed six firefighters in 1988 and was given a life sentence without parole, was resentenced Friday afternoon to 20 years, meaning he will soon be a free man.

As U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. pronounced the sentence in the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, family and friends of Sheppard’s began weeping audibly. Sheppard lowered his head.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

You don’t have to drive far in Missouri to see billboards offering help to pregnant women. They’re part of the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, which has seen a big increase in public funding in recent years.

This year’s legislative debate on the program focuses on a new question: What kind of information should these centers provide to women?

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

The Olathe bar shooting survivor being hailed as a hero on Tuesday joined the chorus of people calling on President Trump to denounce the targeting of two men because of their race.

Ian Grillot, 24, who tried to stop a gunman when he opened fire at Austins Bar & Grill last Wednesday, says he believes the shooter singled out the two Indian victims because of their ethnicity and hopes President Trump will address the incident.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Anti-abortion groups in Missouri helped boost many Republican candidates to victory in November, and they’re now eagerly waiting to see how those lawmakers advance their cause.

Missouri legislators have filed dozens of restrictive abortion bills, including two that would outlaw abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy rather than the current 21-weeks and six days.

Supporters say late-term abortion bans protect the unborn, but opponents say they create undue hardships for women. One such opponent is a Missouri woman who had to leave the state to end her fraught pregnancy,

Wikimedia Commons

Echinacea has become one of the more common natural remedies for colds, but the herb has deep roots across many cultures in the Great Plains, used at times to treat everything from burns to toothaches to snake bites.

questdiagnostics.com

When Amanda January was growing up in Gardner, Kansas, regular doctor’s visits weren’t a regular thing at all.

“When I was a kid we almost never went to the doctor,” January says. “I was rarely sick. My siblings were rarely sick. We just didn’t go.”

She’s now a dancer and Pilates teacher who works hard to manage her health, but she’s still skeptical about doctors.

“Some doctors might care more about paying off their student loans than their patients,” she says.

On a chilly winter morning, dozens of truck driver trainees file into a classroom at the headquarters of Prime Inc., a trucking company based in Springfield, Mo.

At the front is Siphiwe Baleka, an energetic former swimming champion in his mid-40s. He delivers grim news about trucker health to the new recruits.

"If you haven't started to think about this, you need to start right now," Baleka says. "You are about to enter the most unhealthy occupation in America."

Tom Schroeder / Kansas City Wildlands

It took bee expert Mike Arduser about seven months to discover all the bee species living in two small patches of nature preserve in Kansas City.

But with a net and a lot of patience, he found something unexpected: 89 different bee species – including two never before seen in Missouri – pollinating flowering plants.

The surprising diversity is good news for conservationists because many of the bees evolved to fill narrow niches and serve vital roles in pollinating specific native plants.

Alex Smith / KCUR

On a chilly winter morning, dozens of truck driver trainees file into a classroom at the headquarters of Prime Inc., a trucking company based in Springfield, Missouri.

At the front is Siphiwe Baleka, an energetic African American in his mid-40s. The former swimming champion delivers grim news about trucker health to the new recruits.

“If you haven’t started to think about this, you need to start right now,” Baleka says. “I’m gonna tell it to you straight, OK? You are about to enter the most unhealthy occupation in America.”   

BikeWalkKC

Kansas City will reassess its approach to accommodating cyclists, City Manager Troy Schulte told the city council Thursday.

His announcement came in response to a new audit showing the city failing to achieve its goals of becoming more bike friendly.

The audit concluded that the city’s on-street bike plan, Bike KC, lacks critical elements to serve the needs of cyclists and the city’s multi-modal transportation goals.

The failure to update the plan and follow the recommendations of a public committee have led to project delays and increased costs.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Many pet owners expect to be able to bring their furry friends everywhere – to restaurants, to the grocery store, on planes – and now some want even more doors to open up.

Increasing numbers of domestic violence shelters are accepting the pets of owners who have experienced abuse, and a federal proposal would set up funding for even more to do so.

There’s more a stake that just keeping owners and pets together. Supporters say accommodating pets can be a matter of life and death.

Elana Gordon / KCUR

Planned Parenthood Great Plains says it has been flooded with support since the national election in November.

The women's health organization, which serves Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, says that between Nov. 8 and Dec. 1, it has received three times the amount of donations it receives in a typical month.

Spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore says around 200 volunteers have signed up during the same period, compared to around 10 in an average month.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Most Tuesday mornings, the Palestine Senior Activity Center in Kansas City is a pretty quiet place. But recently, high schoolers, community workers and seniors crowded the parking lot. Lots of curious neighbors peeked from porches and through the gates to see what the buzz was about.

With a cue from Lynn Miller of Palestine Missionary Baptist Church, a booming beat exploded from a PA system, and the parking lot crowd seemed to transform into a lockstep dance troupe.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Last week’s election results stunned a lot of people who get health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress say they want to scrap the law, but what might replace it remains unknown.

That has left many Missouri and Kansas families in limbo, unsure what will become of their medical care.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For many Missouri health advocates, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax is long overdue.

At 17 cents per cigarette pack, it’s the lowest in the country by far – a fraction of the tax in many states. And it hasn’t changed since 1993.

Groups like the American Lung Association say Missouri’s low cigarette prices are a major reason the state has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. Twenty-two percent of Missouri adults smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oregon.gov

When individual health insurance plans go on sale on healthcare.gov next week, many Missourians will probably be more than a little shocked to see some rate increases as high as 40 percent.

Similar increases are popping up nationwide, but different states have different powers to address them.

Take Oregon, for example.

Each year around late April, insurance companies send the state their proposed rates, starting a conversation about what’s fair based on the cost of health care and the health of customers.

Chiming Huang

Revelations about the grave dangers of concussions have led to numerous lawsuits brought by college and pro football players and have prompted many parents and health advocates to question whether children and teams should even be playing contact sports.

Not so fast, say a growing group of researchers, who hope to save football by building a better helmet.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At his apartment in Olathe, Kansas, 42-year-old Nick Fugate catches up on washing dishes and remembers the 22 years he spent doing it at a local hotel, trying to stay on top of a never-ending-stream of plates, glasses and silverware.

Nick recalls minor annoyances like the long days, the hot kitchen and his fingers pruning in the water. It could be tedious, but he says he didn’t really mind.

“Just as long as I got the job done, it was fine,” Nick says.

FinisherPix

For a handful of triathletes training in a pool at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, simply swimming laps is too easy.

Instead, they’ve got their legs constricted so their arms do the work of dragging their bodies through the water.

Kansas City, it seems, is an Ironman triathlon training destination for reasons that might surprise the locals. Triathlete Sarah Piampiano says she comes here because the area in late summer is a lot like… Hawaii.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Mat Smith and Ben Stickler are in training.

The two twenty-somethings from the Kansas City area are working to improve their rankings in the online game League of Legends. Stickler says the strategy and competition remind him of the sports he played growing up.

“You can see yourself getting better,” Stickler says. “You can challenge yourself as you get better. And just play with people that are as well as you and really bond over that.”

Donna Ginther / University of Kansas

University of Kansas economist Donna Ginther made waves in 2011 with her studies showing racial disparities in research grant awards, which led the National Institutes of Health to start an initiative to address the issue. She says the problem isn’t necessarily bias on the part of those who award grants but lack of mentors and training for diverse communities.

Ginther recently sat down with KCUR’s Alex Smith to talk about her latest work on the issue, which factors in gender. She and her colleagues looked at NIH R01 grants awarded between 2000 and 2006.

user Mrd7b2 / Wikipedia

Medical information for hundreds of patients has been stolen from an area hospital.

Children’s Mercy Hospital, based in Kansas City, released a statement Wednesday reporting that information for 238 patients was stolen from the locked trunk of an employee’s care.

“We are very sensitive to these families’ concerns and have apologized to them,” the statement read.

The hospital said that the information does not include patients’ addresses, social security numbers or financial information.

McKinnon Motorsports

For anyone who knows Elyse McKinnon, it’s hard to imagine her not tearing down a race track on a motorcycle.

But life without racing is just what the 30-year-old had to consider after a tragic crash in the summer of 2015 left her with a broken back.  

McKinnon and her husband, Chris McKinnon, of Lawrence, Kansas, have been avid motorcyclists since moving to the Midwest from Florida shortly after Elyse graduated from college.

Elyse says her competitive drive prompted her transition from weekend rider to competitive drag racer.

Tyler Koonce / Twitter

Rounds of heavy rain fell Friday evening leading to flash flooding in parts of the Kansas City metro area. Up to six inches fell in just two hours on parts of the city, leaving some downtown and Midtown roads impassable.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the immediate downtown Kansas City area. It was the first flash flood emergency ever issued for the Kansas City area by the NWS.

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