Infant Action Cognition Lab at StFX

Infant action cognition lab IACL stfx

Have you heard of the Infant Action Cognition Lab (IACL)? Infants 4-months and older, and their parent/guardian residing in Antigonish and surrounding areas, can volunteer in a fun research study at our child-friendly lab at the St. Francis Xavier University!

Our studies involve exploring toy objects and watching others explore objects on our eye tracker, to help us learn about how infants learn! We investigate how babies learn to understand and perform actions as well as how babies understand the actions of others around them. This information can be useful in helping us understand what babies know about things like an object’s weight, or motion such as walking. It can also help to inform interventions in the future to facilitate learning.

You can set up an appointment for anytime that works for you and your baby (usually 9:00-4:00pm Monday to Friday, but we are flexible).

The studies take place in J. Bruce Brown (Biology building) and we have free designated parking available.

Heres’ what to expect:

As you pull into the parking lot off Notre Dame Avenue, you will be greeted by a lab member who will provide a parking pass and direct you to the nearest parking space. The lab member may be one of our friendly senior researchers or undergraduate research assistants, and if you want, will help you carry things while accompanying you to our research lab (room 334B).

Once you and your baby are ready, we will review the study with you and give you the opportunity to ask any questions you might have. You will also be told that your participation is strictly confidential, and that you are welcome to withdraw from the study at any point if you wish. After you’ve signed a study consent form, we will have you fill out a brief demographics form asking some very general information (e.g., age of siblings). Then we will begin the study! Most studies are 20-30 minutes but could range up to 60 minutes.

IACL Eyetracker
IACL Eyetracker

Throughout the study, we can take breaks as you or your baby may need. Diaper changes and feeding are welcome at any time. We have a diaper changing station and are a breastfeeding friendly environment. We can also accommodate for other children (e.g., older siblings) that have accompanied you to the appointment.

Most studies involve sitting with your baby on your lap as they explore an object or having your baby watch a short video clip (45-90 seconds) while we track their eye movements. For some studies, we apply reflective markers over areas of your baby’s arms or legs so that we can measure how they are moving. For example, we do a study about stepping experience where we would have you support your baby’s weight over a baby treadmill while they take steps with reflective markers on their legs so we can learn about their movement patterns. All of our studies are intended to be a positive and playful experience for babies!

This information can be useful to help facilitate learning during caregiver-infant interactions and help design interventions for infants at-risk for developmental delays.

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At the end of the appointment, you will be offered a certificate with your baby’s picture on it as a keepsake.

The overall theme of work in the lab is to investigate how babies learn to understand and perform actions (e.g., with toys, or walking), as well as understand the actions of others around them.

The two competing ideas that we evaluate with our studies are: Do babies only understand other peoples’ actions after they have learned to do the actions themselves (i.e., “that person is like me”)? Or, do babies need to first understand other peoples’ actions before they can learn to carry out the action themselves (i.e., “I’m like you”).

Interested in volunteering? Contact us at (902) 867-5411 to up an appointment.

Megan MacGillivray PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Infant Action and Cognition Lab |  ANChoR Lab
StFX University | Department of Psychology 
Phone 902-867-5411

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10 Common Dental Myths & Misconceptions

dental myths


by Dr. Cameron, D.D.S.

I have been practicing dentistry now for over 29 years, which means a couple of things:

One is… I’m getting really really old. The other is… I’ve heard and seen a lot of funny things from all the patients I’ve been fortunate enough to treat over my career.


So I thought I would write a short article on some of the the myths and misconceptions in dentistry, and although the list I’m providing in this post is by no means all inclusive, or in any special order, it is a sampling of the sometimes erroneous, sometimes funny, and sometimes just really weird things my patients have told me over the years.


So here it goes:

Myth #1

“Pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid seeing the dentist”

In fact, this could not be further from the truth. I encourage all women who are either trying to get pregnant, already pregnant, or recently pregnant and nursing to visit their dentist at their regular 6 month intervals, in some cases I may actually want to see them every three months! There are many changes that occur during pregnancy and many of them can manifest in the mouth. Seeing your dentist during this time will both keep you informed about your health, as well as reduce the need for emergency dental work during pregnancy through proper maintenance.


Myth #2

“It’s only a baby tooth… it will be replaced anyway. No need for my child to see the dentist”

FACT: Baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. A lot of parents are misinformed about this. Children need their teeth for the same reasons as adults, for proper chewing, for proper speech, etc. Imagine your child experiencing a severe toothache just because you haven’t brought him/her to the dentist before. Cavities on baby teeth should be filled and restored before they lead to toothache or infection. They also play a big role in guiding the erupting permanent teeth to the right position. If a baby tooth is removed too early (which can happen due to severe decay), the space for the erupting permanent tooth is usually lost resulting in misalignment. It is important to make sure that your child’s teeth are as healthy as possible. If a child isn’t having their teeth brushed and flossed, odds are they won’t develop proper habits to brush and floss their permanent teeth either, which leads to more severe and expensive dental issues as they get older. So all in all, it is more than just a baby tooth.

baby tooth

Myth #3

“You only need to go to the dentist if your teeth hurt”

You might be aware of the saying “prevention is better than the cure”. What is relatively less heard of is that diagnosing and curing a tooth problem at an earlier stage is much easier and cost-effective than if it were to be addressed later.

Even if you aren’t experiencing dental pain, I recommend seeing your dentist twice (or at least once) a year for regular cleanings and exams. Some dental issues are asymptomatic but can still cause infection and need treatment. If you were to wait too long, the treatment needed may be more expensive than if the disease were caught before it worsened. Also, the tooth has a lesser chance of being saved at a later point in time.

Altogether, prevention saves you both time and money in the long-run.


Myth #4

“My tooth was hurting a lot before, but the pain has gone away. I don’t think I need to see the dentist anymore”

(This is almost the same as Myth #2 I realize, but it is just slightly different enough and I have heard this so many times over the years it is worth repeating a similar message.)

Not only is this terrible advice, but ignoring any tooth pain or trying to “push through” the pain can lead to serious health consequences. Many times the severe pain of a tooth is caused by dental caries (or a cavity) that has reached the nerve inside the tooth. As the nerve gets infected, it begins to die which you feel as pain. Once the nerve has died, you will not feel any pain on that tooth. The infection, however, will remain and if left untreated can lead to an abscess, or the infection can spread to other areas of your body such as your sinus, throat, and even heart.

If you experience tooth pain, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.


Myth #5

“Root canals are painful”

This common belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Root canals, or more accurately, Root Canal Therapy, is the process where a dentist removes the diseased nerve and bacteria from within the tooth while disinfecting and finally sealing the space so that no future infection can occur. During the procedure the area is fully anesthetized so you should not feel anything while the procedure is in progress. Because we are removing the source of infection and pain, you should feel immediate relief after the procedure is complete. Typically only a slight soreness is present for the following hours up to about a day. In contrast, leaving a tooth untreated will lead to more pain in the future and may also lead to a larger infection that can affect your overall health as well as losing a tooth.

Don’t put off root canals for fear of pain!


Myth #6

“Place an Aspirin directly into a sore tooth or sore gum tissue”

You should never place most (if not all) medications directly on the sore area in your mouth. I mention Aspirin in particular because this is the one I have seen my patients actually do quite a few times over the years. This is an old at-home remedy, and it’s completely false. You should never put aspirin directly on or near an aching tooth. After all, you wouldn’t put aspirin on your forehead if you had a headache, would you?

The only safe and effective way to take an aspirin tablet is to swallow it. When you swallow aspirin, it gets absorbed into your body through your digestive tract. It then enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. Aspirin (as well as a number of other types of pain medications) works by stopping the production of prostaglandins, molecules that send pain messages from the injured part of your body to your brain. When the aspirin reaches your aching tooth, it inhibits prostaglandin production there, reducing the pain you feel. So even though it may be tempting to bypass the digestive process by putting the aspirin directly on your tooth, it just doesn’t work that way.  Also Aspirin is  fairly acidic and can cause actual burns in a patients oral tissues which can cause more pain then their original source of discomfort.


Myth #7

“I brush properly, I don’t need to floss”

Wrong…! Brushing cleans only 65% of your teeth. What about the other 35%? These are the surfaces in between your teeth which the toothbrush cannot reach (even if you use ultra-thin bristles). Only dental floss can remove food debris stuck in those areas. Neglecting to floss (which ideally you should do at least once a day) may lead to cavities you won’t even notice because… yes, you guessed it right… they’re formed in between your teeth and can be detected only by dental x-rays.  Also next to proper dental cleanings, flossing is a patient’s best defense against Periodontal (Gum) Disease, which is the #1 cause of tooth loss in my adult patients.

Myth # 8

“Oral health is not connected to the rest of the body”

Your oral health is connected to your systemic (overall) health and there are many correlations between your mouth and body. A mouth with severe tooth decay and periodontal disease is more likely to cause bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and result in other health issues. More and more studies are finding links between periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.  I often tell my patients , that if they had a chronic infection in one of their organs i.e. kidney, liver, it not only impairs the function of that particular organ but that infection has a high chance of spreading throughout the rest of your body.  Your mouth is no different.  I have read very sad and extreme cases of dental infections leading to brain abscess, these patients are often hospitalized for months, and they can be fatal, when all that was required was that a simple dental infection in one tooth had to be treated. Your mouth is part of your body …. it almost seems silly to say that in print, but for some reason some patients still fail to make that connection, and their overall health suffers needlessly for years at a time.


Myth #9

“The harder you brush, the cleaner you’ll get your teeth”

FACT: Brushing too hard or with too abrasive of a toothbrush (medium or firm) can actually harm your teeth by eroding some of the hard enamel that protects the inside of the tooth from cavities and decay. I see it so much where people feel like they’re getting them more clean, but they are actually wearing away their enamel and even their gums.  These patients have good intentions , but unfortunately they are just misinformed.  I have seen quite a number of patients who have done this, and they have caused considerable damage to their teeth and gums, and now require extensive treatments to try to save their teeth.  I always recommend a soft, or even an extra soft, bristled brush.  If you are wondering if your toothpaste is too abrasive… an easy way to check, is to seal if it has the “Seal of Approval”  from the Canadian Dental Association, if it has this, you are fine, if it doesn’t you may want to do a bit of research into the brand you are using.


Myth # 10

“You’ve been slacking on brushing and flossing and have a dentist appointment coming up. As long as you brush and floss well before going in, no one will know, right?”

The real deal: Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not getting away with anything. My hygienist and I can tell. Without regular brushing and flossing, hard tartar (calculus) forms around your teeth and at a certain point you can’t get it off with brushing alone. Plus, you can’t undo the inflammation in your gums that occurs when plaque and tartar have accumulated over six months with just a few days of flossing.  So…  “we kind of know when you’ve been bad or good”.  But the good news is, I always tell my patients your dental recall appointment is a great time to get back to your good habits of daily oral health care.


dr-paul-cameronDr. Cameron is a full time General dentist who practices in Antigonish. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors, and he has served on a provincial working group dedicated to the Oral Health of Seniors in our province.

By the same author:

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Beginner’s Guide to Running


by Eric Gillis

Running is a wonderful activity because it’s something we can do straight out our front doors, alone, or with friends. Everyone is genetically built to run no matter the age, or athletic ability.

The key is to manage expectations when you first begin. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Proper pacing

Proper pacing is a runner’s best-friend. I like telling beginner runners, and reminding experienced ones, that you can’t go ‘too easy’ on an easy run.

For pacing an easy run, you should be able to comfortably hold a conversation with someone and not feel winded at the end of the run. Most of my training is done at this easy run pace, 75-80% of all miles run. If you’re like myself, and many other runners I know, you’ll have to remind yourself to slow down. Speeding up is a treat we give ourselves only a few times per week.

Location is key

For your first run, it’s best to pick a location like a track, where you feel comfortable with your surroundings. Starting on a track is pleasant because it has consistent footing, and no hills 😀 You can more easily control variables and work on proper pacing.

Set a goal

Have a goal time or number of laps in mind before starting.  With running, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew, which can be discouraging for your next run. So, like a lot of things, less is more! If you can bike moderately for an hour, but have never ran before, start with 15 minutes, a sensible length of time for a beginner run.

Use the ‘run-walk’ technique

You might find that it helps to break up the 15 minutes into run-walk intervals: run for 3 minutes, then walk for 1 minute. Run for another 3 minutes, then walk again for 1 minute. Repeat this 5 times.

Recovery time

Getting back on your bike the next day, or simply walking, is a great way to recover from the previous day’s run.

Final thoughts

I’ll leave you with this quote, which I really like. I heard Alex Hutchinson, a running/science journalist say it in an interview:

“Most beginner runners overestimate what they can do in the short term, and underestimate what they can do in the long term” – Alex Hutchinson

Run easy and run for fun my friends 😀

Eric Gillis
Marathoner & Olympian
Cross Country and Track & Field Head Coach
St. Francis Xavier University, Athletics Dept.

You might also like:

Staying Active With Persistent Pain


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Mrs. Smiley

smiley face

by Dr. Cameron, D.D.S.

We often will ask a 7 year old if they brushed their teeth today? But we almost never ask a 70 year old this same question…





I started this article with the above question, because unfortunately more and more these days I often find myself asking both these groups and their care takers this question.

About 8 years ago in my practice, I saw a regular long-term patient of mine, she was 71 years old. She had been coming to me for her dental care for close to 20 years. She always had great teeth. She had been very fortunate to receive very good dental care through out her life and her oral hygiene and dietary habits were excellent.

During this one particular exam, this patient, who I will call Mrs. Smiley, seemed just a bit off to me, while I was talking with her before I started my examination. It was during her actual examination where I noticed a huge difference. Mrs. Smiley who had always had immaculate oral hygiene and nice teeth presented with a very different mouth then I was used to seeing. She had plaque and food debris all through out her mouth. Her gingival (gum) tissues were extremely inflamed, very swollen, red and bleeding. She was starting to get decay especially on exposed root surfaces she had on her teeth. After seeing Mrs. Smiley just about every 6 months, for the past 20 years, this came as quite a shock to me. I couldn’t figure out what had caused this change. I immediately sat up Mrs. Smiley, and started to ask her a few questions about her oral hygiene … but she seemed a bit confused and did not quite seem to understand what I was trying to ask her.

I then went out to the waiting room and I asked her husband (Mr. Smiley) if could come into my private office to speak with me. When I started explaining to Mr. Smiley what I saw during my examination, he was very surprised.

So I asked him, “When was the last time you saw your wife brush her teeth?”

He told me, Why she brushes her teeth 3 to 4 times a day, she has done this her whole life.”

Then I had to stop him and ask him again, but this time I asked him, “No, when was the last time you actually saw your wife physically in the act of brushing her teeth?”

When he took a few minutes to think about it, he told me, he can’t remember actually seeing her brush her teeth, but she must have been doing this. Sadly, I had to tell him that she was not, she looked like she had not brushed her teeth in over a week or so.

Even though I am certainly not an expert in dementia, one of the things I do know is that in the early stages of the disease, one of the traits that is noted, is that individuals will sometimes stop performing everyday basic hygiene tasks. Often times these traits start happening so gradually, that the people closest to them do not notice them at first. We are finding that members of the dental team, hygienists and dentists, can sometimes be the first health professionals that can spot some of these early changes that are associated with dementia. We know that cognitive decline has a very significant negative effect on oral health, which of course leads to a decline in the patient’s overall health.

Sadly, Mrs. Smiley did go on to develop dementia, and she was in the very early stages when I first noticed the decline in her oral hygiene. Due to the fact she was diagnosed rather early, and with a very good support system in place (her husband and her adult children), we were able to put into place an oral health plan which would greatly aid her in her oral health care. This plan included increasing the frequency of her routine dental recall visits, so we could provide better and more frequent cleanings and catch any small problems, i.e. cavities, early and treat them easier. She had her support group help her with her home care, brushing and flossing. But still… every now and then, someone has to ask Mrs. Smiley, “Did you brush your teeth today?”


dr-paul-cameronDr. Cameron is a full time General dentist who practices in Antigonish. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors, and he has served on a provincial working group dedicated to the Oral Health of Seniors in our province.

By the same author:

Hike it Baby Antigonish

Hike it baby Antigonish


by Kendra MacEachern

I’m a new mom to an 8 month old and I love hiking, so back in the Fall I started a hiking group for parents and their kids. I was going for walks and hikes with my baby every morning but it was getting lonely. I was hoping to meet more parents like myself who wanted to get outside with their kids.



We started in the Fall and went on walks to the Keppoch, Beaver Mountain, Bethany and around town. I recently changed the group to Hike it Baby which is an international community of parents who hike with their kids. I decided to go ahead with the Hike it Baby because the community already has loads of resources for getting outside with kids and they also publish stories of other parents and their journeys to getting outside. I found it very helpful and inspiring to be part of bigger community because although getting outside and hiking has practically always been a big part of my life, doing it will a baby was scary.

Hike it baby 1


About the group

Hike it Baby Antigonish is group dedicated to connecting families to nature with birth to school age children. It’s a branch of a non-profit US-based organization which is getting families outside all over the world.

Although dedicated to children ages 0-5, we welcome all ages. We also welcome all caregivers. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, anyone with kids! Don’t worry if you need to nurse or change a diaper on the trail, we don’t leave anyone behind. It’s a supportive environment and open to all ability levels.

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The hiking trails

Our favourite trails are the Bethany Contemplative trail, Beaver Mountain and the Keppoch. We have at least one hike a week. Every Tuesday, we meet at Keppoch from 10:00am-12:00pm. We meet in the lodge and decide which trail to do together. As the weather warms up and ice finally goes away expect to see extra hikes throughout the week!

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Hike it Baby 30: a new challenge

Hike it Baby 30 is a quarterly challenge to help motivate families and communities to get out and hike for 30 miles in 30 days or 30 minutes 3 times a week. This can be done with or without Hike it Baby!
We will have a hike at least once a week at Keppoch on Tuesdays. Others will be added throughout the week this month!

Check out Hike it baby 30 for more details.
**Since Canadians do not pay a membership fee there is no free challenge. Also, many of the prizes awarded are to US participants. International participants still have a chance to win, but from a smaller selection which do not have shipping restrictions.


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Become a member of Hike it Baby! Anyone can host hikes! Click here to find out more and join us on Facebook.


See you out there!


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Stephanie Monaghan, Hike it Baby Antigonish Coordinator


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Kendra MacEachern, Hike it Baby Antigonish Coordinator

First Tooth, First Dental Visit

by Dr. Paul Cameron, D.D.S.

“When should I bring my child for their first dental visit?”

As a full time family dentist, I get asked this question a lot.  The answer I give these days is based on recommendations from the Canadian Dental Association, and that is…

“I see infants by age 1 or within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth”


When I started practicing dentistry 27 years ago, this was not the case. Dentists usually did not see a child until they were 3 to 3 ½ years old, because it was very challenging to get an infant to co-operate well enough at any age earlier.

During my career I started to notice that I was seeing a significant number of 3 year olds that already had lots of cavities, which concerned me.  I thought there must be something we can do as dentists to prevent this from happening.

In 2001, I attended a Continuing Education course in Halifax put on by Dr. Ross Anderson, who is the Chief of Pediatric Dentistry at the IWK Hospital.  He was starting an initiative to encourage dentists to see infants at an earlier age, by their 1st birthday.   I started to follow this philosophy almost right away ever since that course.    Dr. Anderson taught me how to do a thorough proper Knee-to-Knee oral examination” of an infant, and he taught me the important things to discuss with a new parent during that visit.


Knee-to-knee examination performed by Dr. Jennifer MacLellan, Paediatric Dental Specialist, IWK

Here are some of the key points

  • The child is facing the parent
  • The parent stabilizes the child’s arms and legs
  • The dentist stabilizes the child’s head on a comfortable flat surface (e.g. pillow)
  • There is constant communication between the child, the parent and the dentist

A complete video of a knee-to-knee oral examination can be viewed here.


Since that time, Dr. Anderson along with a number of other Pediatric Dental Specialists, have made this a National Issue, which the Canadian Dental Association has gotten 100% behind it and is actively promoting to all dentists across Canada.

One of the biggest challenges that I faced at first, was to actually convince the parents that the oral health of their infants was important and how poor oral health could really diminish how a child will grow and learn.  As I mentioned earlier, I was often surprised and dismayed when I saw how much dental disease was already present in my 3-year-old patients.   So now by seeing an infant at 1 year old, it gives the parent and myself an excellent opportunity to discover any issues very early stage and to have a healthy discussion on proper oral health care, including nutrition and home care.

The greatest reward from these early visits is to see the infant with their new parents get onto the right path to oral health at a young age.

There is a lot of information available to young parents on the Internet about oral health, but almost “way too much information”, and it is difficult to determine what information comes from credible sources.  Your dentist should be your “Go-To Expert Resource”, and there is nothing that compares to sitting down one on one with your dental professional to discuss the individual oral health of your child.

firts-tooth-full-pageEven after practicing for 27 years, I still get very excited to see a new 1-year-old patient on my day’s schedule.  To me, I know that is going to be a very productive and rewarding appointment with keen parents who want to do the best for their child, and as well it will be a fun appointment!



Paul Cameron, B.Sc., D.D.S. Antigonish, NS

Dr. Cameron is a full time General dentist. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors.

Five Kids, Hockey, Swimming and a SCAD

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by Micaela Fassina

Since February is Heart Health month, here’s a story for you. My name is Micaela and I survived a heart attack.


I was 44 years old, with 5 children between the ages of 5 and 13. I was relatively healthy, and trying to get into better shape. I was doing aquafit 4 times a week and learning to play hockey in a weekly mom’s clinic offered by our local hockey association. There is no history of heart problems in my family, I don’t smoke, or drink excessively, and I try to eat as healthy as 5 kids and a busy schedule let me. I’m a stay-at-home (or in-the-van) mom: at the time of the heart attack we were in the middle of a kitchen & 2 bathroom renovation and had 4 kids in soccer, 3 kids on swim team, 2 kids in diving and one in synchronized swimming. (Before you say anything, we do not force our children into any activity they don’t want to do – this was all their choice.)

On July 18, 2017, it was business as usual. The kids and I were at our community pool for their daily lessons and my aquafit. However, a child (not mine!) had been sick in the pool and it was closed while it was being shocked with chlorine. So lessons were dry-land, and the moms decided to do “land-fit” instead. I set aside my iced coffee, fully expecting to finish it in half an hour, and sat down to do some sit-ups. Except I couldn’t pull myself up for even one! Ok, on to lunges. Three lunges in, I experienced the strangest thing I’ve ever felt: an explosion radiating out from my chest going down both arms and up my neck into my jaw, and at the same time, a vice clamping down on my chest, all of it painful. I figured it was heat stroke, or sun stroke, or dehydration, or something. I went to sit down, but was now feeling nauseous and I knew something was very wrong. We had just recently lost an acquaintance to an undiagnosed heart attack, and my symptoms mirrored his. So I called my mom to come get the kids and then lay down in the grass. In the 10 years we’ve been members at our pool I never once lay down, so next thing I knew I was surrounded by concerned friends and lifeguards. They called 911, while my sister-in-law called my husband. Other moms were trying to keep my kids occupied and out of the way; apparently one of my kids was swinging a baseball bat around! Two of my kids refused to be distracted and sat watching me at my most helpless. I tried to reassure them, but was so sapped of strength that I could barely talk.

I never lost consciousness and my heart never stopped, but my memories of that time are disjointed and surreal. I remember trying to crack jokes to lighten the mood, and being disappointed that the firemen that answered the call weren’t better looking. I kept on eying my iced coffee hopelessly, wishing I could finish it. A friend rode to the hospital with me, and I made sure that she had grabbed my cross-stitch to bring along, just in case. By the time I was going through triage, I was already feeling better and was hoping it was just an embarrassingly strong case of indigestion. In fact, when my husband arrived at the ER, he didn’t have to ask where I was; he just followed the laughter.

Tests after tests were run: blood work, multiple EKGs, CT scan, ultrasounds and X-rays. Everything was coming back negative, except for one item in my blood work: my troponin levels were rising. Troponin is an enzyme released when the heart has been damaged – proof that I had suffered a heart attack even though I was perfectly healthy according to all other test results. After a night in the ER, it was decided that I would be admitted and sent to have an angiogram, which is a procedure where a catheter is fed through an artery in your wrist (or groin) into your heart. Dye is then injected through the catheter while you watch live X-rays images of your heart pumping. If necessary, this is also the time when stents would be inserted. It took a while, but the cardiologist finally found the remnants of a 30% tear in a secondary artery, which had already scabbed over and was healing by itself. Two days after the actual incident, I had an official diagnosis: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD.

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SCAD affects mainly, but not only, otherwise healthy women of child bearing age. There are no specific or consistent symptoms or warning signs. Some people experience the same pain I did, while others compare it to severe and lingering heartburn. SCAD can be a minor tear like mine, or a full-blown rupture requiring bypass surgery, or instantly fatal. It can recur, but why in some and not others is a mystery. Because SCAD is a rare diagnosis, there is currently not much research or information.

I’m currently on a daily regimen of blood thinners, beta blockers and baby aspirin for at least one year. But there’s nothing I can really do to prevent another SCAD from happening, since no-one can tell me why it happened in the first place! They have ideas: it might have been stress from the reno or over-exertion, or the heat, or my not having had breakfast that morning, or Mercury aligning with Pluto, or Zeus arguing with Poseidon on Mount Olympus… I sometimes wished I had been a smoker or morbidly obese, because at least then there would be a reason for the heart attack, and something concrete I could do to prevent another one from happening. And that is another source of frustration: trying to make people understand that SCAD is different from a “traditional” heart attack. My mother is still trying to rationalize what happened; she remains convinced that there must have been something in my life I could have done differently.

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My life since SCAD has been different, but the same. It took a couple of months for me to feel “normal”. I was not allowed to exercise for 3 months, after which I did a stress test (12 minutes on a treadmill) and got the all clear for everything except heavy lifting and isometric exercises. I’m seeing a psychologist for my PTSD, and thanks to social media, there is a great on-line community of fellow survivors offering support and understanding from around the world.

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My latest cross-stitch project


The initial recovery combined with the medications left me exhausted for quite a while. I have to watch myself and my stress levels, and make sure I have more “me” time and that I don’t over-extend myself – too much. With 5 kids currently in hockey, swimming, music and drama, there are days when I have to be in multiple places at the same time and I don’t know which way to go. But that’s what family, friends, a good support system and carpooling are for. And when I’m having a bad day, it’s ok to say, “I can’t do this” and go hide under the covers for as long as I need. Every time I hear of a woman my age passing away suddenly and for no known reason, I wonder if it was SCAD (Dolores O’Riordan springs to mind). But ultimately, I’m learning to not dwell on the what-ifs and the what-might-be. The most important thing is that I am alive and well right now, and still rocking the mom-wife-daughter-sister-friend thing.


Micaela Fassina, Supermom of Five Montreal, Quebec

5 Memories We Will Always Cherish as Parents of a Preemie



November 17 is World Prematurity Day, a nationally recognized day to raise awareness about premature births and the importance of supporting families with preterm babies.




If you are a parent of a preemie, you will always remember certain moments. Here are my top five.

The ‘dolphin’ sounds

When preemies sleep, most of them make cute clacking noises that resemble dolphin sounds.


Every ounce gained was a milestone

When our son was born at 6 months, weighing 2.99 lbs., every half-ounce he gained was celebrated!


50 paperclips = 0.5 ounce

Kangaroo care time

I looked forward everyday to Kangaroo Care time. Preemies spend most of their time in an incubator, and so not being able to hold them at will can be emotionally difficult for any parent. The Kangaroo Care method, a skin-to-skin method for holding a baby, is known to improve their overall health.


Buying regular size diapers for the first time

We were the happiest parents at the check-out line the day we went to purchase regular newborn size diapers.

preemie diaper

preemie diaper

Preemie diaper… smaller than an ipod touch.


The people who helped us

Like most preemies born in rural areas, our newborn baby had to be transported to the nearest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) by LifeFlight.

lifeflightHaving a home away from home was crucial. The Ronald McDonald House, located near the hospital, enabled us to be close to our hospitalized infant during difficult times.

rmhAn entire dedicated team of professionals was assigned to look after our preemie. The NICU doctors, nurses, dietitians, etc. followed our baby’s progress 24/7. And even afterwards, once we went home, follow-up clinics were organized and early intervention programs were put in place.

We will ALWAYS remember and be grateful to the people who helped us!


Keep spreading the word #WorldPrematurityDay


Bipolar Disorder Is More Than A Typical Adolescent Mood Swing

Bipolar disorder IWK post

by Vanessa Bruce Little


Bipolar Disorder is often misunderstood. Although most people have the basic understanding that someone with Bipolar Disorder has sudden and intense mood swings, they often miss the more detailed nuances of the disorder or confuse the fairly typical mood swings of adolescence with something more clinical.

Here’s how to know when it might be something more than just typical adolescent emotions:

First of all, there are two types of Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

Bipolar I Disorder is when the person experiences periods of Mania (called Manic Episodes). Manic episodes are periods of at least one week where the person has a really elevated and potentially irritable mood, and they behave in very busy and goal-directed ways, even if they don’t seem to be accomplishing much. Someone in a Manic Episode will often:

♦ Have really high self-esteem (to the point of being conceited)

♦ Feel less need for sleep

♦ Talk more than usual

♦ Feel like their thoughts are racing OR have a train of thought that’s hard for someone  else to follow

♦ Be easily distracted by irrelevant or unimportant details

♦ Be very focused on accomplishing various tasks – even if they seem to serve no purpose

♦ Engage in risky activities with serious consequences (e.g., unprotected sex, excessive shopping sprees, drug use, bad financial investments)

In Bipolar I Disorder, when the person isn’t experiencing a Manic Episode, they are either experiencing periods of Depression (called Major Depressive Episodes, which look just like the clinical disorder, Depression), periods of Hypomania (called Hypomanic Episodes, which are basically shorter (approximately 4 days) and less severe versions of Manic Episodes), or periods of completely normal mood. How often the person switches between these different episodes depends on the individual, the situation, and how effectively they’re being treated. In Bipolar II Disorder, the person experiences both Hypomanic and Major Depressive Episodes but has not experienced any Manic Episodes.

Bipolar Disorder is highly heritable, which means that biological family members of someone with Bipolar Disorder (I or II) are at increased risk for developing the disorder themselves. It typically develops in the late teens (Bipolar I Disorder) or mid-twenties (Bipolar II Disorder), and affects about 0.6 to 0.8% of the population over the course of a year. Medication can be very effective for someone with Bipolar Disorder, but they will likely need to remain on the medication indefinitely in order to manage their symptoms.

As you can see, the mood changes associated with Bipolar Disorder cause significantly more impairment than your typical adolescent mood swings. The moods/episodes themselves are much more intense and cycling between the two can be quite dramatic. If you’re concerned that your teenager may have Bipolar Disorder (especially if someone in your family has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia), talk to your family doctor.

Other helpful resources:


Vanessa Bruce Little

Vanessa Bruce Little is the Knowledge Translation Lead at (IWK Health Centre/Dalhousie University), a role for which she relies heavily on her background in Clinical Psychology, clinical training, and experience working with youth and families with behavioural, emotional, and social issues. In addition to developing the content of many of Teen Mental Health’s resources, Vanessa also coordinates large-scale projects and supervises students from a variety of disciplines. She strongly believes that you have to communicate in a way people will “hear” and that the quality of the content is irrelevant if your audience can’t understand it.

Read the entire blog series:

Anxiety Is Not A Synonym For Stress

You (Probably) Don’t Have OCD

Depression Is More Than Just Having A Bad Day


Staying Active With Persistent Pain

mom and daughter walking


by Dr. Maureen Allen

Getting active with persistent pain can be a huge challenge.

Persistent pain or long term pain is a common condition experienced by 1 in 5 Canadians. It can feel similar to acute pain but the two conditions are very different.


Acute pain or short-term pain occurs when you have damage or possible damage to your tissue. Once your body repairs the damage your pain alarm should shut off.

Persistent pain on the other hand occurs long after tissue has healed. This pain is less about damage and more about the central nervous system which is part of your pain system.

The following post answers some frequently asked questions and contains tips on how to stay active with persistent pain.

Can persistent pain be cured?

There is no cure YET for persistent pain but our understanding of this life changing illness is growing. Unfortunately there is no blood test or X-rays that can confirm you have persistent pain. It’s because your pain has persisted more than 3 months and has never gone back to normal that it has received this diagnosis.

Persistent pain can also be found in illnesses like fibromyalgia, back pain, Crohn’s disease, migraines and irritable bowel disease just to mention a few. Despite the fact that these occur in different parts of your body the cause of the persistent pain is still the same: an amplified pain system.

Will activity help my pain?

ABSOLUTELY!! Our tissues are designed to move. When we stop using them they get weak and deconditioned. Because persistent pain is caused by a sensitized or amplified pain system, attempts to move your tissue may be painful and sometimes can result in a flare-up of your persistent pain. The important thing to remember is you are not causing damage by moving. It’s how you move that matters most. Activity needs to be done in the right way to minimize pain flare-ups. If walking is an activity you like to do, here is an example on how you might approach walking.

It’s good to plan a time for your walk the day before and be sure it’s on a surface that is flat with no hills. This calms the pain system and helps make life more predictable and less chaotic. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, the important thing is that you try.

Finding your activity tolerance

Activity tolerance is the amount of activity you can do on a good pain day and a bad pain day that will not cause an increase in your daily pain intensity.

Your daily baseline pain is the intensity of pain you experience on a daily basis that is not a flare-up. In other words it’s the average or typical amount of pain you live with every day.

A flare-up however is an increase in your daily baseline pain that can leave you debilitated for hours, sometimes days. When this occurs the intensity of pain you experience may go off the 10 point scale.

person walking

Tips on staying active


1. Pay attention to the pain intensity
As you begin your walk, pay attention to the pain intensity you are experiencing. If your pain intensity is 5 on 10, how far can you walk before it starts to creep up to 7 on 10?

2. Calculate your activity tolerance
If you start to feel the pain intensity increase at ten minutes, calculate your activity tolerance or starting point by taking half that time or 5 minutes and plan your daily walk once or twice a day sticking to the 5 minutes. This may not seem like much, but it will be a safe amount of time that can be gradually increased over time if you do not experience any flare-ups.

If you prefer not to use time; distance or land marks may work better. In this situation the land mark you choose which caused an increase in your baseline pain should be cut in half.

It doesn’t matter if you use time or distance to find your activity tolerance. It’s whatever works for you. There is no right or wrong way.

3. Plan ahead
Now that you know the ideal time or distance to avoid a flare-up, plan the best time of day for your walk. On the day of your walk do not let pain sabotage your plan. It is important to try. Remember you’re not causing damage by moving.
It may seem like you’re not doing much at this stage, but research shows that using activity in this way can help to re-train or re-boot your pain system. Minimizing flare-ups are essential to calming pain. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

4. Plan your progression
If you were able to walk for 4 days at the distance and time you picked then you can add a minute to your time. If you use distance, pick a new target on your route that feels safe but still challenges you to nudge the edges of your pain.

5. Don’t get discouraged
Sometimes despite your good planning a pain flare-up may occur the next day or a few days later. Don’t panic or get discouraged. When this happens your time or distance may need to be adjusted or you may need to look at how your day is structured.

You are not alone

Remember you are more than just a person living with pain. You have dreams and aspirations like everyone else.  Begin to take the steps to help you move forward.

Talk to your health care provider to see if a referral to a pain self-management program may be beneficial for you. It may help you explore other activities that could be more suitable for you and your abilities. Be open to trying different things. Look at what your community has to offer.


Maureen Allen, MD
Director of Emergency Services
St. Martha’s Regional Hospital
Antigonish, NS


Source: Understanding Persistent Pain:Finding calm in chaos, a guide for patients and their families, Dr. M. Allen, 2017.

(images by

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