Happy Birthday, Mom!

As I (Steve) write this, it’s March 17.  Today would have been my Mom’s 108th birthday.  I’ve always appreciated how the city of Chicago turns the Chicago river green to remember my Mom.  Oh, I know some people think it has something to do with St. Patrick, but Johnnie, my brother, Lee, and I know it’s really all about Mom.

Steve, Johnnie, Mary Elizabeth Carroll and Steve’s brother, Lee.

Yes, she was as Irish as they come.  The former Mary Elizabeth Carroll’s parents met in County Cork, in Ireland and, not that long after, a boat landed them on this country’s shores.  Mom LOVED potatoes and it was not unusual for her to have a potato along with her potato soup.  She also loved Johnnie’s seasonal decorations.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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2017 & a Half (?!?) Mazda 6 Touring Road Test!

Our Video Road Test of the 2017.5 (REALLY!) Mazda 6 Grand Touring has just been posted on Consumer Guide Automotive’s Daily Drive website.  So, just what the heck does 2017.5 mean and does it still come equipped with Mazda’s “zoom-zoom?”  Just click on the link above and see for yourself.

2017.5 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

And don’t forget, if you want to check some of our previous road tests and some of the other goodies we’ve been pouring into the Daily Drive tank, just point your browser right here.

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A Blatant Plug Brought To You By The Letter “B”

Over the years, those of you who joined us while we hung out inside your radio speakers would, now and then, hear us turn on the “Blatant Plug Light” which meant that we were about to suggest you think about listening to, reading, seeing or buying something we were going to talk about.  Many times these “Blatant Plugs” would not be sponsor related, but something we were just enthusiastic about and wanted to bring to your attention.

Well, we’re turning on the “Blatant Plug” light for this blog post and it’s brought to you by the letter “B,” not for “Blatant” but, rather , for book, blog and brother.

Full disclosure, the brother, Lee, is mine (Steve) and the book and the blog are his.  And, full disclosure not withstanding, this isn’t being written because Lee is my brother, it’s being written because the book and the blog are really THAT good.

The book is called “Safe Inside” and it’s published by Chicago’s Eckhartz Press.  So, what’s it about?  Well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so let’s go with this synopsis from the Eckhartz Press website.

“The south side of Chicago in the 1940’s, a time when divorce, mental illness, and one’s sexuality were not discussed. A Catholic child finds escape inside opulent movie palaces and the equally opulent world of his own fantasies. As a young man, he attempts a final escape to the army, only to discover, in Alaska, that he has not left all his demons behind.”

And, if you’d like a little more of a peek at what’s between the covers, just click on this link to Lee’s WGN radio interview with Nick Digilio.

Over the ten or so years that Lee was writing the book he would let Johnnie, me and a few other friends see chapters as they were finished.  From the very first chapter I was swept up into the story and wanted more.  This book did what the best books I have ever read did to me.  It made me want to keep reading and not put it down but, on the other hand, it made me want to take-my-time because I really wanted to savor this experience.  I wouldn’t have turned on the “Blatant Plug” light if I didn’t think you’d want to savor it, too.

So, what about the brother’s blog?  Well, you can read Lee’s “Me Now” blog just by clicking on this link.  It is, not surprisingly, a very personal take on life, movies, plays, Opera and whatever else Lee’s muse puts in his keyboard’s path.  If you like it as much as I think you will, I hope you’ll click on the option to follow the blog via e-mail so, just like this blog, you’ll be notified when something new is posted.

I know, I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and saying/thinking “Yeah, sure, not because he’s his brother, it’s really THAT good.”  Well … yeah.  The book and the blog are really THAT good.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the fact that, along with being a REALLY good brother, Lee is a REALLY good writer.  He really does have the best words and he knows how to use them.  I hope you’ll take a look at them.


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St. Paddy’s Day Is Nigh!

And, if you follow our adventures with any regularity, you know that means the  leprechauns have busy at our house!

Sure n’ begorrah there are TWO trees this year!!

And, sprinkled among the trees….

And ….

Here’s hoping the luck of the Irish finds itself smiling down on you, too!

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Autoimmune Hepatitis And Guitars?!?

Trust me, they’re related.  And, not just because I have both.

So, I guess I have some ‘splaining to do.

I’ll start with the Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH) side of the equation and, for those of you who have been nice enough to request another update on how I’m doing and for those from some of the Autoimmune Hepatitis groups who are now checking this blog, fill you in on the latest part of my AIH adventure.

Honestly, while my weekly blood work results underscore that things are continuing to improve and some days I can absolutely tell that’s true, some days continue to be a lot more challenging than I might like.  Medicine induced insomnia means that, more often than not,  I’m up in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, my years spent in bands and inside your radio speakers overnights have me more than a little familiar with that “Life After Dark” lifestyle.  Still, a night or any combination of more than one hour’s sleep would be more than a little welcome.

Fatigue and lightheadedness rear their heads quite regularly.  Some days, the best course is to just hunker down and let the rest of the world do the best it can without my help.  For the lion’s share of our time in Panama City Beach the days when the world has been left to it’s own devices have outnumbered the days when I felt well enough to be in the on deck circle.

BUT, there have been some days when I felt a bit better and wanted to get up and out.  On those days, because of my suppressed autoimmune system, a destination such as a mall or busy restaurant crowded with people doesn’t even come close to the agenda.

So, here is where the guitar part of the equation comes in.

Being the wise woman that she is and having been through this drill before, Johnnie understands the importance of maximizing the good days.  She also understands that the only curvy blondes other than her that I want to hold have names like Taylor, Gibson, Gretsch, Epiphone and Fender.  So, when she saw there was a guitar listed on Facebook’s local marketplace that I had expressed an interest in, she was all about “Let’s take a drive and see it.”  Fortunately, not only was it a day when I was feeling better, but it was also a warm day when the sun was out and providing us with some of the Gulf Coast’s great visuals as we drove to meet the seller.

When we met the seller and were introduced to the guitar, a 1989 Epiphone Emperor, not only was it love at first strum but, as it turned out, this guitar had a rather interesting history.

The gentleman selling the guitar was a music teacher who bought it from a friend whose father used to play it on the Grand Ole Opry. Apparently, it was a custom order that included the Chet Atkins style Bigsby. Inside the case were some set lists, some with just song titles and keys along with some religious set lists.

Supposedly, the original owner also was associated with American Bandstand.  I’m doing what I can to research these stories but, regardless of the outcome, I fell in love with the guitar and it’s now happily hanging around my neck and, on those days when I need to let the rest of the world function on its own, a little “guitar therapy” helps me to feel a lot better than I might. 

On another of the “better” days, I took the guitar to Matt Law, a terrific local luthier and performer who did a little tweaking that my new found friend needed.  It feels and plays like a new guitar and now does an even better job of making me feel even better.

Some of you have probably already figured out what this guitar has to do with my current adventure with Autoimmune Hepatitis but, in case you haven’t and, in particular, if you are one of this blog’s readers who is also wrestling with Autoimmune Hepatitis, here is the point I’m trying to make.  This is about as far from a fun adventure as you can find.  And, in most cases it is a long haul.  So, anytime you can do something that helps lift your spirits, fight the depression and get through a better day feeling even better or a bad day feeling not quite as bad DO IT!

If, like me, guitars trip your trigger, great!  But, obviously, it doesn’t matter.  If it’s knitting, cars, games, books, computers, reading, painting, writing …. whatever, DO IT!  Yes, there will be a lot of days when even making the effort to do something you enjoy is taking all the effort you can muster, but it’s REALLY worth it.  BE GOOD TO YOURSELF.  The more you can use whatever your “trigger-tripping” thing is to make you feel better, the more you’re helping your mind and body to relax and get better.  Stack the deck in your favor.  There is no downside.

OK, sorry if I’ve rambled on too much for some of you.  Today has been a VERY good day and I just wanted to share.

Now, I’m going to back away from this computer go hug my cute blonde live-in nurse and then go put my arms around that Epiphone.




Posted in Autoimmune Hepatitis, Guitar Related | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day!

And, it is just that for us and we hope it will be for you, too.

First, to answer many of you who have been nice enough to ask about a progress report since the return of Steve’s Autoimmune Hepatitis, as we said in our last post, this is a long haul journey and not every day is wonderful with fatigue and some other symptoms still present, BUT we ARE slowly seeing some improvement.  There are still a mix of up and down days but, helped by constant input from our Hepatologist, we’re working on more up days!  Based on improving blood work results, the doctor is gradually reducing the medication with some additional changes anticipated in the next few weeks after an in-person visit with the doctor back in Chicago, next week.  We all remain optimistic that things are headed in the right direction and with a change in his meds even more positive changes will occur.

That being said, as we write this, it’s Valentine’s Day and we’re together and that’s a VERY good thing, so we thought we’d share a few Valentine’s Day vibes with you.

For those of you who have asked, here are a few pictures of some of the decorations the Valentine’s Day fairy has spread around our house.

And, here’s a Valentine’s Day ornament from the year we got married.

And, one of our favorites, The hopeless romantic, Cyrano de Beargerac!

So, from our house to your house, we hope you have a very happy Valentine’s Day spent with the one/ones you love and, if you can’t be with them, we hope you’re wrapped in the warmth of some wonderful memories.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Autoimmune Hepatitis, Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

So, Why Haven’t You Heard From Us In A While? Well ….

OK, this post is going to take up more than a little space and, depending on your tolerance for medical minutiae,  a bit more of your time than our usual posts so, when you’ve ingested as much as you need, feel free to move on with your life and there will be no hard feelings from this corner.

Over the years we’ve spent inside your radio speakers we’ve done our best to walk a fine line of being responsible broadcasters and, as our vision of that responsibility dictates, being honest and open with you, but still maintaining a semblance of a private life.  Now and then, that privacy thingy becomes a bit of a blurry line if we feel that there is a more than reasonable chance that sharing something from our personal lives with you could help someone else who is dealing with the same situation.

Our on-air conversations about how Johnnie dealt with her loss of taste and smell (Anosmia) and our conversations and posts here about Steve’s diagnosis of Celiac Sprue and need to follow a Gluten-Free lifestyle are two examples of the kind of sharing we’re talking about.

There is another that we’ve talked about on the air but, because it was in remission, we didn’t think we’d be revisiting in this space.  However, over the past several weeks our lives have taken a rather significant turn and we thought it just might be the time to share why you haven’t heard much from us here as we learned how to deal with the return of Steve’s Autoimmune Hepatitis.

First, for those of you not familiar with it, Autoimmune Hepatitis is NOT contagious and, because it is an autoimmune disease, its cause has NOTHING to do with drugs or alcohol!

Unfortunately for Steve, a significant amount of people diagnosed with Celiac Disease (Celiac Sprue) develop Autoimmune Hepatitis.  Both are autoimmune diseases.  In a nutshell, your autoimmune system is cattywampus, so your body thinks your liver is a foreign object and tries to kill it.

Steve was originally diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH) in 2002.  After coming thisclose to a liver transplant and almost dying, with the help of some great doctors, some 14 years later he was in remission and able to come off medication.  Sadly, after 3 years in remission, we recently confirmed that AIH has returned.

We’d been aware that something was not quite right for a few months.  I (Steve) was getting increasingly fatigued, breaking out in a sweat with very little exertion and noticing a weakness in my voice.  The night of our 2017/2018 New Year’s Eve special, before we headed out to WGN, I told Johnnie that I really wasn’t feeling well and that I hoped my adrenaline would kick in and help get me through it.  Fortunately, it did.

Even in remission, I had regular visits with my hepatologist and, fortunately, one was scheduled just a few days away.  One look at me combined with blood work results confirmed to my doctor that AIH has returned and I am back on medication that suppresses my autoimmune system to fight the problem and, assuming the fight goes well, I will be going on a liver anti-rejection medication and stay on it for the rest of my life.

At the moment, there are good days and bad days.  Some days the fatigue is pretty overwhelming and I just have to lie down for a while.  Other days, I’ll have more energy and feel reasonably OK going out.  BTW, because I’m NOT contagious to you, but you ARE to me, with all the flu going around, if I’m anywhere near a crowded space, I’m the guy in the mask.  Actually, combined with my sunglasses, this Lone Ranger look kind of works for me.

As this is being written, we’re spending a couple of weeks at our vacation home in Panama City Beach to get a little sun and build up a little energy.  We almost didn’t make this trip.  My doctor said I shouldn’t drive, but OK’d a flight.  Up to the day before our flight we were thisclose to cancelling because I just didn’t have the energy.  Fortunately, the day of the flight the meds seemed to have started kicking in and I felt well enough to walk (With mask and sunglasses, of course:-) through Midway airport.

Some fatigued days are spent just relaxing, but there are starting to be more days when heading out for some “guitar therapy” (More on that in a future post) finds itself on the menu.

We’re in constant touch with my hepatologist about weekly blood work results and we’ll be heading back to Chicago to see him in a few days.  The good days are starting to show up a bit more but, as we know from past experience, this is a long haul journey.

Personally, I’m optimistic.  I’ve got a great doctor, a WONDERFUL “live-in nurse” who has learned the names of the guitars helping me on this journey and, don’t be surprised if we show up back inside your radio speaker one of these days.

The sun is out and the glass is half full.

Now then ….

We said at the outset that one of the reasons for this post was to help someone else who is dealing with the same situation.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people all over the word dealing with Autoimmune Hepatitis and trying their best to learn HOW do live with this thing that has turned their lives upside down.  Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have Johnnie and not everyone is as lucky as we have been to have access to good doctors who LISTEN and help you understand what has happened and how to handle it.

So, we went back through our archives and found what we had written back in 2002 when Autoimmune Hepatitis first entered our lives and below we’re reprinting some of it.  If you have no interest, just pass it by.  But, if you are a newly diagnosed AIH patient or you know someone who is, you might find something from our past experience that helps you.

When Autoimmune Hepatitis forced us off the air for 5 months in 2002, here is what we wrote.

First, we have to start out by thanking all of you who have deluged us with wonderful calls, cards, e-mails and all manner of good wishes. We’ve always known the “extended family” bond between WGN Radio and our listeners was something truly special. You prove it again and again. All we can say is a very sincere thank you.

OK, so where in the world are we and what the heck is going on?  Well, here in print, as our dear friend, Paul Harvey, would say is –“The Rest Of The Story.”

I have to say that Johnnie and I never thought we’d share so much of our own “medical minutiae” with anyone on a web site, but … after all … you guys are family, so here goes:

For quite some time, I was having an increasing problem with my voice. I thought it was some kind of allergy, but as it was causing more and more problems for me on the air, Johnnie and I went to our regular family doctor to see what the deal was. Thorough man that he is, along with suggesting an allergist, he had me do some blood tests.

Those of you who are regular listeners know that our last day on the air was the morning of Sept. 5. After we got off the air Johnnie and I along with our friends, Gary and Sue headed up to Door County for a long weekend. Johnnie and Sue share their Sept. 5 birthday and it’s become a tradition for Gary and I to treat them to a “plastic burning” weekend in that beautiful Wisconsin area.

I should mention that along with my voice problems for some time I’d been experiencing a lot more fatigue than I was used to. By the end of our first night in Door County I was feeling pretty poorly. There are no phones where we stay, but late in the evening Johnnie checked her cell phone for voice mail. There were several calls, from, Denise, our producer, and from our doctor saying we needed to get in touch with him. Since it was late when she got the message, Johnnie couldn’t get through to our doctor till early Friday morning and then, with the bad cell areas, they played phone tag, but the message finally came through — my blood tests were VERY abnormal and the doctor wanted us to get back to Chicago immediately for CatScan and other procedures. It looked like I had a potentially serious problem.

Gary drove us back to Chicago and we made it to the doctor’s office just in time for a consultation and firming up of a battery of tests that would be performed on Saturday.

My personality is such that I deal best with something when I know as much about the parameters as possible, so I asked the doctor what the best and worst cast scenarios looked like. He responded that the worst case could be Cancer and the best case could be some form of hepatitis.

I found it a little strange to deal with what the doctor said was our “best case” option, but found a bit of comfort in rooting for a “little h” as opposed to a “the big C.”

I’ll skim over the next day of tests to the results that began making their way into our doctor’s office by the following Monday. I will mention however that, at this point, my appearance began to resemble a very fatigued box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers. By Monday, a steady stream of information was dribbling in and it was becoming apparent that some form of hepatitis was definitely in the running as a probable cause, but what kind was still up in the air plus we needed more information for confirmation.

It also became apparent to our doctor that we needed a hepatologist — “yesterday!” Unfortunately, even with our doctor’s help and recommendations we ran into problems getting any appointments with a doctor who could see us in under a month’s time and Johnnie (who was doing all the phone work, because at this point my voice was down to a whisper) found that hepatologists are not easy to find in the Chicago area. Once we thought we had an appointment nailed down with a doctor whose reputation we respected, but he was called out of town on a family emergency.

Even while our options kept falling by the wayside, good friends were jumping in and doing their best to help us with what was becoming by the minute a more difficult and stressful situation. Lyle Dean and his wife Sharon were able to help Johnnie set up an appointment with a very respected doctor. Hearing of the seriousness of the situation, Paul Harvey called and set about the task of moving a few mountains to put us in touch with a doctor whose reputation put him high on the list of most people we’d talked to … and he could see us the next day.

While Johnnie had been tirelessly working the phones, I’d been doing a bit of research on the web. I was a bit baffled, since I’m not a seafood eater, hadn’t shared any needles with anyone and my idea of a lot of alcohol is about 5 drinks … in a year and I do think I’d recall if I’d had a blood transfusion plus, most of the symptoms of hepatitis A, B, or C didn’t look like they applied to me. In addition, as more blood work kept coming in, one by one these types looked like they were being eliminated, so I decided to see if I could find any connection with my having Celiac Sprue (a complete intolerance to Gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats) and hepatitis. Sure enough, my searches turned up a relationship between Celiac Sprue (an autoimmune disease) and something called autoimmune hepatitis (your body decides it doesn’t recognize your liver and just wants to make it go away!) AND the symptoms matched what I was experiencing. We immediately showed this information to our doctor and took it to the hepatologist the next day.

THE DIAGNOSIS: The hepatologist was very familiar with autoimmune hepatitis and, after more tests, confirmed that, in fact, I have autoimmune hepatitis, a non-contagious form of the disease.

Now that we knew what the problem was the doctor needed to determine how much liver damage had been done and was it treatable or would we be talking about a transplant.

As much as we appreciate your concern and want to answer as many of the questions you’ve sent us, please allow us to also appreciate the limited tolerance any of us have for “too much information,” particularly medical, and let’s just fast forward through the liver biopsy and other tests.

BOTTOM LINE: I have severe liver damage and after a hospital stay we were still not sure if the steroids I was taking were going to do what they were supposed to. We just had to wait and see.

WHAT’S THE LATEST? After weeks of tests and heavy medication the doctor smiled as he said “It looks like you’ve finally turned the corner.”

SO, WHAT NOW? The game plan is to continually be tested, monitor the medication and hopefully segue into what will be a two year treatment with the goal being remission. After that, continual monitoring for the rest of my life and, with luck, the only transplant conversation I’ll ever have is about that curly Carrot Top look I’ve been considering.

SO, WHEN WILL WE BE BACK ON THE AIR? That’s still an unknown. The doctor knows we want to come back, but keeps reminding me that I’m in no shape to do that physically or vocally … yet. It could be months or weeks, but I only want to go through this once so we’ll be back when it’s right.

And this update from a couple of months later.

For those of you who can’t play audio, we thought we’d summarize our conversation with Nick and Garry. The bottom line is that we just got some good news! After 9 weeks of treatment we’ve gone from talking about a liver transplant to getting a report that says the liver readings are normal! What happens now is a gradual lowering of the dose of the medication I’ve been on to a small level that will be used to maintain the liver’s stability. Also, a new medication (an anti-rejection medication) is being added that I’ll be on for the next 2 years to, hopefully, put the Autoimmune Hepatitis into remission.

OK, for you Radio Road Test fans, try this analogy: We got lucky and didn’t need to get a new engine (liver) because we were able to rebuild the old one. Now the trick is to keep it running smoothly.

While I’ll be monitored for the next 2 years, the initial concern in the next several weeks is to make sure that my system accepts the medication. In addition, while the medicine works its magic, I’ll be starting a daily exercise regime to help build up my stamina.

That’s what we wrote in 2002.

Now, here we are, in 2018 and today has been a good day.

I’m a lucky man.

Posted in Autoimmune Hepatitis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments