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Xavier Magazine | December 23, 2014

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Alumni Profiles: Mary Theresa Newport, MD

Alumni Profiles: Mary Theresa Newport, MD
By Jen Saltsman

Bachelor of Arts, 1974
Neonatologist, Director of Neonatology at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, Tampa, Fla.


The Beginning
| Newport broke her arm when she was 10 years old, so she went to the hospital to get a cast. “I was just fascinated about everything going on there—how it operated, how everyone knew what to do. Maybe a year later I read a book about Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United Kingdom. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a doctor.”

The Job | “I’ve been in practice for 30 years, and my job is different everyday,” she says. “I wouldn’t change anything. Forty years ago, it was harder for neonatologists to save newborns who had difficulty breathing. Now, we do that all the time. We get them well, and it’s rewarding work.”

The Diagnosis | In 2004, Newport noticed that her husband, Steve, was having difficulty remembering how to compute simple math formulas. Worried about his health, Newport took him to a specialist, where he underwent medical testing. Steve, a former accountant, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 51.

The Disease | Throughout its early and late stages, Alzheimer’s decreases the brain’s ability to process sugar, which is the cell’s main form of energy. As the disease progresses, the brain is able to process less and less glucose. The brain cells, not getting enough energy or use, eventually die, causing mental impairments in patients.

The Other Way |“I researched online and ran into a trial that showed improvement from the disease, rather than just slowing its progression. The word ‘improvement’ isn’t used much with Alzheimer’s patients.” The trial fed participants ketone-rich foods, which seemed to improve their quality of life. After more research, Newport found that brain cells use ketones for energy in place of glucose. Coconut oil, Newport found, was a supplement that, when metabolized in the liver, turns into ketone compounds.

The Recovery | Newport began to administer doses of coconut oil to Steve daily, along with his regular medications. Three weeks later, he showed remarkable improvement. Friends said it was “like the foggy look had lifted from Steve’s face.” The tremors in his hands and jaw subsided, and Steve was even able to start exercising again two months after starting the coconut oil regiment.

The Future | Though Steve hasn’t fully recovered, he and Newport are looking forward. Newport chronicled her husband’s improvements and digressions on the web and in a book titled, Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure? The testimonials she’s received has led the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute to seek more grant funding for ketone research.

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