Although infant massage may have been regarded up to now as a touchy-feely complementary medicine technique, studies carried out in Israel and abroad have shown that they can be therapeutic. Writing in the latest issue of the Hebrew-language Israel Journal of Pediatrics, Ettie Melamed-Ashkenazi - a recognized practitioner at Clalit Health Services - presents the proven benefits of massage, especially for premature infants. Studies were conducted at Sheba Medical Center, Wolfson Medical Center and the Lis Obstetrics Hospital of Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center. Premature babies in two groups were massaged by either professionals or their mothers, who did it after being shown the technique, and compared to a control group who did not get massage. Those in the first two groups gained weight (an important accomplishment) significantly faster than babies who were not massaged, and surprisingly, the result in babies massaged by professionals was only slightly better than when their mothers did it. Studies at Bnei Zion Hospital and Wolfson showed that massaged infants were calmer than non-massaged babies in premature baby units, which due to electronic equipment are very noisy. They also suffered less from colic, stomach aches and constipation. It was also found to calm down mothers distressed by the sight of such tiny infants. Other studies, said Melamed-Ashkenazi, have demonstrated that massage reduces sugar levels and depression in young children with type I diabetes, reduces depression and raises white cell counts in children with leukemia, and improves the mood of adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The author is recognized by the Israel Association for Infant Massage (www.iaim.co.il). NO SWEAT? NO HEART ATTACK? Sweating during physical activity or in hot weather is good for your health, but if someone sweats while experiencing discomfort in the chest, arm, neck or jaw - with little or no exertion - it could be the onset of a heart attack, according to a new study at the University of Illinois. "We can stop a heart attack during the process, but you have to get to the hospital first," said Prof. Catherine Ryan, an expert in surgical nursing who presented her findings at the recent American Heart Association annual meeting in Dallas. "The real push for improved survival is to get them there early." Time is of the essence during a heart attack, and doctors have urged people who experience common symptoms - shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness or discomfort in the chest, arm, neck or jaw - to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. But delay in seeking treatment is common and worsens the outcome, Ryan said. She sought to determine whether delay was related to the symptom cluster individuals experienced. Earlier studies, she said, focused on only one symptom, not clusters, or on demographic characteristics of the patients. She asked the authors of 10 such studies to send her their data, and eight groups of authors in the US and Britain complied. The data had been collected in interviews with 1,073 heart attack survivors. She found that individuals with the shortest delays (a mean of 9.78 hours) usually experienced the largest number of symptoms. Individuals with the longest delays (a mean of 22.77 hours) had moderate probability of experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. Sweating may be a key variable prompting individuals to seek treatment, Ryan said. But the research could not determine whether sweating is an indication of a more serious heart attack. ANIMALS HELP DISABLED The Therapeutic Riding Center of Israel (TRCI) and the department of Social Agogic Work of the Belgian University of Gent recently reached a unique agreement that provides international exchange of experience and knowledge concerning animal-assisted therapy. TRCI, which since 1986 has provided animal-assisted therapies solely for disabled people, and its academic partner, the Tel Aviv University zoology department's Animals and Society Project, aims at promoting these types of therapies, setting up student exchange programs between Israel and Belgium and participating in their various study programs. Animal-assisted therapy uses horses, dogs and small animals to promote cognitive, physical and emotional development and social, educational and behavioral improvements in disabled children and adults. Specific goals are incorporated into carefully planned therapy programs. The therapies are applied to a wide range of disabilities and illnesses, such as physical, mental and cognitive disabilities, head injuries, spinal injuries, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, blindness, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorders and autism. The University of Gent, recognizing the growing demand in Belgium for these alternative treatment as well as the lack of specialized education and training in this field, has started an academic study program in animal-assisted therapy. The curriculum includes hippotherapy (physiotherapy via the three-dimensional movement of the horse, education of mentally and physically disabled people using horses and bringing dogs into retirement homes for alleviating dementia). Because of Israel's long experience with war and terror attacks, the Israeli partners have also developed a broad knowledge of traumas and physical injuries. TRCI currently provides 1,800 therapeutic treatments per month, and recently opened a state-of-the-art center in Tel Mond which has an Olympic-size indoor riding center, a dog therapy center, a physiotherapy center, a sensory trail and a carriage trail. There are also plans for a new post-graduate program.