Health Highlights: July 9, 2013

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  • Country Singer Randy Travis in Critical Condition
  • Doctors Nearly Removed Organs From Living Patient
  • Computer Problem Limits Health Insurance Penalties for Smokers
  • Lung Transplant Girl Has Pneumonia

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Country Singer Randy Travis in Critical Condition

Randy Travis was in critical condition Monday evening after being admitted to a Dallas hospital Sunday with heart problems.

The 54-year-old country music singer was being treated for viral cardiomyopathy, a heart condition caused by a virus, said his publicist, Kirt Webster, the Associated Press reported.

The disease weakens and enlarges the heart muscles, making it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic's website. The condition can lead to heart failure. Treatments may include medicines and surgery.

The illness struck as Travis was attempting to put his life back together after alcohol-related problems. In January, he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated last year when he was found naked after crashing his car, the AP reported.

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Doctors Nearly Removed Organs From Living Patient

A hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. was fined $6,000 for a 2009 incident in which doctors nearly harvested organs from a woman who was still alive.

Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center told the family of 41-year-old Colleen Burns that she was dead after suffering a drug overdose and the family agreed to take her off life support and allow her organs to be donated, the Associated Press reported.

However, Burns opened her eyes as she was being prepared for surgery.

Records obtained by the Syracuse Post-Standard revealed a series of missteps, including doctors ignoring nurses' comments that Burns was responding to stimuli and trying to breathe on her own, the AP reported.

The state health department imposed the fine after finding that the hospital's care of Burns was unacceptable. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services criticized the hospital for its failure to investigate the incident.

Burns was released from the hospital after two weeks, but killed herself 16 months later, her mother told the newspaper.

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Computer Problem Limits Health Insurance Penalties for Smokers

A computer system glitch will initially limit health insurance premium penalties that companies can charge some smokers under the new health care law.

The Obama administration notified insurers of the problem on June 28 and said it will take at least a year to fix it, the Associated Press reported.

Older smokers are most likely to benefit from the mistake, while younger smokers could be hit with higher penalties than they otherwise would have, according to experts.

Under the law, insurers would be allowed to charge smokers up to 50 percent higher premiums. For older smokers, the penalty could make premiums unaffordable, the AP reported.

The June 28 Health and Human Services Department notice to insurers states: "Because of a system limitation ... the system currently cannot process a premium for a 65-year-old smoker that is ... more than three times the premium of a 21-year-old smoker."

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Lung Transplant Girl Has Pneumonia

The 10-year-old girl who received a lung transplant after a legal battle has pneumonia in her right lung, according to her mother.

Doctors believe that Sarah Murnaghan's pneumonia is caused by "aspirations from her belly," her mother Janet Murnaghan said in a Facebook post Monday, USA Today reported. "Yesterday was tough. Today she is more stable, but this is definitely a large setback."

In aspiration pneumonia, the lungs or airways leading to the lungs are inflamed as a result of breathing in foreign material, such as food and saliva. Treatments include antibiotics.

The Pennsylvania girl had a lung transplant on June 12 but it failed and she had to have a second transplant on June 15. She took a few breaths on her own after the second transplant, but was put back on the ventilator because she had partial paralysis of the diaphragm, a complication of the second surgery, USA Today reported.