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Irene Maher, Times Staff Writer

Irene Maher

Irene Maher has reported on health for more than 25 years, mostly for WFLA-Ch. 8 in Tampa. She now writes about personal health and wellness for the Tampa Bay Times. She and her husband live in Tampa.

Phone: (813) 226-3416


  1. Message for national stroke month: If you see the signs, get to the hospital fast


    Every 40 seconds in the United States someone has a stroke.

    This interruption in blood flow to the brain can cause lifelong disability, even death, if the symptoms are not recognized and treated within a few hours. According to the American Stroke Association, death from stroke is on the increase again after years of decline.

    Yet 80 percent of strokes are preventable by taking commonsense steps such as controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, exercising and not smoking. But almost as important as prevention is knowing the warning signs of stroke and treating them as a medical emergency worthy of a call to 911. ...

    Yolande Petit-Homme, 60, of Lakeland is shown in April 2016 with daughter Jen, 31, who recently moved from Wesley Chapel to Atlanta. Yolande had a stroke in 2015. She ignored the signs for days and did not get a clot-busting drug. She has weakness on her left side. She works hard at rehab, hoping to resume such daily tasks as bathing and dressing. But, she is back to two of her favorite activities: attending church and handwriting letters.
  2. The essentials of skin cancer prevention: self-checks, sunscreen and covering up


    Would you recognize skin cancer if you saw it?

    The American Academy of Dermatology chose May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, to launch a nationwide campaign it hopes will get you to check yourself and a loved one for suspicious skin spots that should be evaluated by a doctor.

    The new awareness campaign, "Check Your Partner. Check Yourself," urges us to take self skin checks seriously. Anyone who sees you regularly — not necessarily a trained professional — might notice a spot, freckle, mole, bump or crusty patch that has changed or just doesn't look right. If they do, take action and have it checked. If you notice the same on someone else, speak up....

    Dr. Nishit Patel examines the moles on Gina Benoist of Tampa at the Long Center in Clearwater.
  3. National 'take back day' for unused prescription drugs lets you safely empty your medicine cabinet


    That collection of prescription pills, liquids, sprays, patches, tubes and blister packs is sitting in your medicine cabinet, getting old. You no longer need them or they're expired, but you don't know what do with them. Don't just flush them down the toilet or toss them in the trash. Instead, get rid of them Saturday during National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration....

    Ellen Snelling is a volunteer and board chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Anti Drug Alliance.
  4. The Dish: JJ Layton, executive chef at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, talks cooking hospital food for thousands


    Imagine cooking for more than 4,000 people each day. For most of us, it's hard enough just getting lunch boxes packed and a family meal on the dinner table every night.

    But JJ Layton, executive chef at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, has experience cooking and preparing thousands of meals for people of all ages — from toddlers to grandparents of multiple cultural and ethnic backgrounds, with widely differing taste preferences and food traditions and a variety of food allergies and dietary restrictions. That's what he and his team of 30 cooks, plus a small army of support staff, face each day when they come to work....

    A plate of mac and cheese, with steamed broccoli and grilled chicken.
  5. Implanted devices offer an alternative to CPAP machines for some sleep apnea patients


    Mark Yegge knew he was a snorer. But when he found out that he also repeatedly stopped breathing during the night, followed by gasping for breath, he knew it was time to see his doctor.

    "I didn't believe it until someone taped me sleeping," the Clearwater resident said.

    A sleep study confirmed he had obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, the most common sleep disorder, which affects about 18 million Americans. It occurs when the tongue, tissue and muscles in the throat relax during sleep, become floppy and block the airway. ...

    The CPAP machine is considered the gold standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It delivers air pressure through a mask that fits over the mouth and nose or over just the nose, which keeps the upper airway open, preventing snoring and pauses in breathing. But not everyone can tolerate the device.
  6. Treatments vary for painful plantar fasciitis, but rest is the best


    You might say Judi Briant has spent more than 33 years on her feet. As a teacher with Hillsborough County schools and a professor at Hillsborough Community College, she was always standing or walking.

    "That's the way I work," said Briant, who retired from Armwood High but still teaches at HCC. "I can't sit down and teach, I'm always on my feet in the classroom."

    On some days she'd put in another 3 miles at home on the treadmill. ...

    Judith Briant, Ph.D., 70, poses for a portrait in Thonotosassa home. Briant is now back on her feet after suffering from a condition called plantar fasciitis, a painful foot condition associated with heel spurs that affects more than a million Americans. She was eventually cured after using Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology (EPAT) and physical therapy. [Thursday, March 9, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  7. Avoid being one of the millions who get sick — get the flu shot, doctors say


    Some people have to get the flu before they'll get a flu shot.

    They'll miss a week or more of work or school, suffer through high fevers, body aches, headaches, a sore throat and coughing before they vow to do everything possible to prevent or lower their chances of getting the flu again. The flu, they feel, is that bad.

    Gabe Echazabal of Tampa can tell you all about it. He never wanted to get the shot after hearing the stories of people who got the bug despite getting the vaccine. He also heard that the vaccine itself might make him sick. ...

    Family medicine specialist Dr. Amber Stephens says Tamiflu shortens sick time and makes people less infectious.
  8. Groups work to ease the path to recovery for those with eating disorders


    Robin Murray was in her 40s when the eating disorder she battled as a teenager and young adult came roaring back.

    Suddenly, she returned to the destructive behaviors of her youth — restricting, bingeing on and purging food, plus overexercising to compensate for any calories she managed to keep down.

    During her earlier battle, which lasted 15 years, Murray went through several different treatment facilities and once came close to death because she had become so thin....

    Robin Murray, at Sips Specialty Coffee House in Citrus Park, says “I now know that in times of transition and trauma, you need extra support.”
  9. Raising awareness of congenital heart defects


    February is heart month, set aside not just to remind adults to watch their blood pressure and get some exercise but also to draw attention to an often-forgotten group of heart patients: children.

    From newborns to college students, children can be diagnosed with heart abnormalities that happened before birth. These defects, known as congenital heart defects or CHDs, can be life-threatening, medically complex and require lifelong treatment. And later in life, they can put a patient's own children at risk for the same conditions....

    Adam Verigan, who works at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, was born with a hole between the lower chambers of his heart.
  10. The Dish: Edward Steinhoff on being executive chef at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts


    What do you put on a menu that ties in to a Broadway play called Something Rotten!? That's the kind of challenge Straz Center for the Performing Arts executive chef Edward Steinhoff faces every day when he comes to work. Steinhoff, who took over the post in August, loves the change from creating food for typical dining venues to creating recipes and menus that reflect whatever is on stage at the Straz. ...

    Executive chef Edward Steinhoff poses for a picture at the Straz Center for Performing Arts in Tampa.
  11. The Dish: Sea Salt owner and chef Fabrizio Aielli on Italian food in America, fresh ingredients and more


    Fabrizio Aielli wants people to know that Italian cooking is more than long pasta swimming in red sauce.

    "In the past people thought spaghetti and meatballs or linguini Alfredo defined Italian food. Heavy sauces covered in garlic and cheese," he said. "But this is not Italian food."

    On Nov. 6, at his restaurant Sea Salt in St. Petersburg, Aielli is hosting one of seven Immersion Dinners being held around Tampa Bay in conjunction with the Dalí Museum's current food-focused exhibit "Ferran Adria: The Invention of Food." The sold-out dinner will have a carnival theme that aims to celebrate Aielli's home city of Venice, Italy, and to show diners what, exactly, Italian food can be: Nitrogen popcorn and kumamoto oysters will reflect a foggy day in Venice; a mini cone of peanut butter foie gras and a glass of rose brut champagne will transport guests through St. Mark's Square; seafood and black ink risotto will nod to the city's famous waterways. ...

    Fabrizio Aielli and his wife, Ingrid, pose with a catch of the day at Sea Salt restaurant at Sundial in St. Petersburg.
  12. If you have high cholesterol, the culprit may be sugar


    It's a sad fact. The cholesterol count of the average middle-aged American makes most cardiologists cringe.

    Cholesterol seems to start creeping up in our 30s or 40s as careers, kids and other obligations leave us more stressed, less physically active and heavier than ever. That's a problem because high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

    Lowering it without medication can be difficult, depending on your age and other health problems. For those with genetically high cholesterol, it can be nearly impossible without taking a statin, a prescription cholesterol-lowering medication....

  13. Best line of defense against breast cancer: know your risk, be alert to body changes


    Cancer detection is often about noticing a change, something that's not quite right, and doing something about it.

    Just ask Darby Steadman. She was used to checking herself for changes. At age 34, she already had a long history of what many women call "lumpy" breasts. She'd had many biopsies, too, which all came back negative.

    But during the summer of 2004, she noticed something different about a lump in her left breast that the doctor had been monitoring since 1999 and thought to be benign. It felt larger, and there was discharge from the nipple. ...

    Darby Steadman, 46, was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time. She firmly believes that knowing what your body feels like, knowing what’s normal, is vital. “It’s important to know yourself and if something is off, go and take care of it.”
  14. Your doctor can clear up confusion on when to get breast screening


    Trying to decide when to start and how often to have a routine mammogram can make your head spin. It used to be easy: starting at 40 have an annual mammogram. End of discussion.

    Now, the major medical groups we have long relied on to tell women what to do about breast cancer screening aren't in complete agreement when it comes to women of average risk — that's the majority of us who have never had breast cancer and who don't have a mother, sister or child who had the disease. High-risk women have their own set of guidelines, which includes annual mammograms and breast MRI beginning as early as age 25 for some. ...

    Dr. Laura Arline is in primary care with the BayCare Medical Group
  15. Tiny pacemaker wows doctors and patients but isn't yet for everyone


    For years, pacemakers have been about the size of two stacked silver dollars and require a 2-inch incision below the collarbone to implant. Tiny wires called leads connect the battery-powered device to the heart. When it detects an abnormal rhythm, the pacemaker sends a signal to help control and normalize the heartbeat. Millions of Americans have pacemakers; thousands are implanted each year.

    And for some of them, the procedure just got a lot simpler....

    A similar lead-less product, Nanostim, is made by St. Jude Medical and is expected to receive FDA approval any day. It is already in use in Europe. St. Jude Medical