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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

Email: imaher@tampabay.com

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  1. New drug shows promise as migraine headache preventive

    Health

    Reporters and editors get dozens of emails and story pitches every day. But one recent news release from the American Academy of Neurology caught my attention immediately.

    It was about a clinical trial involving a new drug for preventing migraine headaches. Even better, it's part of a new class of drugs specifically developed to prevent migraines. All the preventive medications currently available were first used to treat other health conditions. ...

    Dr. Robert Vollbracht is a headache neurologist in Clearwater.
  2. What to do when your hearing starts to go

    Health

    You're in the kitchen and your spouse is in a distant bedroom looking for shoes/car keys/cellphone/whatever. The dishwasher's on, the TV is blaring, the dog is barking and maybe a few kids are playing computer games. Yet the two of you are yelling across the house and over the noise, getting more frustrated because the searching spouse can't understand.

    "It's in the laundry room."

    Where?...

    Carrie Secor, a doctor of audiology, shares her compensatory strategies with patients and their families.
  3. New study finds drug Keytruda prolongs survival for advanced melanoma patients

    Medicine

    Advanced melanoma patients, and the doctors who care for them, got the best possible news last week.

    Early results from a new study confirmed what many already knew. The drug pembrolizumab, also known by its brand name, Keytruda, helped some patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer survive at least three years rather than just a few months.

    "We have been expecting these longer-term results and waiting for the studies to be completed. Now we know. We can prolong survival in more than a third of patients with advanced disease — a disease that was, just a few years ago, almost always fatal," said Dr. Nikhil Khushalani, a medical oncologist and associate member in the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. ...

    Dr. Nikhil Khushalani, a medical oncologist, says Keytruda and drugs like it are a game changer.
  4. A new implanted device, the Watchman, is lowering the risk of stroke

    Health

    Bob Icenogle spent the last five years living with a serious heart problem that could trigger a stroke at any time.

    Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib, can cause blood clots to form in a tiny pouch in the heart. If a clot migrates out into the bloodstream, it could become lodged in a vessel and cut off blood flow to the brain.

    To lower the risk, doctors usually put A-fib patients on blood-thinning medication for life so clots are less likely to form. But Icenogle, who lives in Ruskin, can't take blood thinners long term. He found that out after starting on the medication, and over time developed such severe internal bleeding that he needed transfusions. He tried other nondrug procedures, but none controlled the A-fib. ...

    The Watchman, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015, looks like a miniature umbrella.
  5. The Dish: Kanika Tomalin, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, talks about new healthy initiative and what she cooks

    Cooking

    Kanika Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, is a big supporter of her city's burgeoning restaurant scene. She's also committed to health and fitness. As anyone who eats out regularly knows, those two things can be tricky to reconcile, as restaurant meals can often be less healthy than home-cooked ones.

    To help consumers make healthier choices and still support the local food industry, Tomalin has launched the Virtual Progressive Dinners campaign, a tour of area eateries with "lighter leaning" offerings in which you walk to a different restaurant for each course — drink cocktails at one establishment; get an appetizer a few doors down; walk a few blocks for the main course; share a dessert around the corner; and grab a nightcap somewhere else. It's an effort to get some exercise, put more emphasis on nutrition and ease up on calories. Four different progressive dinners focusing on downtown St. Pete are already posted on healthystpetefl.com, with maps and recommended menu items. (Tour No. 1 takes you through downtown St. Petersburg, from the Station House for a cocktail, to the Mill for an appetizer, to Stillwaters Tavern for salad and a main, to Sea Salt for dessert and a nightcap at Cassis.) More tours are coming that will explore other parts of the city. We talked to Tomalin about the campaign and how she balances her six-day-a-week job with being a mom, wife and fitness enthusiast....

    Kanika Tomalin has launched the Virtual Progressive Dinners campaign.
  6. Author addresses a common question: When and how do we purge people from our lives?

    Health

    It's easy to clear out the clutter in your contact list or electronically block messages from people you no longer want to hear from. You can "unfriend" people on Facebook and block them on other social media.

    But what do you do about human clutter in your life — the people you'd rather not spend time with anymore? They drink too much, cause too much drama, never really grew up, no longer share your values, are too negative, too potty-mouthed, or who only talk about themselves and never ask about you. ...

    Nicol?s Azn?rez   |   Special to the Times
  7. Going the distance: Miles for Moffitt helps cancer research move forward

    Health

    Suzanne Oles wasn't well enough to join the crowd at last year's Miles for Moffitt fundraiser. She was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.

    But, working from the sidelines, she still managed to raise $8,000 for research. This year, she's feeling much better and hopes to raise even more.

    "I'm aiming for $15,000. Right now I'm already at $8,000 so I think we will get there," said Oles, a 65-year-old sales rep who lives in Tampa with her husband. ...

    Dr. Anna Giuliano, a cancer epidemiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, has had two studies funded by Miles for Moffitt.
  8. The Dish: Il Ritorno chef David Benstock talks modern Italian food and more

    Cooking

    In 2004, David Benstock was enrolled in Florida State University studying business when he realized he missed the kitchen. He'd been working in them since he was an adolescent growing up in Seminole. So he abandoned the idea of continuing in the family uniform manufacturing business and enrolled in cooking school in Denver.

    After graduating and working in Colorado, New York, Italy, Miami and Tampa, he opened his own place, Il Ritorno on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg, in 2013. ...

    Chef David Benstock of Il Ritorno in St. Petersburg prepares octopus for an octopus puttanesca appetizer recently.
  9. Mom and author says look outdoors for a splendid do-it-yourself gym

    Health

    Where you see a city park or playground, Haley Bechet sees a do-it-yourself outdoor gym. • The 30-year-old exercise instructor took a while after the birth of her second son to feel normal again. With her hormones going haywire, she felt tired all the time, suffered from severe sleep deprivation, started having terrible migrainelike headaches and, with a new baby in the house, became increasingly withdrawn socially. • She was used to teaching several group exercise classes each week and spending time with others. As soon as her doctor cleared her to return to work, she noticed how much better she felt after teaching. On days she didn't teach, the fatigue and grogginess returned. So on those days off, she started taking the baby out in his stroller for short walks in her Palm Harbor neighborhood. • "Just 10-, 15-minute walks, several times a day," she said. At the end, in the driveway, she'd do a few exercises, grabbing onto whatever was stable and nearby. She was convinced that doing the exercise outside was key and made her feel much better. ...

    Haley Bechet does the first part of a jumping squat.
  10. Prediabetes can be the wake-up call that prevents Type 2 diabetes, but patients need to act

    Health

    Dianne Muncey's doctor first talked with her about prediabetes in 2013.

    With a family history of Type 2 diabetes and blood glucose levels that had been creeping up for years, the doctor explained that Muncey was at high risk for diabetes herself. She was told to lose some weight, exercise and change her diet, but was given no specific instructions on exactly how to do that.

    She was on her own. ...

    Dr. Denise Edwards is an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at USF Health.
  11. Advice from a colon cancer survivor: 'Get your scope done'

    Health

    Laura Webb was just 32 years old and training for an Ironman competition when she learned she had colon cancer.

    Pain in her lower abdomen had taken her to several doctors, who ordered a variety of tests. She eventually went to a gastroenterologist who ordered a colonoscopy, not really expecting to find anything wrong.

    "I was athletic, don't smoke, have an occasional cocktail and cheeseburger, but it was the last thing I expected to hear," said Webb, who is 41 now and living in Tampa. ...

    In September 2015, Laura Webb completed a half Ironman competition in Georgia in 8 ? hours. Eight years prior, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
  12. The Dish: Talking food with Ferrell Alvarez, owner and chef of Seminole Heights' Rooster and the Till

    Food & Dining

    In the restaurant world, an amuse-bouche is a treat sent to your table by the chef. Usually one bite, rarely two, it's something of the chef's creation that sets the tone for the meal, a glimpse at who is behind the food. Think of this new feature as just that. A collection of questions we will ask chefs, cooks, caterers, cookbook authors, journalists, purveyors of food and drinks and anyone else who is passionate about food, to give you some insight into how they feel about what's on the table....

    Chef Ferrell Alvarez, 37, is co-owner of Rooster and the Till in Seminole Heights.
  13. Recognizing the signs of an eating disorder

    Health

    It's been going on for weeks or months and you wonder if it's normal: Too many missed meals. Leaving the table as soon as possible after eating. Exercising excessively. Withdrawing from social situations, especially when food is involved. Large amounts of food disappearing from the house.

    Lots of adolescents and teens have big appetites, or are on diets and want to lose weight. But could this be an eating disorder? You wonder if you're overreacting. ...

    Dr. Pauline Powers has been treating eating disorders for 45 years.
  14. Whether it's cycling or boxing, vigorous exercise can ease Parkinson's symptoms

    Health

    Exercise helps with everything from weight loss and depression to warding off heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, even cancer.

    For years, doctors have been telling their patients that exercise helps with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, too, but now they're getting some help from organized exercise programs designed specifically for Parkinson's patients.

    The classes are usually led by specially trained and certified instructors who have learned about the disease and how to work with those who have it. ...

    Linda Marcia, and her husband and caregiver, Frank Marcia ride during a Pedaling for Parkinsons cycling class on Thursday January 28, 2016 at the South Tampa YMCA. The class is offered twice a week.

MONICA HERNDON | Times
  15. Lessons learned: Survivors urge others to get educated on heart matters

    Health

    February is designated Heart Month to draw special attention to heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans, particularly women. To mark the month, the American Heart Association chose four women as the "Go Red for Women, Real Women of Tampa Bay." Their mission: to help change our thinking about cardiovascular disease and show that even young, seemingly healthy women are at risk, too.

    Each survived a life-changing cardiovascular event. They hope sharing their stories will save others from the same fate. ...

    Photo by James Ostrand for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Tampa Bay 
February is the American Heart Association’s American Heart Month. From left are the “Go Red for Women, Real Women of Tampa Bay”: Kristen Powers, who had a stroke at age 33; Meagan Broucek, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome; Ruby Hope, who had a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass; and Lynette Bear, who suffered cardiac arrest.