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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. Surgeon says gastric bypass could also help ailing liver


    TAMPA — In 2009, John Bush was struggling with severe Type 2 diabetes — and obesity.

    Hard as he tried to diet, at 5-foot-10, the power plant supervisor weighed 300 pounds.

    "I had three chins. I was a big guy," says Bush, now 57.

    Increasingly, physicians are offering gastric bypass surgery to diabetic patients, because the procedure leads not only to weight loss but also to better blood sugar control, while addressing a host of related symptoms such as sleep apnea....

    John Bush is shown in 2006. Now he says, “I can play with the grandkids, walk more, do more things that I enjoy.”
  2. You might have to work hard to get a good night's sleep


    There was a time in my life — a long time — when I would have given about anything for a good night's sleep.

    Starting in my mid 30s and continuing for a couple of decades, I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. My eyes would pop wide open at 3:15 a.m. I was fully awake for at least an hour, usually two, fretting about how bad the workday ahead would be if I didn't get some sleep and fast....

    Awake early in the morning
  3. Young stroke survivor looks forward to Saturday's Tampa Heart Walk


    TAMPA — On Saturday, 30,000 people will be walking the streets around Raymond James Stadium for the fourth largest Heart Walk in the nation.

    If you've ever taken a CPR course, benefited from a clot-busting drug or enjoyed a smoke-free restaurant, you can appreciate projects funded by events like this walk, which benefits the American Heart Association-American Stroke Association's research and education efforts. Since 1990, the Tampa events have raised $19.2-million; this year the goal is $3-million. ...

  4. Questions on Ebola virus symptoms becoming routine at Tampa Bay hospitals


    TAMPA — The next time you are admitted to a local hospital or check in at an outpatient medical center, don't be surprised if you are asked for more than your name and insurance card.

    No cases of Ebola have been reported in Florida, but health care workers are asking patients about recent international travel and any flulike symptoms that could trigger closer scrutiny.

    "The stakes are obviously very high," said Dr. Mark Vaaler, vice president of physician services and chairman of the infectious diseases steering committee at BayCare Health System. "We want to cover all the bases."...

  5. FDA approves Keytruda for skin cancer patients with inoperable melanoma


    It's 10:30 on Wednesday morning and Carl Paulk is waiting patiently in a large lounge chair in the Clinical Research Unit at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. He makes the one-hour drive to Tampa every three weeks to have his blood drawn, see his doctor and wait for the okay to receive another dose of hope — a new drug called Keytruda.

    Keytruda was granted special Food and Drug Administration clearance last month to be given to certain melanoma patients whose cancer worsens after standard treatment. The drug performed so well early in clinical trials that approval was granted before testing is officially completed....

    The cost of Keytruda, an experimental cancer drug marketed by Merck & Co., is estimated at about $12,500 a month.
  6. Cancer survivors from Tampa hit the water at Dragon Boat Festival

    Human Interest

    In 2012, Steffanie Harris of Tampa became one of the more than 230,000 American women diagnosed with breast cancer. Harris, a commercial property manager, was shocked when she got the news one Sunday after her gynecologist asked to meet with her at the office.

    "I knew it couldn't be good news," Harris, now 39, remembers.

    The experience eventually brought her to a cancer survivors celebration last spring at St. Joseph's Hospital, where she met a group of women called the Pink Dragon Ladies, who would put a cap on her recovery and become a support network for the future....

    The Pink Dragon Ladies wheel their boat down to the docks and into the water from the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park boat house during a practice this month. The team practices on Wednesdays at 5:45 p.m., through summer and fall, and every weekend, alternating between Saturday and Sunday mornings, at 7:30.
  7. Breast cancer awareness: How exercise helps in prevention, recovery


    Pink-clad people will be parading on both sides of Tampa Bay on Saturday as the American Cancer Society's first round of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks hits the streets.

    Making Strides is an awareness and fundraising event, but the walks also offer a great opportunity to join breast cancer survivors and supporters for exercise, something most experts say is an essential part of treatment and recovery. And it also appears to play an important role in cancer prevention....

    Dr. Lawrence Hochman says walking 30 minutes a day makes a big difference.
  8. Q&A: What's new in eating disorders treatment and research


    It's difficult to estimate how many people have eating disorders, simply because sufferers are so good at hiding them.

    Eating disorders generally take one of three forms: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Those with anorexia are usually malnourished and emaciated, but stop eating or severely restrict food because they think they are fat. Bulimics, who purge or exercise excessively after eating, can be the most successful at hiding their problem because they often are at a normal weight or even a little overweight. Binge-eaters, the most recently recognized form of eating disorder, eat compulsively without compensating behavior, and might be overweight or obese....

  9. Early end-of-life discussions can make decisions easier


    TAMPA — Tracy Christner tries to convince healthy people of all ages to plan for the end of their lives. At the least, she hopes to get them thinking and talking about how they want to leave this world, while they still are able.

    Christner, executive director of Project GRACE, an affiliate of Suncoast Hospice, finds middle-aged adults the most receptive. The toughest group to convince? "Eighteen- to 25-year-olds," she said. "They don't see death as possible yet."...

    Deborah Farrel, right, helped her parents, Catherine Wallace Farrel and Robert Bigelow Farrel, arrange a living will and other end-of-life documents, preparing her for their wishes.
  10. Family mealtime: The importance of how we eat, not just what we eat


    If there was one simple thing you could do to improve your family's health, boost your kids' grades and fend off teen substance abuse, pregnancy and eating disorders, would you do it?

    According to a 2013 Gallup poll about half of American families with children under age 18 already do this simple but not always easy thing.

    But more children could benefit if all families came together for a meal on most days of the week, experts say....

    Caidyn Sarah Adler, 7, sits between her grandmothers Elaine Osher, left, and Helene Adler during the Ben’s Beginners event at Datz.
  11. Despite advances, ovarian cancer survival rates refuse to budge


    Ovarian cancer is often called silent because there are usually only vague symptoms early on. Others insist there are clear signs if you know what to watch for, such as abdominal bloating, pelvic pain and extreme fatigue.

    Most experts say there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. But some advocacy groups tell women to demand CA125 testing if they suspect ovarian cancer. This is a blood test used to monitor women for the cancer's return during and after treatment. It is not approved for primary screening....

  12. Parents on a mission to raise awareness of deadly amoeba



    Dr. Sandra Gompf wants to change the way you think of summer.

    Gompf is an infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa.

    She is also a mother who lost her 10-year-old son five years ago this month to an aggressive brain infection caused by an organism lurking in the lake where he played with his cousins. ...

    Married local physicians Drs. Tim and Sandra Gompf, are pictured in 2009 with daughter Juliana, then 13, and son William, then 5. Their son, Philip, who died after being infected by the naegleria fowleri amoeba, was removed from the photo for a public awareness campaign.
  13. Women who drink face special risks but also have advantages over men


    If you want to get women to your next gathering, there may be nothing that will draw a crowd quite like the promise of wine or fruity cocktails served in frosty stemmed glasses. From grocery stores and salons to trendy boutiques, chic fundraisers, even Botox parties, alcohol lures the "girls' night out'' crowd. • For women who know when to say when, social sipping is fine, but drinking among women, measured in government surveys, DUI statistics and hospital admissions, is on the rise. Fifteen percent of women who imbibe are binge drinkers — meaning they consume four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours, at least once a week. While a quarter of binge-drinking women are of college age, 10 percent of women between 45 and 64 admit that they binge, a recent CDC survey shows. • Thanks to biology, women get intoxicated sooner and on less alcohol than men — meaning more health risks, drink for drink. But women also have some advantages that can protect them from addiction. • We spoke with Dr. Carlos Santana, an associate professor of psychiatry at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine who specializes in addiction treatment and research, about these differences....

    Dr. Carlos Santana
  14. Brooksville teen's cancer story mirrors 'Fault in Our Stars' (w/video)


    Like a lot of girls, Faith Brown has read The Fault in Our Stars, the popular novel about two teens who fall in love at a cancer support group.

    But Faith needed more courage than most to make it to the end and learn the eventual fate of Gus, who lost a leg to osteosarcoma.

    It's the same cancer Faith, 14, learned she had last year.

    Osteosarcoma is a rare, solid tumor cancer of the bone that targets adolescents, striking primarily during growth spurts. ...

     Faith Brown and her cousin Sami Russell play Super Mario Bros on her Wii at her home in Brooksville Wednesday July 16, 2014. "This is our favorite game," said Faith. 14 year old Faith was diagnosed with cancer last year and has had most of the bones in her right leg replaced with metal implants. "There are slight differences but I can still do things," said Faith. Faith plans to tryout for the swim team once she starts high school as a 9th grader.
  15. Brooksville teen's cancer story mirrors 'Fault in Our Stars' (w/video)


    Like a lot of teen girls, Faith Brown has read The Fault in Our Stars, the popular novel about two teens who fall in love at a cancer support group.

    But Faith needed more courage than most to make it to the end and learn the eventual fate of Gus, who lost a leg to osteosarcoma.

    It's the same cancer Faith, 14, learned she had last year.

    Osteosarcoma is a rare, solid tumor cancer of the bone that targets adolescents, striking primarily during growth spurts. ...

    Faith Brown and her cousin, Sami Russell, play in the swimming pool at her Brooksville home last week. Because of cancer, Faith had bones in her right leg replaced with titanium rods and an artificial knee.