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. St. Joseph's Children's Hospital clinic wins federal innovation grant

    Medicine

    TAMPA — Like many teenagers, Caroline West needed to have her wisdom teeth extracted. But Caroline, 17, has a rare genetic condition known as alternating hemiplegia of childhood that has left her with severe physical and mental disabilities.

    Her condition is so fragile, the routine dental surgery led to a cascade of complications that took two months to resolve.

    "Any little thing throws her off balance," said Tish West, 60, Caroline's mother. "Just having her teeth pulled was a very big deal."...

    Tish West and her daughter Caroline attend prom night at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital on May 3, 2013.
  2. Bicycle helmet saves her life, but not months in recovery

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Leslie Curran has always been active and athletic, focused on physical fitness. So it was no surprise in 2006 when Curran, then a St. Petersburg City Council member, took up bike riding.

    At her peak, she notched a few 20-mile daily rides a week, and up to 50-mile rides on weekends. She always wore a helmet and never rode with more than one or two friends.

    "I didn't feel comfortable riding with a big peloton," said Curran, 58, of the large groups that regularly ride together in St. Petersburg. "I thought it was much safer to ride by ourselves."...

    St. Petersburg City Council member Leslie Curran is greeted Jan. 13, 2011, by fellow council member Bill Dudley, standing, at City Hall. Also shown, council member Karl Nurse.
  3. 3-D mammograms improve breast cancer detection

    Health

    TAMPA — When Jenna Johnson went for her annual mammogram in November, she was also offered a newer screening test that would take three-dimensional images. It would take a few extra minutes, but Johnson didn't mind.

    Like a lot of women, she has received those nerve-wracking phone calls after a mammogram to tell her that something didn't look quite right.

    "I've been called back before," said Johnson, 51, an executive assistant who lives in Tampa. "It's always been nothing, so I thought maybe with 3-D they'd get a better view of what's in there." ...

    Jenna Johnson credits 3-D mammography for finding a small cancerous lump in her breast that the traditional two-dimensional procedure probably would have missed.
  4. Tampa General celebrates 40 years of kidney transplantation

    Medicine

    TAMPA

    As a little girl, Cindy Ellis was frequently ill. Then a severe respiratory infection traveled to her kidneys. Doctors said the damage was so great that she wouldn't make it to age 6.

    But Ellis kept on celebrating birthdays. It took 20 years for her kidneys to fail, requiring nearly 12 hours a week of dialysis.

    By then, it was the late 1970s, and Ellis was 25 and married with a little girl of her own. Spending so much time immobile, hooked up to blood-cleaning equipment, was miserable....

    Brittany Fisher, who is 26, had her transplant in 1991, at age 3.
  5. SoundBite device helps restore hearing in one-sided deafness

    Health

    TAMPA

    Put a high-quality earplug firmly in one ear. Then go about your day as usual.

    Don't be surprised if you find it frustrating, embarrassing, stressful and exhausting. That's how it was for Sandy Alfonso of Tampa in 2009 when she lost hearing in her left ear following a severe bout of shingles.

    The hearing loss affected everything from her usual morning routine, driving and work performance to going out with friends. Even walking became a trial, because one-sided hearing put her off balance. She had to quit her management job in the health insurance industry and felt increasingly isolated....

  6. Peripheral neuropathy's pain grips 20 million Americans

    Health

    If you've never heard of peripheral neuropathy, just listen to people who have it and you'll begin to understand the misery it causes.

    Sara McConnell says her legs — from hips to feet — feel like they're touching the glowing, red-hot burners of an electric stove. At one point, she had to quit working and move in with her mother in Pasco County.

    For Bruce Dangremond, it's like having an electrical current running through his body....

    Sara McConnell
  7. Common antibiotic may control deadly abdominal aortic aneurysm

    Health

    TAMPA — Imagine walking around with a ticking time bomb inside you. That's how an abdominal aortic aneurysm, also known as an AAA or triple A, is often described.

    Like a bubble on a bicycle tire, the balloonlike bulge forms on the main artery that supplies blood to the lower body. There usually are no symptoms, but if the aneurysm bursts, it's fatal 75 percent of the time.

    The larger the aneurysm, the greater the risk of rupture and the more likely doctors are to recommend a surgical repair. Small aneurysms — less than 2 inches in size — rarely burst and are watched with ultrasound to monitor when they become large enough to repair....

  8. Sleep apnea poses risk of complications for pregnant women

    Health

    TAMPA

    Jamillet Flores was used to feeling sleepy, a side-effect of medication she takes.

    But a nurse observing her during a routine visit to Tampa General Hospital noticed the signs of what would turn out to be far more serious: Obstructive sleep apnea that stopped her breathing at least 100 times a night.

    It's a condition most often associated with overweight men who snore so badly they keep their partners up. But obstructive sleep apnea can be an issue at any age, and either gender....

    Jamillet Flores visits her newborn son, Jonah, recently at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa. Flores was diagnosed with sleep apnea while pregnant and was given a device to use during sleep to prevent dangerous pauses in her breathing.
  9. Even for low-risk births, some Tampa Bay hospitals have high C-section rates

    Health

    TAMPA — For years, health officials have struggled to reduce the high rate of surgical births in the United States, amid reports that American babies are more than twice as likely to arrive via caesarean section than in countries such as the Netherlands.

    A new study from Consumer Reports shows that C-section rates vary not just between nations, but even between hospitals in the same area....

  10. Kids finding fitness and more in CrossFit craze (w/video)

    Health

    If you're an exercise enthusiast who keeps up with all the latest trends, you've probably heard about CrossFit and its WOD, RXs and AMRAPs. • Beyond the shorthand lingo, CrossFit is known for delivering faithful followers trimmer, firmer, stronger bodies prepared for demands that range from carrying groceries to carrying a limp body away from enemy fire. • Since its beginnings in California more than 20 years ago, the CrossFit craze has spread to more than 9,000 locations worldwide with a loyal following among mostly young and middle-aged adults, many of them in the military or first responders including police officers, firefighters and paramedics. • Now CrossFit is becoming popular with a new crowd: children, even those in preschool. Although much less intense than the adult version, it promises to prepare kids for competitive sports and vigorous pursuits like mountain climbing. • At age 9, Luke Bernstein is convinced that CrossFit has improved his baseball game. • "I'm a pitcher and it has really strengthened my arm. I can hit better and throw better," the St. Petersburg boy said. • For the Bernsteins, CrossFit is a family affair. Luke expects to graduate to grownup CrossFit before too much longer — after all, his 13-year-old brother moved up this year to the adult program, where he works out beside their dad at CrossFit StPete, a box that offers programs for adults and kids. ...

    Charlie Eggimann, left, works out during a cross fitness class for kids that sometimes seems more like games than exercise.
  11. Laser plus MRI equals less invasive brain surgery option

    Health

    TAMPA — For six years, Markus Muehlheim could keep his epileptic seizures under control with medication. They came on more than a year apart, each lasting less than 10 minutes.

    But then the Spring Hill man began having seizures about every two weeks, landing him in the hospital every time.

    "My life was very much affected by it," said the 69-year-old retired mechanical engineer. "I couldn't drive anymore. They came unannounced. It happened twice when I was in a restaurant."...

    Dr. Fernando Vale of USF Health looks at images from an MRI in a Tampa General Hospital operating room.
  12. Drug combo tested at Moffitt extends survival in advanced melanoma cases

    Health

    TAMPA — James "Mango" Buckwald was near the end of a two-day appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center last week, waiting for his oncologist's verdict on a lung scan.

    "The news is good," said Dr. Jeffrey Weber, director of Moffitt's Melanoma Research Center of Excellence. "Everything looks good."

    They were the words Buckwald, 46, longed to hear — and news that could mean a great deal to other patients with advanced melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer because it is so likely to spread to major organs such as the lungs....

    Melanoma survivor James “Mango” Buckwald talks with Dr. Jeffrey Weber about recent scans at Moffitt Cancer Center.
  13. Eye implant offers hope to seniors with vision loss due to AMD

    Health

    CLEARWATER — Seventeen years after she had first been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, Winnie Betteley's vision had become so poor she no longer could watch TV, solve crossword puzzles, play cards — or even recognize her friends' faces.

    But Betteley, a widow whose children all live out of state, insisted on her independence. After she was declared legally blind in 2007, she went to school to learn the skills she needed to remain in her Clearwater condo....

    Winnie Betteley, 87, of Clearwater elected to have a new telescope implant placed into her right eye last June. It helped restore the vision she lost from age-related macular degeneration.
  14. Zumba student who lost 116 pounds is now Zumba teacher

    Health

    CLEARWATER

    Lena Redding is so convinced of the benefits of Zumba, she quit her full-time job, became certified to teach the fitness classes and hopes to make a living coaching people who want to "use it to lose it," as she likes to say.

    The reason for her enthusiasm is obvious: Zumba helped her lose more than 100 pounds.

    It wasn't easy. She wants to share what she has learned with others who are struggling. Especially those who worry that they are too large to exercise....

    Claudia Garzon notices that she could fit both legs into one leg of Lena Redding’s old size 30 jeans. Garzon has been with Redding throughout her recent metamorphosis. Now the student is a Zumba teacher.
  15. Patients seek reflux relief in a surgically implanted ring of beads

    Medicine

    TAMPA — For more than 20 years, Victor Alonso put up with gastric reflux. The heartburn, chronic coughing, worrying about what and when he could eat, the daily medication that didn't really help. The rare possibility that the medication might cover up symptoms of a serious consequence of reflux — esophageal cancer.

    Last year, Alonso, 50, decided he wanted a permanent solution. His doctor told him about the gold standard surgery known as Nissen fundoplication, a decades-old procedure that can have a better than 90 percent success rate. But when Alonso found out that recovery could take several months and there was a possibility of side effects such as bloating, he looked for other options. ...

    Victor Alonso, 50, who has had gastric reflux for more than 20 years, opted to have a LINX procedure in November. He was able to resume eating many of his favorite foods right away.