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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. 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.
  2. 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....

  3. 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. ...

    Dr. John Kiluk is a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer at Moffitt.
  4. 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. Bethany Niell is a diagnostic radiologist with Moffitt Cancer Center.
  5. 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
  6. How to unplug your kids from technology overload


    If you're tired of only seeing the tops of your children's heads because their eyes are constantly glued to a screen, then it may be time for a change.

    "They are so attached to technology at such an early age. It's changing their brain circuitry," said family therapist Elaine Fogel Schneider, author of 7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired and Successful Children (Crescendo Publishing, 2016). ...

  7. Cellphone use can cause 'text neck,' experts say


    All that bending over cellphones and other electronic devices may not just be bad for your brain and relationships. It's also bad for your spine. Your neck in particular.

    Some experts are calling it "text neck."

    "I see it in patients, friends, colleagues, family members. It's a real problem," said Aimee Klein, a physical therapist and associate professor in the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences. ...

    Aimee Klein, a physical therapist and associate professor in the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences
  8. Research, new treatments offer hope for ovarian cancer patients


    In about a month, the streets of downtown St. Petersburg will be bathed in blue — a blue-green shade of teal, actually — as hundreds of walkers, runners and supporters converge at Albert Whitted Park for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation's One Step Closer to the Cure Run/Walk.

    Teal is the official color of ovarian cancer awareness. Organizers hope to raise $75,000 to help fund a financial assistance program for local patients in need. ...

    “Specialists have improved survival to over five years for advanced ovarian cancer,” Dr. Rob Wenham says.
  9. The Dish: Dunedin chef John Lewis


    Remember when Emeril Lagasse dominated the Food Network in the '90s, when his evening cooking show was must-see TV? Dunedin chef John Lewis does, because that's what inspired him to open a cooking school and turn culinary education for adults into entertainment.

    "The reaction that (Emeril) got from the live audience really impressed me, and I thought it would be neat to have a place where people could come, take classes and have a similar experience," said the 74-year-old who shares his Dunedin home with three golden retrievers. (He has even offered a class on cooking for your pets, but that's another story.)...

    Chef John Lewis helps Karl Brzezinski cut chicken breasts during a Kids Camp in the Kitchen class at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in Dunedin as Tyler Savastana, 12, stands nearby. The program marked its 19th year this summer.
  10. Stair climbing a challenging cardio workout, builds muscle strength


    If you want to get a big bang for your exercise buck, take the stairs. Whether you do it on a stepping machine at the gym, in a stairwell where you work or at a sports arena with sky-high stadium seating, stair climbing provides a great workout that challenges even the most physically fit athletes.

    Make no mistake. Stair climbing is hard work. It has endured over the years for lots of reasons, chief among them: cost — it can be free, depending on where you do it; it builds strength in most major muscle groups while providing a good cardio workout; and it burns a lot of calories in a relatively short time. ...

    Grissom walks 6 to 8 miles every day at work and takes 15 to 20 flights of stairs, according to her Fitbit tracker.
  11. Knowing when it's Alzheimer's, and when it's not


    The trouble started in 2010 when Dennis Krupinski was just 53. A longtime employee in Walt Disney World's maintenance department, he started losing things and forgetting about tasks. He seemed distracted, confused.

    The man who had received so many awards over the years for top-notch performance at work was suddenly getting reprimanded.

    "He was getting in trouble for forgetting, misplacing things, taking too long to do things, acting completely out of character," recalls Terri, his 56-year-old wife....

    Dennis Krupinski, pictured in 2014 with his wife, Terri, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at 55.
  12. The Dish: Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant owner talks Ethiopian cuisine, what she likes to cook


    If you're ever in the mood for a food adventure, try the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant on Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa. That's where you'll get your fill of Doro Wot (chicken stew), Ye Beg Wot (lamb stew), Ye Kik Alecha (stewed yellow split peas), Gomen (collard greens) and, of course, Injera, a spongy bread used to scoop food.

    While the foreign names may make the food sound exotic, these dishes are common in many Ethiopian homes and reflect the everyday cooking of owner Seble Gizaw's mother and family....

    Kifto, similar to beef tartare, is served with cheese and collard greens at Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant.
  13. New drug shows promise as migraine headache preventive


    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. ...

    “Preventives increase the number of days that you can work, socialize, participate in life,” says headache neurologist Dr. Teshamae Monteith.
  14. What to do when your hearing starts to go


    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."


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


    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. ...

    Carl Paulk, who gets a dose of Keytruda every three weeks at Moffitt Cancer Center, is convinced the drug is keeping him alive.