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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. For the start of school, and the rest of the year too, pay attention to 'sleep hygiene'

    Health

    As families prepare for the start of another school year, we're reminded of a critical activity that's often overlooked: getting children, even high school aged teens, back to an earlier sleep-wake schedule.

    All summer long many kids enjoyed staying up later and sleeping in the next morning, sometimes shifting their normal sleep-wake schedule by several hours. Now, it's time to shift back and lots of parents and kids are wondering: How do we do it?...

    Dr. John Prpich is pediatric pulmonologist at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and medical director of the pediatric respiratory therapy department.
  2. Fab 50 for Women on the Run takes members from couch to race course

    Health

    Barbara Hawkins knew she had to make a change in order to enjoy an active, healthy retirement. The 58-year-old elementary school assistant principal plans to retire in 2016 and has watched her parents, siblings and extended family members struggle for years with weight problems, cancer, bad knees and hips, an unhealthy diet and a lack of meaningful exercise. She wanted a different future but wasn't sure how to get there. ...

    Betsy Van Tilburg, also know as “Battle Ax,” trains with the Fab 50 Women on the Run, on the Pinellas Trail on July 11 in Largo.
  3. Depression common after serious illness or medical treatments, and should be treated

    Health

    You expect pain after surgery. Nausea with chemotherapy. Weight gain when taking certain medications. But few people see it coming when depression creeps in as a side effect of major illness or its treatment.

    "I was crying all the time. All I wanted to do was sleep to escape from it," recalls Sandra Knightley of Lake Wales, who was about seven months into a year of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer when depression descended and wouldn't lift. It took months to convince her oncologist that she was depressed and get a referral for a psychological evaluation and counseling....

    Sandra Knightley is pictured in 2014, when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
  4. Officials warn of bacterium in saltwater — but be careful what you call it

    Health

    Health officials are working to convince tourists and residents that Florida beaches are safe after their recent warning about a summertime bacterium generated overblown headlines.

    The Florida Department of Health sent out its annual warning May 29, saying the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, found in raw oysters and warm saltwater, had caused two deaths this year and was "a potential health threat" that people should know about. It added that infections from the bacterium were rare. ...

    A colorized scanning electron micrograph of a flagellated Vibrio vulnificus bacterium.
  5. Testosterone therapy has rewards — and risks

    Medicine

    When middle-aged and older men feel fatigued, depressed, irritable, can't sleep and lose interest in sex, slick advertising suggests the cause may be low testosterone or low-T. The ads say the condition can be easily fixed with a testosterone patch, gel, injection or pill.

    But, now, there is some confusion over who should get the treatment and, furthermore, whether the therapy can lead to heart attacks and strokes....

    Dr. Justin Parker at USF Health says a warning on low-T therapy went too far.
  6. Skin cancer can surface in unusual places, so be vigilant in checking

    Health

    Conner Fenlon noticed he had a small bald spot on the back of his head, near the top, when he was in high school. He figured it was a sort of birthmark and never gave it much thought.

    Then, last year, Fenlon decided to participate in a fundraiser for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and agreed to have his head shaved. With the area no longer blocked by surrounding hair, friends noticed and commented that it was red and inflamed. ...

    Conner Fenlon gives a thumbs-up in this photo taken by his father, Joe Fenlon, about 30 minutes after getting out of the operating room in May 2014.
  7. There's a reason why teenagers act the way they do

    Health

    If your loving, kind, considerate child has changed, seemingly overnight, into a not so lovable teenage stranger, the reason may be out of your — and your teen's — control. Take it from Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist, neuroscientist and single mom who went through it, having raised two boys and survived, but only after immersing herself in the scientific research on brain development in 13- to 25-year-olds....

    “They’re like a Ferrari with weak brakes,” Dr. Frances Jensen said of teens and their still-developing brains.
  8. Moffitt opens lounge for adolescent, young-adult cancer patients

    Health

    Lindsey Lucas looked around the waiting area of Moffitt Cancer Center and saw lots of senior citizens. Lucas was only 28 years old and had just been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.

    Three years later, she recalls that "I was the youngest person in the GI clinic waiting area all the time. Not seeing others my age did affect me. I felt very isolated."

    Even worse, she said: "Not seeing others my age, I automatically assumed it was because they were all dead. I thought there was no one else like me and no hope." ...

    Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is opening a new lounge today geared to adolescents and young adults featuring modern furnishings, a large flat-screen television and a game console.
  9. Q&A with Parkinson's disease researcher

    Health

    Two major research milestones changed the course of Parkinson's disease, and Erica Mandelbaum of Tampa benefited from both. The mother of two was diagnosed when she was just 36. "I was furious," recalls Mandelbaum, who is now 58. "That lasted a couple years. Then I decided it was time to live."

    The most commonly prescribed medication, which replaces a chemical in the brain in short supply in Parkinson's patients, helped for many years. Then she developed uncontrollable physical symptoms: shaking, foot dragging and stooped posture. Enter deep brain stimulation, an implanted battery-operated device that stimulates areas of the brain that control movement and blocks abnormal signals to those areas. ...

    Dr. Robert Hauser is a professor of neurology, molecular pharmacology and physiology.
  10. Spring-cleaning is good for your well-being

    Health

    My stuff was really starting to annoy me.

    Clothing, shoes, purses, mixing bowls, serving platters, towels, bottles of once-used shampoo and conditioner, books, shopping bags, wrapping paper, boxes of pens. Things I didn't use, need or particularly like were choking closets, cupboards, drawers. How did I end up with 45 T-shirts, most faded, stained, too big or too small?

    I longed to see some open shelf space in my kitchen, to be able to take a shirt out of the closet and not have to iron it, to effortlessly pluck a pair of socks from a drawer....

    Nicole Crawford of Temple Terrace plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Safiya, in Safiya’s newly organized room. Crawford said she recently shopped at the Container Store to further organize some areas of her home.
  11. Q and A: Which hybrid workout is right for you?

    Health

    Spoxing, along with Piloxing, Barre Ride, Tread and ZenCore, are all examples of a hot trend known as fusion fitness or hybrid training.

    When you combine at least two different types of exercise in one fitness regimen — think weights and cardio, running and yoga — you're doing a fusion or hybrid workout. So why not a mashup of spinning and boxing?

    The exercise combinations are designed to challenge more body parts and physical skills. Another great example is YogAqua. Many of the standard yoga exercises and poses are performed on a standup paddleboard floating on the water. It taps into muscles you may not use when working out on the fixed floor of a yoga studio and challenges balance, strength and coordination....

  12. Women, doctors adjust to new cervical cancer screening guidelines

    Health

    Millions of American women who dutifully show up at their gynecologist's office for an annual Pap test are finding they probably won't need to be screened again for two, three, in some cases as many as five years. • The recommendations changed in 2012 after a major study involving more than 1 million women found that the interval between Pap tests could be longer because of the time it takes abnormal cellular changes in the cervix to develop into cancer. Still, some women are only now hearing about the change because it has taken time for insurance companies to adopt the new guidelines and change what they will cover. • Not all women are embracing the less-frequent testing message. • "My 50-year-olds are very skeptical about not having a Pap every year," said Dr. J. K. Williams, director of the division of gynecology in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. "We have drilled it in, they are convinced, that it's the most important screening test. So, you can't talk 50-year-olds out of it.'' • For their daughters, though, it's a different story. • "My 25-year-olds say, 'Oh that's great!' " he said....

    Cervical cancer survivor Kimberly Mello, shown with her husband, Kevin, has doubts about less frequent Pap tests. Experts defend the move.
  13. Heart disease is on the rise among younger women

    Health

    ST. PETERSBURG

    In March 1999, Katie Pemble was 34 and nearing the end of her first pregnancy. She was beyond uncomfortable, exhausted, and, at times, felt breathless. Her ankles and feet were so swollen that she had to buy larger shoes.

    Her doctor wasn't overly concerned; those symptoms are common late in pregnancy. While in labor, Pemble's blood pressure soared dangerously high so her doctor ordered a caesarean section....

    Go Red for Women 2016 luncheon chairwoman Dotty Bollinger, left, visits with 2015 chairwoman Connie Bessler and 2014 chairwoman Katie Pemble at a fundraiser.
  14. Severe flu season puts seniors at particular risk

    Health

    Tampa Bay area health officials say they are seeing more cases of flu the this year, and patients with flu are sicker than usual. And that's especially bad news for seniors, many of whom have other health problems that can mean the flu is even more serious.

    "We are seeing a significant increase in seniors with the flu, both vaccinated and unvaccinated," said Dr. David Weiland, chief medical officer for Largo Medical Center, speaking for all five HCA facilities in Pinellas County. "Many patients have serious complications associated with influenza, such as pneumonia, many more this year over this time last year. They are sicker than last year, there are more of them, and more are dying as a result of complications of the flu."...

    Doctors say even an imperfect vaccine is better than nothing in fighting the flu.
  15. 5 top tips for better health in 2015

    Health

    Losing weight and getting fit may top many lists of New Year's resolutions, but good overall health is key to achieving those objectives — and many more. We spoke with Dr. Richard Roetzheim, chairman of the department of family medicine at USF Health, to get his five top tips to follow for better general health.

    1. If you're a smoker, quit.

    Tobacco use affects so many organs and functions in the body that dumping cigarettes will provide a multitude of benefits. If quitting a decades-old habit seems too daunting, "at least make an attempt to quit," he said. And since studies show that people who accept help are more successful quitters, reach out to support groups, websites, phone help lines or your family doctor. Free resources from the state Department of Health are available at tobaccofreeflorida.com. ...

    5 top tips for maintaining your health in 2015. [Illustration by Jean Tuttle | Special to the Times]