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. 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.
  2. 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....

  3. 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.
  4. 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....

    Hayden Powell, 7, smells cilantro that his mother, Gina, is holding during the Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest at Datz last month in Tampa. The event taught families how to cook together and brought a nutritionist in to speak.
  5. 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....

  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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. ...

    For a story about Faith Brown of Brooksville, a girl who had many of the bones in her left leg replaced with titanium rods due to cancer, we have an X-ray of her legs, side by side, to show what the implant looks like. [All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine.]
  9. 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 poses for a portrait next to a photograph of herself in her room at her Brooksville home. “That photo was taken when I was going through treatment sometime last year,” she said.
  10. St. Joseph's Children's Hospital clinic wins federal innovation grant


    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.
  11. 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."...

    Former St. Petersburg Councilwoman  Leslie Curran rides her bicycle along Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, July 3, 2014. She was involved in a near fatal bicycle accident August 2010.
  12. 3-D mammograms improve breast cancer detection


    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.
  13. Tampa General celebrates 40 years of kidney transplantation



    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.
  14. SoundBite device helps restore hearing in one-sided deafness



    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....

    A shingles outbreak left Sandy Alfonso of Tampa deaf in one ear, which proved debilitating. She now uses a SoundBite device.
  15. Peripheral neuropathy's pain grips 20 million Americans


    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