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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. Q&A with Parkinson's disease researcher


    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.
  2. Spring-cleaning is good for your well-being


    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....

  3. Q and A: Which hybrid workout is right for you?


    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....

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


    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.
  5. Heart disease is on the rise among younger women



    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....

    Toni Walsh, Katie Pemble and Debbie Saltiel attend a Circle of Red event. The Circle of Red supports the American Heart Association.
  6. Severe flu season puts seniors at particular risk


    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.
  7. 5 top tips for better health in 2015


    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 ...

    5 top tips for maintaining your health in 2015. [Illustration by Jean Tuttle | Special to the Times]
  8. 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.”
  9. 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
  10. 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. ...

  11. 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."...

  12. 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....

    Carl Paulk, 65, left, gets his dose of Keytruda from Maria Trice, right, during a recent visit to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. He gets the drug every three weeks and has been on it for over two years.
  13. 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 team, getting a workout on the Hillsborough River in July, trains year-round for races across the country.
  14. 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.
  15. 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....