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. Drug combo tested at Moffitt extends survival in advanced melanoma cases


    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.
  2. Eye implant offers hope to seniors with vision loss due to AMD


    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.
  3. Zumba student who lost 116 pounds is now Zumba teacher



    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....

    Lena Redding keeps a pair of her size 30 jeans as a reminder.
  4. Patients seek reflux relief in a surgically implanted ring of beads


    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.
  5. Book, show by Dr. Steven Masley focus on heart health in 30 days



    At one point in Dr. Steven Masley's career he was seeing 30 to 40 patients a day, writing prescriptions for blood pressure and cholesterol medications and sending them on their way hoping next time they'd be healthier. ¶ "I wasn't able to transform their lives," he said recently, frustration clear in his voice. ¶ All that changed when he broke away from traditional family medicine and started a new practice focused on preventing and reversing heart disease and other chronic diseases largely influenced by lifestyle. The Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg was developed to help busy professionals recover from damaging health habits or take their already good habits to the next level. ¶ Patients spend a day undergoing health tests, screenings and thorough discussions about their health goals and lifestyle. They leave with a program that promises to deliver improved numbers and more energy, usually in 30 days — if they stick with the program. ¶ "In this setting I work with very motivated people,'' Masley said. "They're paying for it out of pocket, from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on what tests we run. We don't accept insurance. And they get awesome results.''...

    On a recent afternoon, Dr. Steven Masley prepared his favorite coleslaw recipe, which is included in a new book. The cabbage-carrot-apple combination is fresh and flavorful, and there’s very little mayonnaise.
  6. USF Health clinical trials at Tampa General test drugs for sickle cell pain


    TAMPA — Edna Perez's memories of her early childhood in Puerto Rico are dominated by hospital stays and doctor visits, chronic pain so severe she sometimes couldn't walk, fainting spells and other puzzling symptoms that couldn't be explained or stopped.

    Doctors suspected a blood disorder, possibly hemophilia, but suggested the family return to New York, where Perez was born, and consult with specialists. Otherwise, they said, the little girl likely had just months to live....

    Edna Perez, 53, center, discusses her sickle cell anemia with Tampa General researchers Susan Barnett, left, and Debra Harris. Perez, a nurse, is participating in a drug study.
  7. Tampa moms learn a new take on heritage and health



    Meeting one recent evening at their children's day care center, a group of young West Tampa moms was asked what they like to cook and eat at home.

    Their answers conjured up visions of Sunday dinner throughout the South: crispy pork chops, fried chicken, baked fish, collard greens, pork and beans, green beans seasoned with ham, white rice and gravy, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cheese, mashed potatoes, pasta, potato salad and corn bread. ...

    Latia Williams smells berbere, a fragrant Ethiopian spice blend. Instructor Cassandra Hector
encouraged moms to use less fat and salt in cooking, and more spices, fruits and vegetables.
  8. A golden retriever's healing legacy for cancer patients


    TAMPA — Even at about 10 years and 70 pounds, Holly the golden retriever was all puppy around squirrels, tennis balls and treats.

    But when it came to her work with patients at Moffitt Cancer Center, she was all business.

    She'd burrow her soft, furry face into every lap that would have her, and nestle into all the arms that hugged her. Plume-like tail swishing, she'd leave behind big smiles, even if they were hidden by surgical masks worn to protect from human — not canine — infections. ...

    W. Steven Hazell pets Holly before she receives a cancer treatment at Sunshine Animal Hospital on Jan. 17 in Tampa. Holly, seen with her owner Kelly Pavone, died Wednesday.
  9. Test your knowledge of key health issues in upcoming year


    Some of 2013's biggest health news will keep making headlines in 2014. Many of these issues may al­ready matter a great deal to your health — and perhaps your wallet.

    Take our quiz to test your knowledge. (Answers, 5B)

    1. The year's biggest health story was the rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace. Now the website is running more smoothly and policyholders are starting to use their new insurance. For those who still aren't insured and are above the income minimums, what is the deadline to get insurance or face a possible financial penalty?...

    Doctor checks blood pressure of a patient.
  10. Fridge magnet proves lifeline to a heart attack sufferer


    OLDSMAR — It's small, plastic, has a magnet on the back — and it may have saved Charlene Mixa's life.

    For years, Mixa had occasionally experienced a sensation of pressure in her chest and jaw. The pain was mild, and it happened only once or twice a year, during hiking trips.

    She figured it had something to do with altitude, since she was in the mountains whenever the pain struck. It always went away when she rested, so she figured it was nothing to worry about. Other reasons for her confidence: At 67, Mixa has always been active, never smoked and keeps her weight in check. She even switched to a plant-based diet five years ago when her cholesterol started creeping up....

    If you’d like to receive a free magnet like the one that helped Oldsmar resident Charlene Mixa last March, call BayCare Health System at (727) 253-4155.
  11. New device aims to prop open blocked arteries, then dissolve


    CLEARWATER — About six months ago, David Petrantoni's heart started fluttering.

    "It felt like it would race a little bit, then be normal. Then it would do it again," said the Tarpon Springs home builder. "That went on every once in a while for a couple months."

    Because he'd been treated for a blockage in his heart five years earlier, Petrantoni, 54, knew he should take the fluttering seriously, so he went to the doctor. After several inconclusive tests, he went in for a catheterization to pinpoint the cause of his symptoms. That's when doctors found a vessel 85 to 90 percent blocked. ...

    David Petrantoni had his procedure in August and went home the same day. It’s a medical trial, so he doesn’t know if he got a traditional stent or an experimental one.
  12. USF Pre-Med Pals find they get as much as they give at All Children's Hospital



    If you've ever been wheeled from the hospital to your car, been offered a cup of coffee from a hospital cart, or been shown the way to the waiting area for loved ones of surgery patients, chances are a volunteer helped you.

    Years ago, mostly women volunteered in hospitals. They often were known as the gray ladies, a term that came from the uniforms that American Red Cross volunteers wore in hospitals during World War I....

    Volunteer Everett Rogers visits recently with cystic fibrosis patient Alexander Dobbs, 18, at All Children’s Hospital. Premed students from USF St. Petersburg visit the hospital twice a week to meet with cystic fibrosis patients.
  13. Work at All Children's Hospital? Better get a flu shot — fast


    ST. PETERSBURG — Hospitals around the bay area are getting tough on employees who won't get flu shots, insisting that they wear surgical masks if they won't be vaccinated.

    Now All Children's Hospital is taking the hardest line yet. Any employees who do not have a vaccination by 6 p.m. Friday may be fired unless they have an accepted medical or religious reason to decline.

    "It's a patient safety issue," said Jay Kuhns, vice president of human resources at All Children's. "We take care of some of the most medically fragile patients out there, and if someone doesn't want to embrace our commitment to patient safety, they're not going to be able to work at All Children's anymore." ...

    Studies show that when flu vaccination is optional, only about 50 to 70 percent of health care workers get the annual shot. Making it mandatory ups compliance to better than 90 percent.
  14. Advances in screening, surgery help more survive lung cancer


    TAMPA — Richard Macdonnell started smoking when he was a teen. When he heard about low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer, he knew he was a candidate.

    "It was always in the back of my mind," said the 59-year-old, who smoked a pack a day for 40 years. "I knew I should do it, but I always put it off."

    Last month, he summoned the courage, went to Moffitt Cancer Center and handed over $150 for the test, no prescription required....

    Virginia Costenbader, 85, a nonsmoker, works out in Gulfport on Tuesday. She was home two days after surgery for lung cancer.
  15. Have high blood pressure? Tell your dentist about it


    TAMPA — A few years ago, Mearlin Griffin was at her dentist's office, all set to have a tooth extracted.

    "I was sitting in the chair and before they numbed me up they took my blood pressure," she recalled. "I was shocked that it was high. Too high."

    She felt fine, but accepted her periodontist's recommendation that she get her blood pressure resolved before having the tooth pulled....

    Dental assistant Shelby Light, left, and Dr. Patrick Johnson remove the wisdom teeth of Angelina McIver at North Tampa Periodontics and Implant Dentistry on Nov. 21.