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. Parents on a mission to raise awareness of deadly amoeba

    Health

    TAMPA

    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. ...

    ,    Amoeba awareness bracelets, information cards and tattoos help to spread awareness of naegleria fowleri. The deadly amoeba thrives in warm freshwater and enters through the nose.
  2. Women who drink face special risks but also have advantages over men

    Health

    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
  3. Brooksville teen's cancer story mirrors 'Fault in Our Stars' (w/video)

    Life

    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. ...

     Faith Brown and her cousin Sami Russell play Super Mario Bros on her Wii at her home in Brooksville Wednesday July 16, 2014. "This is our favorite game," said Faith. 14 year old Faith was diagnosed with cancer last year and has had most of the bones in her right leg replaced with metal implants. "There are slight differences but I can still do things," said Faith. Faith plans to tryout for the swim team once she starts high school as a 9th grader.
  4. Brooksville teen's cancer story mirrors 'Fault in Our Stars' (w/video)

    Medicine

    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. ...

    An X-ray shows the metal rods and artificial knee in one of Faith Brown’s legs, and the bones in the other.
  5. St. Joseph's Children's Hospital clinic wins federal innovation grant

    Medicine

    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.
  6. 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."...

    Four years after her accident, Leslie Curran posted on Facebook after finishing the bike route she took that day in 2010.
  7. 3-D mammograms improve breast cancer detection

    Health

    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.
  8. Tampa General celebrates 40 years of kidney transplantation

    Medicine

    TAMPA

    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....

    Cindy Ellis had a kidney transplant at Tampa General Hospital in 1977. At 62, she is the longest known survivor of the hospital’s kidney program, which is celebrating 40 years in business this month. Her older sister was the donor.
  9. SoundBite device helps restore hearing in one-sided deafness

    Health

    TAMPA

    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....

  10. Peripheral neuropathy's pain grips 20 million Americans

    Health

    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....

    Bruce Dangremond
  11. Common antibiotic may control deadly abdominal aortic aneurysm

    Health

    TAMPA — Imagine walking around with a ticking time bomb inside you. That's how an abdominal aortic aneurysm, also known as an AAA or triple A, is often described.

    Like a bubble on a bicycle tire, the balloonlike bulge forms on the main artery that supplies blood to the lower body. There usually are no symptoms, but if the aneurysm bursts, it's fatal 75 percent of the time.

    The larger the aneurysm, the greater the risk of rupture and the more likely doctors are to recommend a surgical repair. Small aneurysms — less than 2 inches in size — rarely burst and are watched with ultrasound to monitor when they become large enough to repair....

  12. Sleep apnea poses risk of complications for pregnant women

    Health

    TAMPA

    Jamillet Flores was used to feeling sleepy, a side-effect of medication she takes.

    But a nurse observing her during a routine visit to Tampa General Hospital noticed the signs of what would turn out to be far more serious: Obstructive sleep apnea that stopped her breathing at least 100 times a night.

    It's a condition most often associated with overweight men who snore so badly they keep their partners up. But obstructive sleep apnea can be an issue at any age, and either gender....

    Jamillet Flores’ CPAP machine, which keeps airways open by blowing air through a hose, sits by her hospital bed.
  13. Even for low-risk births, some Tampa Bay hospitals have high C-section rates

    Health

    TAMPA — For years, health officials have struggled to reduce the high rate of surgical births in the United States, amid reports that American babies are more than twice as likely to arrive via caesarean section than in countries such as the Netherlands.

    A new study from Consumer Reports shows that C-section rates vary not just between nations, but even between hospitals in the same area....

  14. Kids finding fitness and more in CrossFit craze (w/video)

    Health

    If you're an exercise enthusiast who keeps up with all the latest trends, you've probably heard about CrossFit and its WOD, RXs and AMRAPs. • Beyond the shorthand lingo, CrossFit is known for delivering faithful followers trimmer, firmer, stronger bodies prepared for demands that range from carrying groceries to carrying a limp body away from enemy fire. • Since its beginnings in California more than 20 years ago, the CrossFit craze has spread to more than 9,000 locations worldwide with a loyal following among mostly young and middle-aged adults, many of them in the military or first responders including police officers, firefighters and paramedics. • Now CrossFit is becoming popular with a new crowd: children, even those in preschool. Although much less intense than the adult version, it promises to prepare kids for competitive sports and vigorous pursuits like mountain climbing. • At age 9, Luke Bernstein is convinced that CrossFit has improved his baseball game. • "I'm a pitcher and it has really strengthened my arm. I can hit better and throw better," the St. Petersburg boy said. • For the Bernsteins, CrossFit is a family affair. Luke expects to graduate to grownup CrossFit before too much longer — after all, his 13-year-old brother moved up this year to the adult program, where he works out beside their dad at CrossFit StPete, a box that offers programs for adults and kids. ...

    Instructor Meghan Dorman, 32, helps Ryan Hedge, 6, with a handstand in a class that works on strength, balance, coordination, problem-solving and self-confidence.
JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times
  15. Laser plus MRI equals less invasive brain surgery option

    Health

    TAMPA — For six years, Markus Muehlheim could keep his epileptic seizures under control with medication. They came on more than a year apart, each lasting less than 10 minutes.

    But then the Spring Hill man began having seizures about every two weeks, landing him in the hospital every time.

    "My life was very much affected by it," said the 69-year-old retired mechanical engineer. "I couldn't drive anymore. They came unannounced. It happened twice when I was in a restaurant."...

    Dr. Fernando Vale of USF Health looks at images from an MRI in a Tampa General Hospital operating room.