Health

Starzl’s Growing Shadow

Brothers Tim and Joe Scherer have always been close. They play on the same men’s softball team in Beaver County. They talk on the phone every day. Whenever one needs help on their home, they’re there for each other. In August 2015, Tim learned he needed a kidney. For reasons unknown, his body attacked his …

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Healthcare On Demand: There’s an App for That

We’ve all been there. You think you might have the flu, and you need to see a doctor, stat. You call your PCP but she’s booked solid for the next three weeks. So you hop in your car and fight the traffic to the urgent care clinic, only to find out there’s an hour-and-a-half wait. …

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A Doctor’s Face on a Billboard

After retiring from medicine, I drove across most of the southern and western United States to explore national parks and visit relatives. Every day, I would drive by billboards showing faces of physicians. I’m sure most of you have seen this type of marketing in the Pittsburgh region if not on billboards, then certainly in …

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Stepping Up

Leonardo Da Vinci called it a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art. He was referring to the human foot—a lever that propels us forward, provides balance, and bears all of our weight. Though small compared to other parts of the body, the average human foot supports a force equivalent to several hundered tons …

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Ankle Joint Replacements on the Rise

While arthritic hips and knees have long been regularly replaced, surgeons have been reluctant to replace ankle joints. But that’s changing. “In the past five years, we’ve gotten so much better at total ankle replacements,” says Dr. James Sferra, director of the Division of Foot and Ankle Surgery for Allegheny Health Network. “Today, I do …

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YMCA Leads Effort to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

More than one third of American adults are pre-diabetic. This means a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, putting them at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Patrice McNeely of Hazelwood falls into this group but is determined not to follow in her family’s footsteps. “I just turned 45 …

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Dissecting Diabetes

When Steve Lawthers takes a golf swing, his arm rubs against a small device attached to his skin, near his belt. “Other than when I play golf, I don’t know it’s there,” says Lawthers, 61, of McCandless. The device constantly measures his blood sugar and displays it on his iPhone. He got it by participating …

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Unfounded Fears of the HPV Vaccine May Have Grim Consequences

The virus is hearty, robust and everywhere: on our skin, our fingertips, our countertops. Most of us can fight it off. But certain strains can lead to chronic infections and later cancer for an estimated 25,000 American men and women. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has long been known as the major cause of cervical cancer …

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Just Breathe

Emily is an emergency dispatcher, yet work is the only place where she always feels calm. Sometimes, when Emily (not her real name) walks her dog on the sidewalks of her Pittsburgh neighborhood or gets ready to leave her home to run errands, she feels a spell of dizziness. Then comes shortness of breath. After …

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Breaking the Silence

At age 35, after a long labor and birth of her second child, Lisa (not her real name) developed urinary incontinence. She kept it a secret even from her then-husband, a military man. “He never knew. It’s humiliating… Even bringing it up to the Army doctors was embarrassing. They said, ‘Oh well, that’s what happens …

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Room Service in Wonderland

The view from up here is majestic. The smudged, working class neighborhood of my youth has grown up to be a gentrified village whose renovated rooftops peer out of a sanitary blanket of January snow. I can almost hear the bustle of the hipsters and their Uber apps, heading out to work in the city. …

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Is Being Overweight the New Smoking?

Since hitting puberty four decades ago, Claudia Pianko has struggled with her weight. “When I was in 6th grade, I was 144 pounds,” she says. By last January, the 5’ 8’’ Greensburg woman weighed in at 385 pounds. Not surprisingly, Pianko, now 54, has a slew of weight-related health problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, knee …

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Stroke Alert

It was around 10 p.m. on a summer evening a year ago. Kelly Pieczynski of North Braddock was chatting with her 21-year-old daughter about her day at Kennywood. When Pieczynski went to kiss her goodbye, she thought she was saying, “I love you. Drive safe.” But all that came out was mumbling. Her daughter, in …

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Living with Amnesia

When I pulled up to Diana Staab’s house in May, it would mark my third interview with her and the second time that month that I would spend a few hours at her home in Level Green near Murrysville. When she opened the door and said hello, she was wearing a white T-shirt, black sweatpants …

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Heroin Hits Home

By the time he was 35, James (a pseudonym) was living in a Shadyside home worth $500,000, driving an Audi A4 and earning six figures. He was seven years into his job as a recruiter for a technology company. His wife was from a wealthy family, and they traveled often. “Every six weeks, we were …

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3-D Mammograms Premier in Pittsburgh

When Diana Napper gets a compliment on her crystal bracelet, she can’t help but make a life-saving sales pitch. “This bracelet is funding some of the best technology in the world,” says Napper, 58, of McCandless. The technology is digital breast tomosynthesis—more commonly known as 3-D mammography. This breakthrough in breast cancer screening can detect …

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Plastic Surgery on Your Wish List?

In Los Angeles, it’s not uncommon to hear someone boasting about her plastic surgeon. In Miami, people don’t brag so much but definitely don’t hide cosmetic work. In these parts, plastic surgery is rarely a topic of conversation but is thriving. “One of the charming things about Pittsburgh is that plastic surgery is done here …

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Healing Children for 125 Years

Each day, Dr. Patrick Dantzer, a fourth-year resident at Children’s Hospital of UPMC, walks past an indoor mural commemorating Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine discovery. Pretty big shoes to fill, but also a good way to kick start a shift. The milestones at Children’s are copious—so many medical breakthroughs, including the polio vaccine, so …

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Rethinking Depression

Growing up in New Castle, Brenda Weingartner, 53, was a teenager when she had her first of many bouts with depression. “Back then, my parents didn’t have a good understanding of mental illness and what to do for it,” she said. “My mother’s suggestion was to go talk to the minister. That was her generation’s …

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Who’s Afraid of Obamacare?

In 1998, Bob McCafferty set out to start a business that would pay the bills and give him more free time to go camping. He bought a run-down funeral parlor dating to the 1850s. For the next several years, he spent nights restoring the building while holding down jobs as an archaeologist and bartender. He …

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Too Fat Too Young

Michelle Penn-Nored of Penn Hills has been dealing with type 2 diabetes since her late 40s. She’s determined to keep her daughter from having the same fate. Last August at 10-year-old Meccah’s wellness exam, Penn-Nored talked with the physician assistant about getting a prescription so Meccah could join Weight Watchers. She carried a lot of …

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Life Under Pressure

We’ve all experienced it: Our heart suddenly starts pounding, adrenaline courses through our legs and, unintentionally, we shout a profanity. Our body’s automatic response systems are helping us deal with a sudden stressful situation so we have the energy to act quickly, like when another driver cuts us off. “These systems are beautifully adapted for …

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