Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lee Ann Vasil's "Because of GBMC" Story

Lee Ann's daughter and father
Every one of us has a story we can share. Think of a past event in your life related to GBMC. Whether it’s care you received, an opportunity you have, or a loved one you remember, this event should have very personal meaning to you. What’s happened in your life since your experience at GBMC? Read Lee Ann Vasil’s story below, and share yours at

Lee Ann Vasil's Story: "The Best Surgeons"

About 50 years ago, when GBMC was brand new, my dad was still working as a supervisor in installation of products for BGE. He must have felt ill as he was driving near his home and stopped there to take a break. A neighbor noticed the company car was there for a long period of time and knew there must be a problem. The neighbor called his wife at her work and they soon got to my dad. They found him unconscious on the bathroom floor.

An ambulance was called, and when my dad arrived at GBMC, he was told that his bowel had ruptured and needed immediate surgery. His condition was rapidly deteriorating but we were assured that he would be in good hands. How fortunate we were to have Dr. Geary Stonesifer ready to take care of him. This kind of surgery doesn't stop with the initial operation – there was a colostomy involved and then more surgery in six months to close it. It did not take the family long to realize that our very sick dad and husband had one of the best surgeons…someone that we could have only hoped for in our situation. Also, how fortunate that the ambulance took him to GBMC, where he was given very good care as he recovered from a serious situation.

Two years ago my daughter, who was 58 at the time, had very intense pain in her abdomen and was rushed to the emergency room at GBMC. We were advised by her gastroenterologist that we needed to call in a surgeon. History had repeated itself, and my daughter's colon had also ruptured. She had been in a hospital near her home the week before with pneumonia and also had other health issues, which posed a very serious situation. Again, we had the good fortune that GBMC had another special surgeon, Dr. Francis Rotolo. I told him the day of surgery that I knew it was a very serious situation but knowing what a skilled surgeon he was gave me much encouragement. Her visits are now six months apart, and after two surgeries and two years of visits, we know what a blessing it was to once again have been fortunate to have one of the best surgeons for a very ill patient.

I cannot imagine having to move to a place where I would not have this great hospital that has some of the very best surgeons. My father lived another 20 years. As ill as he was that day, I know how lucky we were to have had Dad long enough to see my daughter get married and to meet his great grandchildren. I have no other family but my daughter, and I can’t help but think how different my life and the life of her family could have been.

After I retired, I knew I wanted to give back. I'm now a GBMC volunteer, giving back to the place that helped my family so much.

Sun Safety Tips

Keeping your skin and eyes safe from the sun is an important aspect of summer health and skin cancer prevention. Typically the result of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The good news is that skin cancer caused by sun damage can be avoided with proper precautions. Early detection and proper treatment also make it highly likely that those who are diagnosed can be cured. It is essential to take precautions to help prevent the negative effects of UV rays.

Here are some easy steps you can take to protect yourself:
  • Use sunscreen. Sunscreen – which comes in many forms such as creams, gels, lip balms, lotions, ointments, sprays and wipes – with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating to help protect your skin from burning. Sunscreen is just a filter and does not block all UV rays, so it is important to combine sunscreens with other forms of UV protection.
  • Step out of the sun. UV rays are present year-round, but their strength changes with the time of year and your location on the globe. Periodically taking a break from the sun to sit indoors or in the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is the hottest, will allow your skin to recover and help you avoid over-exposure.
  • Put on clothing. While an “even tan” is something many people strive to achieve, covering your skin a few times during your summer outing is best for your health. A hat with a two- to three-inch brim that has a dark, non-reflective underside will protect the sensitive skin of your head and neck, and a t-shirt will protect your shoulders and chest. Cover as much of your skin as possible to avoid burning and dehydration.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses. UV rays can cause eye problems such as cataracts. The delicate skin around the eyes can be harmed by UV rays, making wraparound sunglasses labeled with “UV absorption up to 400nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” essential to eye health. These labels mean the glasses will block out nearly 99 percent of UV rays, whereas cosmetic sunglasses will only block about 70 percent. Unlabeled sunglasses likely provide no UV protection.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps. The UV rays present in tanning beds and sun lamps can cause long-term skin damage that contributes to skin cancer. The American Cancer Society  recommends using a sunless tanning lotion in place of tanning beds and sun lamps.
Regular skin examinations performed by a primary care physician or dermatologist can help to detect potentially harmful skin changes. Be sure to ask your primary care physician for a skin exam during your annual checkup. In need of a primary care physician? Visit to select one who is right for you.

Meet Your Neighbors – GBMC at Joppa Road

When it comes to healthcare, the patient should always come first. That is why every GBMC primary care practice functions as a patient-centered medical home (PCMH), focusing on providing patients with better health and care at a lower cost. In addition to delivering evidence-based care, preventive medicine and management of chronic illness, PCMHs include patients as integral parts of their own care. Through proactive monitoring, caregivers at PCMHs help to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital.

GBMC at Joppa Road is one of the organization’s nine PCMHs. The practice is located near the Towson Place Shopping Center and Calvert Hall College High School on LaSalle Road in Towson. With a care team that consists of three physicians, one nurse practitioner and nine other staff members, the practice has extended weekday hours to accommodate patients’ busy schedules.

Paul Valle, MD, is board-certified in both family care and geriatrics, meaning that he is qualified to treat a wide age group of people, from pediatric patients to senior citizens. Alan Halle, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and geriatrics, available to care for patients as young as 18 years and through adulthood to old age. Lama Al Samara, MD, is also board-certified in internal medicine with a special training in dermatology and endocrinology. In addition to the three physicians on the care team, nurse practitioner Johannah Butler, CRNP, has experience in adult and pediatric primary care and women’s health. She acts as an extension of the physicians to offer convenient, timely access to care.

Other benefits of GBMC at Joppa Road include free parking and an on-site lab to make blood testing more convenient for patients. Like all PCMHs, the physicians and staff focus on wellness and prevention of illness, but they build time into their schedules to care for walk-in patients who are sick or have minor urgencies such as sprains. Appointments are required for non-sick visits like physicals. Additionally, the practice is equipped to care for patients who primarily speak Spanish or Arabic. If needed, nurse care managers and care coordinators are also available to help patients navigate the healthcare system. They can offer assistance with obtaining referrals, making follow-up appointments and locating social or financial resources to help patients meet their goals.

Patients at GBMC at Joppa Road, or any of GBMC's PCMH practices, have secure and easy access to their electronic health records (EHR) through a Web-based tool known as myGBMC. Using myGBMC, patients can request prescription refills, look up test results, communicate electronically with their caregivers and view past and current statements. This is one more way that patients are empowered to participate in their own care.

Learn More
GBMC at Joppa Road is accepting patients of all ages. For more information about the practice’s office hours, insurance accepted or other inquiries, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262).

The Risks of Secondary Drowning

During the summer months, many people turn to swimming in pools, lakes, rivers and oceans as a way to beat the heat. Playing in or near bodies of water is certainly fun, but not without risk. Parents especially need to be vigilant about protecting their children from drowning, which occurs when a person dies due to asphyxiation caused by inhalation of water. There is another rare condition, known as secondary drowning, with which parents should familiarize themselves.

Secondary drowning is marked by symptoms resulting from a serious near-drowning incident. It does not happen after a child swallows a small amount of water. Symptoms occur from a buildup of fluid in the alveoli of the lungs as part of an inflammatory response to the near-drowning event, not from the fluid that was inhaled during submersion. Secondary drowning can occur in both adults and children, but more commonly affects children. It can be difficult to recognize because the person appears to be fine shortly after the incident.

Symptoms of secondary drowning may begin several hours afterwards and include:
  • Development of a cough or chest pain
  • Extreme fatigue in the hours after a near-drowning incident
  • Poor skin coloration
Other things to watch for are:
  • The rapidness with which the near-drowning victim is breathing
  • How the abdominal, chest and neck muscles are being used
  • The victim’s cognition, including changes to his or her ability to think or speak
While it is rare to die from secondary drowning, it is essential that the victim be monitored closely for the first 24 hours following a near-drowning event. If any of the symptoms of secondary drowning occur, the victim should receive emergency medical treatment.

Click here to view a Fox45 interview with Melissa Sparrow, MD, Clinical Director for Pediatric Inpatient and Emergency Services at GBMC, regarding the signs and symptoms of secondary drowning.

Fruit Skewers with Yogurt Dip

For Skewers

1 cup strawberries, rinsed, stems removed and cut in half
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced (or canned pineapple chunks in juice, drained)
½ cup blackberries
1 tangerine or Clementine, peeled and cut into 8 segments
8 6-inch wooden skewers

For Dip

1 cup strawberries, rinsed, stems removed and cut in half
¼ cup fat-free plain yogurt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey


Thread two strawberry halves, two pineapple chunks, two blackberries, and one tangerine segment on each skewer, alternating between the fruit pieces. To prepare the dip, puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt, vanilla and honey and mix well. Serve two skewers with yogurt dip on the side.


Serving Size: 2 skewers and 1½ tablespoons of dip
Calories: 71
Total Fat: 0 g saturated
Fiber: 2 g
Protein: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 18 g

Recipe Source: Reprinted with permission from Keep the Beat™ Recipes: Deliciously Healthy Family Meals. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NIH Publication No. 10-7531. Page 73. December 2010.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Meet Debby O'Hara

Every one of us has a story we can share. Think of a past event in your life related to GBMC. Whether it’s care you received, an opportunity you have, or a loved one you remember, this event should have very personal meaning to you. What’s happened in your life since your experience at GBMC? Read Debby O'Hara’s story below, and share yours at

Debby O'Hara's Story: "Healthy and Happy After Treatment"

In early July of 1987, my husband, Jack, and I returned from a weeklong vacation in Bermuda about six weeks before our oldest son's wedding was to take place in Richmond, Virginia. We were happy, tanned and very excited about the first wedding of our six children. We loved his fiancĂ©e (still do!) and were looking forward to coordinating everyone and everything for the nuptials and festivities. 

I had an annual gynecologic appointment scheduled with a new doctor as mine had retired. I was a new patient of Emma Zargarian, MD, and after her exam she gently, but firmly, told me she had felt growths on each ovary. She wanted me to go to GBMC for a sonogram and thought I was a candidate for an immediate total hysterectomy. I replied that this was impossible, as I felt fine. I told her I had a wedding in four and a half weeks, and that I would attend to this problem after the big day. 

I thought Dr. Zargarian was crazy, and she probably thought I was crazier! She was located in Cross Keys at the time, and again, gently, but firmly, almost pushed me out the door. She had called GBMC, the hospital was ready for me to have a sonogram and she told me I had to go. 

The sonogram confirmed Dr. Zargarian's thoughts, and when I spoke to her from the hospital, she said she wanted to schedule me for surgery the following Monday morning. She was patient with me as I cried and said I didn't even know her, so she scheduled me to receive a second opinion. Dr. Zargarian had me in to see Dr. Grumbine early the next morning and he agreed with her. Thus the surgery was scheduled for the next Monday with no idea of possible malignancy – this was "just in case."

I had upper and lower gastrointestinal tests, all kinds of blood work done, saw Dr. Blumberg, and Dr. Zargarian promised I would be fine for the wedding if I followed all her rules after the surgery, which was a full-blown old fashioned hysterectomy. I did follow her rules, and I was fine for the wedding. 

The growths were diagnosed as malignant at Stage 2B, but the cancer was not thought to have spread, and treatment would have to wait until after the wedding so that I could heal from the hysterectomy. I allowed myself to be entered at random for a trial of an old treatment versus the newer chemotherapy treatment and was chosen for the older treatment. I had radioactive phosphorous inserted into my abdomen through a catheter/shunt and was then turned in all directions so the medication would wash all of my innards. Because this was a trial, all parts of the procedure were very specific and at times were actually funny. The hospital and procedures were VERY different at that time and I had no idea what was going on! If more cancer was detected, the backup plan was to be chemotherapy, which at that time was very difficult to tolerate and very hard on the kidneys. No trace of a further malignancy had turned up, so I did not have to have the chemotherapy. 

After the trial I was in was completed, a period of over ten years later as so few women are diagnosed at that early stage, that form of treatment was not deemed successful. I was one of the VERY lucky guinea pigs who had no recurrence. 

Looking back, how can I ever explain how fortunate I have been? Dr. Zargarian was away as I recovered at GBMC, and all of the doctors who came in to oversee my recovery highly complimented her on her diagnostic talents, as well as her skill as a surgeon and all her other clinical skills. The nurses were wonderful. There was no cancer center then, and yet I had wonderful care. One nurse in particular made an enormous impression on me. Every night Muriel came in to GBMC at 10:45 p.m. for her 11:00 p.m. shift, and before getting down to business, she stopped in to see all of her patients. She always introduced herself as “Muriel the night nurse" and said she was there if we needed anything at all. She then went to the nurses' station to make the necessary plans for medications and other duties. I always knew someone was watching and waiting if I needed anything, and this was so comforting at night when a hospital can sometimes seem very scary and spooky.

I did not know at the time how afraid I should be, I just wanted to be the best mother-of-the-groom ever! I had found a dress for the wedding before surgery, and friends bought shoes and had them dyed to match it while I recovered at home. I followed all the rules regarding stairs, going anywhere, and so forth. Truthfully, we were all too dumb to be in panic mode over me. It was years before I realized how fortunate I was to get to Dr. Zargarian when I did, as I think many doctors would either not have found the growths or perhaps would have allowed me to wait for surgery, and then who knows? 

Our fifth child went off to college that fall and I did not think too much about me except for regaining strength and energy, and hoping the phosphorous was doing its job. My checkups and blood tests continued to be good, and I was in the hands of Dr. Grumbine, the gynecological oncologist, who saw me before all his scheduled patients on that second opinion day, which made me vow never to be upset waiting for any doctor appointments. Sometimes doctors are late occasionally because of patients like me!

After everything, I knew I had much to give back. Our youngest was at Loyola High School, and I was President of the Mother's Club. Once he was accepted at the University of Delaware, I knew that GBMC was where I wanted to work to repay someone for my good health, and over the years I have gained much more than I have given! The GBMC volunteer program is vibrant and cohesive, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Because I was diagnosed early and treated carefully, I have seen all six children married and have enjoyed eleven grandchildren to the endth degree. My husband, Jack, was successfully and comfortably treated for thyroid cancer at GBMC, which was diagnosed by Frank Lee, MD, with surgery done by John Saunders, MD, and further treatment by Dr. Saunders’ team. Jack has also had successful retina surgery performed by Dr. Sjaarda. All surgeries were scary at the time, but in retrospect all were efficient, comfortable and successful. As with me, the staff surrounding my husband was always outstanding, comforting and reassuring. 

So, together, we have been well treated and we are grateful for all the time given to us to see our family grow and to fit into their own family lives and experiences. We had a chance to give them their wings, and, with thanks, we are fortunate to be able to watch them "fly." I feel happiness and gratefulness for our life as it has been to this point. We are very fortunate! I am extremely thankful for my health and happy to be a volunteer at GBMC.

Couch to 5K—Tips for Your First 5K

If you’ve been following this training program over the last few months to prepare for the GBMC Father’s Day 5K, congratulations on a job well done! We’re sure you’re excited to take part in your first 5K race, so we’ve put together this list of tips to get you through your first organized running event.

Before the Race:

  • Check the weather report for the day and dress accordingly and comfortably. Moisture-wicking material is helpful for staying dry and cool. It is also important to wear items you have previously worn running, rather than something brand new.
  • Wear socks and shoes that are broken in. The shoes you purchased at the beginning of your training should be perfect for this event. New shoes and socks will be stiffer, might rub differently and could result in blisters.
  • Hydrate and eat a protein-filled meal or snack a few hours before race time. Your body needs time to process the fuel you give it.

At the Race:

  • Arrive at the race with plenty of time to spare. Getting to the event an hour or more before the race will give you a chance to visit the registration table, get your race bib, use the bathroom, store your gear and get in a good stretch and warm up prior to race time.
  • Store your gear. Each race is different when it comes to how to store your personal effects, so arriving early is your best bet for secure storage of items like your cell phone, car keys, extra clothing layers, wallet and more. There is no gear check at GBMC’s 5K race, so it is best to leave as much as you can safely locked in your car or with a family member/friend.
  • Use the bathroom. As silly as it sounds, you would rather be safe than sorry. Use the bathroom before you head to the starting line to avoid discomfort during the race. 
  • Line up toward the back of the pack. For your first race, your goal should be to enjoy the feeling of running as you complete a 5K. Competitive runners will line up toward the front, intermediate runners will line up behind them and beginners or those who naturally have slower paces will line up toward the back of the group. If you start out and find the back of the pack is too slow for you, you can always safely pass others.

During the Race:

  • Pace yourself. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, especially in a competitive environment. Remember how you’ve trained and take on the course according to your own ability level. 
  • Visit the hydration stations. Every race offers at least one hydration station, usually around the halfway point, and visiting it for a quick drink of water will help keep you hydrated for the second half of the race.
  • Be proud of yourself. Focus on how far you’ve come and all that you’re accomplishing as you run. A few months ago, you might not have been able to do this!

After the Race:

  • Cool your muscles down and lower your heart rate by walking. Many people immediately sit after a race, but your body needs a cool down in order to safely return to normal. Walking around at a slow pace for a few minutes will help.
  • Stretch everything. The same stretching you’ve been doing before and after your training runs applies here. While you may be on an adrenaline rush, stretching is important so that you aren’t sore in the days to come.
  • Get a drink of water. Rehydrating after a running event is important, as your sweat and normal evaporation will pull essential water from your body. Water, or an electrolyte-filled sports drink, is best.
  • Partake in the festivities! If your event offers a cookout, coffee, breakfast, photos or any other social element, take part in them! You’ve earned a celebration!

Thank you for participating in our training program!