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!

Understanding Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease, known more commonly as “pneumonia,” is an acute bacterial infection of the lungs and it is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the United States. The most common causes of pneumonia include a buildup of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium in the air sacs of the lungs, a virus, a fungus or a parasite. It can affect just one lobe of either lung, a whole lung or both lungs at the same time, and the infection generally lasts about two weeks unless other health complications are present. Pneumonia is often thought of as a cold weather disease, but it can occur at any time of year.

Symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing resulting in only a small amount of mucous
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, with or without chills
  • Heavy sweating
  • Mental confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

A healthy person’s immune system can usually fend off the germs associated with pneumonia, but those with weaker or compromised immune systems – including people age 65 years and older, those suffering from the flu, smokers and people who have a chronic illness like hypertension, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma – are at a higher risk for contracting it.

Fortunately, different vaccines exist to help protect those with strong or weak immune systems from contracting the pneumococcal disease. In most cases, only one dose of a vaccine is needed to protect against pneumonia. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is recommended for all infants and toddlers as well as for adults 19 years and older who have immune system problems, cerebrospinal fluid issues, cochlear implants or have a damaged or removed spleen. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Receiving a pneumococcal vaccine is an important and essential step against preventing pneumococcal infection.

If you have not been vaccinated against pneumonia or are not sure, speak to your primary care physician about scheduling an appointment for vaccination. If you don’t have a primary care physician, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262) to find one who is right for you.

Choosing Your Path with Advance Care Planning

While making end-of-life decisions may not be the most comfortable of topics, completing an advance directive can be an extremely positive aspect of healthcare.

Advance care directives are paper forms which provide important information about patients, ensuring their wishes for healthcare are followed should they be unable to speak for themselves. These forms provide peace of mind to patients and relieve loved ones of the burden of having to make difficult decisions during a health crisis, especially if those loved ones are unaware of the wishes of the patient.

“We want our patients to feel empowered to seek out information about their conditions before a crisis happens, and they need more information for decision-making,” says W. Anthony Riley, MD, Geriatrician and Medical Director of Gilchrist Hospice Care (GHC). “We want them to have the confidence to talk to their doctors about their conditions and their preferences.”

To make the advance care planning process easier, GHC offers an Advance Care Planning Series led by Dr. Riley. The discussions are held once a month, each describing different types of medical decisions that need to be made in accordance with specific health scenarios. These discussions include advance care planning topics for cardiac, dementia, general, neurodegenerative and pulmonary conditions.

“For those who have not experienced the sessions, I might use the words that have been expressed to me by some of the participants who have approached me after the presentation,” Dr. Riley says. “They tell me the sessions are ’eye-opening,’ and gave them a lot of things for them and their families to think about.”

There are three key components to advance care planning that Dr. Riley discusses during his lecture series: healthcare agent selection, communication and decision-making. Healthcare agent selection focuses on choosing a trusted, well-known individual who is willing to listen to and follow the patient’s wishes, act in a timely manner and coordinate communication among family members. According to Dr. Riley, each of the sessions offers valuable information about advance care issues, particularly those sessions pertaining to a patient’s specific condition.

“The most important thing is making sure that our patients and their families have the appropriate information and resources at their disposal,” Dr. Riley says. “There are many other no-cost alternatives on the Internet, and I share these Web addresses with session participants. We want all of our patients to have the choice to utilize whatever works best for them.” Dr. Riley goes into detail about advance care directives and provides important information about communication among the patient, medical team, healthcare agent and family members. He also offers up a series of questions and discussion topics that patients should cover with their physicians in order to determine the best course of medical action for their particular advance care plan.

For more information about the Advance Care Planning Series or to register for a discussion, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262). Questions about the series may be directed to Lori Mulligan, Senior Director, Marketing and Community Programs, at 443-849-8214 or

Tangy Salsa


½ cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and diced 
½ cup no-salt-added diced tomatoes (or substitute 1 medium tomato, chopped)
1 small lime, peeled and cut into small chunks
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, rinsed and chopped (or substitute 1 teaspoon dried coriander)


Combine all ingredients and toss well. Allow 1 to 2 hours for flavors to settle before serving.

Nutrition Information

Serving Size: ¼ cup salsa
Calories: 23
Total Fat: 0 g
Saturated Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 68 mg
Total Fiber: 1 g
Protein: 0 g
Carbohydrates: 4 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 51. December 2010.