There is a quiet revolution going on in the heart of Pittsburgh.
Thousands of people are providing the best medical care in the world, right in our own backyards. The progressions being made in the operating rooms are for our own sake, so that we can live better lives with the benefits of science, technology, and wisdom. Locally, the focus in recent years has been on the finances of medical care. While important concerns are there, we are putting the spotlight on the true miracles in the medical world: The ways in which all of the actions of all of those people come together to make changes to our society that transcend laws and regulations.

By Andrea Bosco, Rachel Jones, Liz Petoniak, and Christine Tumpson

3D Mammography

3D Mammography at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, Pittsburgh

Dr. Margarita Zuley.
Photograph from UPMC Creative Services.

Starting in 2006, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC served as an alpha-testing site for 3D Mammography, or tomosynthesis, pioneering the way for the groundbreaking procedure. The hospital had one of the first two pieces of equipment in the country, and in 2011, in part due to research from Magee Womens Hospital, the FDA approved the procedure for routine clinical use. Like a mammogram, the process does involve very low dose radiation and lasts less than five minutes, however, the technology creates many thin-slice images for each view versus only two views for each breast from a mammogram. University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor of Radiology and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC Director of Breast Imaging Dr. Margarita Zuley says, “This technology is absolutely impacting mammography, which, for some patients, can be uncomfortable and could require [follow-up] diagnostic imaging or biopsies. 3D Mammography reduces the number of false positive recall exams by approximately 30 percent, and allows us to find 25-40 percent more invasive cancers than a mammogram alone.” Though the equipment is costly, and takes time to replace, Zuley sees this procedure as becoming more mainstream in the near future. “More and more insurance companies are reimbursing it,” she says. “This test is more accurate and sensitive in detecting invasive cancers.” Through research, Zuley and her team of doctors are seeing the community grasp this procedure. “The local community has picked up what we, as an academic institution, helped to develop,” says Zuley. “It’s really nice that the community has embraced it so much.” — A.B.

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC,

American Heart Association Research

To improve the heart health of people across the country, the American Heart Association helps fund crucial and innovative research projects. From mapping the human genome to evaluating exercise trends, these studies have a heavy hand in fighting heart disease and stroke. The first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, and techniques and standards for CPR are just a few of the medical breakthroughs the American Heart Association helped make possible. In Pittsburgh alone, the American Heart Association is currently providing more than $8.5 million to carry out 37 research projects. By continuing to support this education, the American Heart Association can lead the way to ending heart disease and stroke in Pittsburgh and beyond. — R.J.

American Heart Association,

Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC)

The Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) recently published a breakthrough study aiming to understand why it’s easier to build on a skill we already know than to learn something completely new. For the first time, neural engineers at the joint program between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh discovered that the brain’s adaptability has constraints during learning. By recording the neural activity in the motor cortex of animals trained to use brain-computer interfaces, researchers found that the animals more easily learned to generate neural activity patterns that were similar to pre-existing patterns and sometimes were unable to learn those that were entirely different. “These findings could be the basis for novel rehabilitation procedures for the many neural disorders characterized by improper neural activity,” says the study’s co-principal investigator Byron M. Yu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and biomedical engineering at CMU. “Restoring function might require a person to generate a new pattern of neural activity. We could use techniques similar to what were used in this study to coach patients to generate proper neural activity.” — L.P.

Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition,
Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

CNBC researchers Aaron P. Batista, Patrick T. Sadtler, and Byron M. Yu.
Photograph from Emily O’Donnell.

Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) Consortium Project

To keep athletes of all levels safe and on the field, extensive studies must be done in the sports medicine department. Leading the way, the University of Pittsburgh’s athletics program is participating in the NCAA-Department of Defense Grand Alliance Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) Consortium project. The three-year, $30 million endeavor includes pre-season and post-injury testing on 37,000 student athletes from two schools in each major conference – ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12, and SEC. Initiated by the NCAA and its medical director, Dr. Brian Hainline, the study explores the natural history of concussions in both sexes and multiple sports, working to improve the evaluation and care of future injuries. “This study is to help all athletes here at Pitt, as well as throughout the country, in managing and treating traumatic brain injuries,” says Tony Salesi, executive associate athletic director for coaches and performance. “Hopefully, at the conclusion of the study, we all will have an improved understanding of how to improve management of this problem.” — R.J.

University of Pittsburgh Athletics Program,
University of Pittsburgh Athletics Program

Photograph from Pitt Athletic Media Relations Department.

Cryoballoon Ablation

For patients with atrial fibrillation, there is a new technology being offered at St. Clair Hospital. Cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey C. Liu performs cryoballoon ablation, a procedure to alleviate the burden of an irregular, oftentimes fast, heart beat. The technique makes the procedure “much faster, much easier, and much smoother for the patient and the practitioner,” says Liu. While atrial fibrillation is not life-threatening, it’s certainly life-altering, causing an increased risk of stroke, a weakened heart muscle, and general discomfort. The procedure is completed via catheter ablation. Liu threads the catheter to the left atrium of the heart and the cryoballoon catheter is inserted. He inflates the balloon and fills it with liquid refrigerant. The tissue comes in contact with the balloon and scars it, stopping the electrical currents that cause atrial fibrillation. Fascinating! “Many people seek care from heart doctors for atrial fibrillation as much as they do for blockages and heart attacks,” says Liu. “We’re glad to offer this life-altering procedure to men and women in the Greater Pittsburgh area.” — A.B.

St. Clair Hospital,
St. Clair Hospital cardiology

Photograph from St. Clair Hospital.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)

DBS Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh

Photographs by Michael Fornataro.

My father is walking me out to my car after a visit to HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital, and we are both emotional. Me with happy tears, him with a huge smile on his face. Less than 24 hours earlier, my dad, 80-year-old Bill McMahon of Washington, Pa., had his IPG (implanted pulse generator) connected with the DBS (deep brain stimulator) that was implanted in his brain by Dr. Donald Whiting. Dr. Catherine Birk programmed it, and now, McMahon is strutting along the halls with the confidence of a 20 year old. Long strides, head up, shoulders square, completely upright.

Gone are the shuffle, frozen face, and stoop — the hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease. So, too, are the tremors, or dyskinesias, that happened at all times of the day and night, making sleep elusive. The night before, McMahon slept soundly, except for a two-hour waking up spell. That is remarkable in itself. The former radiologist is regaining his expressions, too, and his smiles light up the room, along with the sound of his laughter.

For us, this has been a two-year odyssey, one that started with a catastrophic stroke that left my mother, Nora, in critical care and, ultimately, paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. She is the love of McMahon’s life; together they raised seven children, and now have 21 grandchildren. When the Parkinson’s diagnosis came years earlier, Nora devoted herself to taking care of McMahon. But, after the stroke, life looked grim for them.

He was told that she would need 24-hour care by at least two caretakers, and that returning to their South Strabane home was not a reality. McMahon listened quietly, and then made his own plans. That is how he always did things — with quiet determination — after hearing the facts. Within months, Nora was back at home in a hospital bed on the first floor with McMahon overseeing her care. That means taking care of himself, the house, the groceries, the caretakers’ schedules, the medication administrations, the hospital visits, and the list goes on. It makes for long days and long nights. Still, the first thing he does upon waking is to go downstairs to her with a kiss and “Hello, beautiful!”

Parkinson’s progresses at varying rates, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. For the first several years after the diagnosis, McMahon had no trouble playing golf several times a week and taking care of his large vegetable garden and many flower beds. As a physician, he knew what was coming, and it did not look good, yet he was prepared to “rage against the dying of the light.”

But one evening, while Nora was in stroke rehabilitation at Harmarville, McMahon shuffled through the halls, ending up in front of a huge board explaining DBS surgery for Parkinson’s patients. Hope. A tiny spark of it started to kick in. If he could just have that surgery, maybe he could get back to normal. Maybe he could sleep in the same bed as his beloved wife without waking up to dyskinesias that rocked him awake. Maybe he could play golf and garden again. It was a little ray of hope, but he was going to go for it. And, he asked me to help him.

As the eldest of the children, I grew up never asking why my parents made the decisions they did. I just went along with it. Whatever they said, I did. Now, when he suggested this, there was never a second thought. But I was worried about his driving, especially when my mother was in the car. I had visions of them pulling a “Thelma & Louise” and careening off of a hillside. So I went along with him, but with the goal of having him stop driving.

  For two years, he and I went to see neurologist Dr. Sue Baser and her staff at Allegheny General Hospital. Over time, we developed a routine. My father would ask for the DBS, and would be told no — that he was too old, or other legitimate concerns. I would inquire about his driving, and would be reassured that he was OK. We would leave with the instructions to come back in six months, but when the scheduler asked us for our next appointment, we always said, “Two months.” 

And so it went, until we finally both neared the end of our hope. In an effort to go the alternative route, we spent three weeks practicing yoga and meditation. On our last visit, McMahon strode into the office, and Dr. Baser shocked us when she said, “You’re ready.” When pressed as to why things had changed, she explained that McMahon seemed healthier, giving her a sense of confidence that he would survive the surgery. And, DBS was working on older patients. We were off and running.

DBS Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh
DBS Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh

Dr. Whiting is the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery for movement disorders at Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network. Cindy Angle, RN, handles all of the particulars in assessing patients for the surgery. With a gentle and confident tone, she explains that the surgeries will take place on two separate days. The first day, McMahon will be fitted with a large, metal halo that will be fastened into the bone of his skull with large screws that will be twisted into place over the course of an hour. That is worst part, she assures us. From there, a local anesthetic will be applied to McMahon’s shaved head, and then, Dr. Whiting will drill away two two-inch, elliptical-shaped sections. The deep brain stimulator is then inserted into the part of the brain that is firing off the impulses for movement. Testing will be done in the operating room immediately — all while McMahon is awake and bolted into the operating room table via a large screw on the halo. Once finished, he will be sent to a hospital room upstairs for one night, and then sent home.

The second part takes place one week later, when McMahon will be again in surgery with Dr. Whiting, but this time to have the IPG placed subdurally into his chest, and then connected via wires that are led from the unit in his brain, down his neck, and into the battery pack. After that procedure, McMahon will be sent to Harmarville for rehabilitation, expected to last five to 10 days.

Angle likes to smile when she talks, and that is calming to my father. He does not hesitate when she describes the more gruesome parts of being bolted down onto the bed, and having a drill in the skull while conscious. “Let’s go,” he smiles back. Weeks go by as we wait for Angle’s call about a surgery date, but McMahon has a new glint in his eye, and a new mantra for his wife. “We’re going to get better. Me first, then you.”

The day before the operation, McMahon finalizes plans for care for Nora. The demands of caring for a stroke victim are overwhelming, and yet he does it with such love. Nora motions that she does not want him to shave off his full head of hair, but he laughs, kissing her and telling her how much he loves her.

Both procedures go as planned, and McMahon is taken to Harmarville for the programming by Dr. Birk, staff physiatrist. Also in the rehabilitation are lessons on retraining the Parkinson’s brain. Michele Recker, physical therapist, works with McMahon on taking bigger steps and talking louder. “With Parkinson’s, everything starts to get smaller,” she says. “The steps turn to shuffles, and the voice gets quieter. With the DBS, we can teach new techniques to help them move through the world.”

McMahon says he feels better, but still has the tremors. Birk makes adjustments, and he says he feels better. She speaks earnestly to him, telling him, “This is the best thing for you. You are going to have a wonderful life.”  McMahon believes her.

Dr. Whiting is on his own personal mission: to help as many people as he can. “This is remarkable,” he says. “I have people who show such great improvement in the qualities of their lives that I wish I could do even more. We are performing it on people younger than we did, and people older.  I have 92-year-old patient who is cooking!”

Whiting continues. “We have to break the stigma of brain surgery. It really is not that difficult, and the rewards are extraordinary. Just imagine the lives we can transform.”

Which is precisely the point. By performing this operation, all of those who are involved are transforming lives and society. The power of change is in the hands of everyone involved in this procedure. From the administrators, to the physicians, to the nurses and assistants, and the receptionists and aides, every single one is doing a part in making history — more so than the legislators and the politicians.

Because they are validating life. To be given this opportunity is a miracle. For it to be successful is mind blow. My father is still in rehab at press time, and today, he is feeling slow, a common side effect of balancing the medications. He will stay for a few more days before heading home to his beautiful bride. I know he will stride through the front door, feeling like a new person with a new lease of life. Because he is. — C.T.

Allegheny General Hospital,
HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital,

About DBS:

DBS uses a battery-operated medical device — similar to a heart pacemaker — to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control specific functions, such as movement or behavioral impulses. The DBS system consists of three components: the lead, the extension, and the neurostimulator. The lead — a thin, insulated wire — is inserted through a small opening in the skull and implanted in the anterior limb of the brain’s internal capsule. The extension is an insulated wire, passed under the skin of the head, neck, and shoulder to connect the lead to the neurostimulator. The neurostimulator, which is the system’s battery, is implanted under the skin, usually near the collarbone. Once the system is in place, electrical impulses are sent from the neurostimulator along the extension wire and the lead and into the brain. These impulses interfere with and block the electrical signals that cause symptoms. Though DBS can be performed while a patient is under general anesthesia, using MRI guidance to place the leads, patients often remain awake during the procedure to assist the surgical team by completing various movements to test their agility, muscle control, muscle tone, and to assess tremors.

  • Allegheny General Hospital marked its 500th DBS case on January 27, 2014. The hospital’s team of neurosurgeons specializing in functional neurosurgery, including the placement of DBS electrodes, is one of the largest in the country and has now done more than 540 cases.
  • AGH was the first program in Western Pennsylvania to perform DBS surgery in 1997.
  • The youngest patient to undergo DBS was 17 and the oldest was 90.

Esophageal Cancer — Early Detection

Allegheny Health Network

Dr. Blaire Jobe.
Photograph from Allegheny Health Network.

Research in esophageal cancer has made incredible strides, thanks to Allegheny Health Network (AHN). Dr. Blair Jobe, director of AHN’s Esophageal and Thoracic Institute, and his research team developed and validated a four-protein serum biomarker panel that increases the opportunity for early detection of esophageal cancer. The non-invasive and low-cost blood test boasts an 87 percent success rate. “Esophageal cancer patients often have few options available to fight this disease, and five-year survival rates are at about 15 percent,” Jobe says. And, with esophageal cancer occurring at a rate 600 percent higher than in the ‘70s, this test was crucial for allowing AHN specialists to monitor the cancer’s course and determine the best therapy for each specific patient. “We are excited and very optimistic about how this biomarker panel could be used to help patients, from early detection in at-risk patients, to risk-monitoring for patients with conditions that may lead to esophageal cancer, to monitoring the disease course in patients with cancer — adjusting their surveillance and treatment and potentially extending their lives,” says Dr. Ali Zaidi, director of research at the AHN Esophageal and Thoracic Institute. Also improving AHN’s initiatives for cancer care and research is its collaboration with the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. The new agreement offers a full range of oncology care that will specifically pursue clinical consultation, research and discovery, quality and safety, education, and service and patient support. Says Dr. David Parda, system chair of AHN Cancer Institute, “This unique opportunity to collaborate with such an accomplished and respected institution not only will enhance the scope and capabilities of our cancer services, but it demonstrates clearly to all of our patients and the community that we are committed to meeting their healthcare needs in innovative and meaningful ways.” — R.J.

Allegheny Health Network,


Breathe in the benefits of Halotherapy. The natural practice invites anyone with respiratory, immune, or inflammation ailments to experience the healing powers of Himalayan salt. One of the oldest and purest forms of salt, the pink variety contains 84 minerals our bodies need to find balance. Spending time in the Himalayan Salt Cave at Peace, Love & Zen immerses guests of all ages in a space, saturated in negative ions from the thousands of pounds of Himalayan salt. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties have been known to loosen mucus and phlegm, aid asthma and bronchial irritations, and prevent respiratory viruses. Seasonal allergies, sinusitis, and skin disorders – including acne, eczema, and psoriasis – also dissolve after Halotherapy sessions. The soothing ocean sounds and comfortable zero-gravity chairs add to the relaxation during each visit, promoting reduced stress and better sleep afterwards. — R.J.

Peace, Love & Zen,
Halotherapy at Peace, Love & Zen, Pittsburgh

Photograph from Peace, Love & Zen.

Infant Head Trauma Screening

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

Photograph from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Over the last five years, more than 1,000 infants have been enrolled in a clinical research study for an important grant that supports a blood test to help physicians screen infants who may be victims of abusive head trauma. Nearing the end of its five-year term at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the study has expanded to include patients at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, as well as Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, where, in total, 90 percent of parents approached consented, according to Dr. Rachel Berger, chief of the Child Advocacy Center of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “Not only does this test alert physicians that the child’s symptoms might be related to a brain injury, but it also helps to identify children who do not need a head CT scan — as we know the damaging effects of radiation,” says Berger, who’s leading the research. “When you catch something early on, that’s when the outcome is best.” A child who is rushed into the emergency room and shows signs of vomiting, seizures, and irritability could mean a brain injury, but most likely not, says Berger. This test allows doctors to move one step further. “If the blood test comes back abnormal, we order a CT scan,” she says. The teams of doctors at all three Children’s facilities have collected data from parents and babies (without fevers) less than 30 days old to 1 year old. Berger and her team use a scoring system, as well as a panel of biomarkers, to determine the statistics on brain injuries among infants. The doctors monitor the infants for six months following the test, which has yielded tremendous results. “It really does work very, very well on the diagnosis of brain injury,” says Berger. “It’s an important test to have, and the parents’ consent shows how much they recognize this is an issue.” — A.B.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC,

Oils in Skin Care

Rutz Skincare, Pittsburgh

Photograph from Jennifer Churches.

With its extensive line of products made from natural and organic ingredients, Rutz Skincare, is working to dispel misconceptions about the benefits of oils in skin care products. “Oils have been around for centuries and there’s extensive research backing their power,” says Doria Christie, Rutz lead esthetician. “Many clients think they need an oil-free product because they say their skin is already oily. They believe all oils will cause them to break out.” In reality, natural oils, such as grape seed oil, maintain the skin’s own production of healthy oils. For example, Rutz’s “Just Breathe” facial cleanser contains a number of beneficial oils such as: coconut oil, which is full of antioxidants; rosehip seed oil, which promotes cell regeneration and collagen production to improve the appearance of wrinkles, scars, and Eczema among other conditions; lemon essential oil, which improves microcirculation, white blood cell formation, and immune function; eucalyptus essential oil, an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient useful in fighting acne; apricot kernel oil, known for retaining the skin’s elasticity and suppleness; olive oil, which has a conditioning effect on the skin; and Borage oil, which softens and soothes the skin. The skin will actually overproduce oil when it’s over-exfoliated and when products, particularly alcohol-based ones, are applied, they can strip the skin of its protective barrier. To avoid this common faux pas, Stephanie Schuler, Rutz Skincare founder, recommends that each individual acts as their own investigator, and research oils to discover what might prove beneficial to their skin. She says, “There are so many good ingredients out there; know what they are and how they can work for you.” — L.P.

Rutz Skincare,


In an attempt to fight back against the increasing number of deaths caused by overdose in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) has launched a new website aimed at reducing overdose, called OverdoseFreePA. Funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency helped make the site possible, along with collaborative efforts put forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs; the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office; and the Single County Authorities of Allegheny, Butler, Bucks, Blair, Dauphin, Delaware, and Westmoreland. Still in its pilot stage, the site will provide visitors “close-to-real-time” data and statistics about overdose deaths in our state, separated by categories such as zip code, gender, race, and type of drug. Says Janice Pringle, Ph.D., associate professor and PERU director, “These are deaths that didn’t have to happen. We can prevent them using compassionate approaches to addiction treatment and education, and by creating a unified front from which to approach the problem.” As such, OverdoseFreePA will not only serve as a resource for self-education, but will also supply information on how to connect those suffering from a Substance Abuse Disorder to treatment and recovery, in addition to strategies for forming community coalitions that can work to lessen the issue on a local level. — L.P.

University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy,

Power of Touch Wellness

Power of Touch Wellness, Pittsburgh

Anita Scaglione working on a client.
Photograph from Eric Martin Gaus.

Those with pain that’s proven unresponsive to medication or standard forms of therapy may benefit from Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy. The specialized form of massage finds and de-activates painful nodules within the body’s taut muscle bands that act as the root of pain and immobility. Often, these nodules are not located where the pain is actually felt. “Since our bodies are comprised of a large percentage of muscle tissue, just about anything that goes wrong with our bodies will negatively impact the muscles. By the same token, if problems caused by the muscles are alleviated, pain and stiffness usually improve as well,” says Anita Scaglione, who owns Power of Touch Wellness and is nationally certified in Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy. A number of causes can lead to muscle dysfunction, including injury, repetitive trauma, and chronic conditions and disease, so listening to the patient’s detailed history is Scaglione’s first step to identifying the source of pain. From there, she assesses posture, range of motion, and other objective signs to construct a plan that will address all of the affected muscle tissues. “Our method of therapy consists of gentle, usually pain-free modalities because we believe that calming down the nervous system allows the muscles to relax more easily,” says Scaglione. A recent study completed by the University of West England concluded that trigger point therapy significantly improved range of motion in the ankles of participating recreational runners. According to Scaglione, most clients see significant results after three to five visits, and Power of Touch Wellness also teaches simple self-treatment techniques and movements. She says, “This provides them with the tools to handle their own pain issues once they no longer need active, regular treatment with us.” — L.P.

Power of Touch Wellness, 412.414.5330.

Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education (RISE) Center

Robert Morris University School of Nursing and Health Sciences

Photograph from Robert Morris University.

Learning from experience is key, and Robert Morris University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences Dean Valerie M. Howard agrees. She helped found the Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education (RISE) Center, RMU’s state-of-the-art health care simulation laboratory. “The center is a breakthrough in itself, in that we can train our health care providers and students within a safe environment without causing any harm to our patients,” says Howard, a professor of nursing. “We can recreate any procedure that comes down the pike by using simulation with mannequins and actors, and it’s been demonstrated that, with this process, we can decrease errors.” Recently, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) conducted a study with results revealing that replacing real-life training with simulation can be a valuable and reliable substitute for clinical education, and can enhance the learning experience. Students start at the RISE Center during their sophomore year. Due to interest and popularity, the center has outgrown its space. In fact, the School of Nursing and Health Sciences broke ground for a new 30,000-square-foot facility last month. “The center has an ICU, an ER, a labor and delivery unit, and two primary care offices,” says Howard. “In the new center, we’ll have a simulated apartment, where students and the community can learn what to do if they are faced with having to bring home a loved one or spouse — it’ll be a real setting.” In addition, the RISE Center provides training for the Army National Guard, which includes the skills and procedures for trauma training. And, its online Leadership in Simulation certificate program is one of three in country. “We’re ahead of the curve,” says Howard. — A.B.

Robert Morris University School of Nursing and Health Sciences,

Stem Cell Transplantation Program

Patients who battle blood cancer can find state-of-the-art scans and treatments at UPMC CancerCenter and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. The two recently transitioned the Stem Cell Transplantation Program into the new Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers. Dr. Mounzer A. Agha, clinical director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program and director of the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers, says the center’s goal was to focus on the treatment needs of patients with blood cancers. “The center is a magnet for patients with all types of blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma,” Agha says. “Mario is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so he’s very dedicated to this cause.” The center used to only provide stem cell transplants with the patient’s own stem cells or a perfectly matched donor’s, making it one of the largest centers for stem cell transplantations for blood cancers in the region. But, by adding two new advancements in the transplantation field, the center is on track to becoming the largest one in the state. The center now provides stem cell transplants from half-matched donors, known as haploidentical (family members who are not a complete match for the patient) and cord blood transplants. “With the introduction of these two transplants, we are the only center in Western Pennsylvania to offer such a comprehensive array of stem cell transplant services to treat a variety of blood cancers,” Agha explains. “Historically, we had to tell patients to go to other states for those treatments. Now, everything is available right here in their own city where they have their friends, family, and the maximum support they need.” — R.J.

UPMC CancerCenter and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute,
UPMC CancerCenter, Pittsburgh

Don Trent found treatment for his acute lymphocytic leukemia through UPMC CancerCenter’s Stem Cell Transplantation Program. Read his story at
Photograph from UPMC CancerCenter.


HE@T Health Enhancing Thermography, Pittsburgh

Photograph from Leon Winkowski Photography, LLC.

New to Western Pennsylvania, thermography has been FDA-approved since the early ‘80s. Peters Township native Bethany Narey opened her clinic, HE@T Health Enhancing Thermography, in 2012, and its impact has been critical in the field’s growth. Progressive in many applications, from dental health to physical injury, the use of thermography is largely known for its contribution to women’s breast health. Thermography has the ability to detect subtle abnormalities in vascular patterns and tissues five to 10 years before the development of a structure in the body. Therefore, the radiation-free, safe screenings can begin as early as age 20. Says Narey, “Pennsylvania has one of the highest incidences of female breast cancer in the country. Having thermography easily accessible in our area can be life-changing.” The cutting-edge, medical imaging tool can scan any area of the body, as it analyzes the body’s physiology. “Thermography offers a unique look at the body without any adverse or negative effects,” she says. “This tool allows future generations the opportunity to get a head start on their health screenings and to take advantage of the medical advances that are happening now.” Narey continues, “Thermography can detect disease, on average, seven to eight years before another diagnostic tool can.” Post-scan, patients’ images are sent to physicians who check the images for cell-change patterns, and Narey and her team report back within 72 hours. Clients include women, men, children, and infants, and the 15-minute appointments at the Bethel Park office start at $155. “The cost of a purse could equal the cost of a life,” says Narey. “Prevention.” — A.B.

HE@T Health Enhancing Thermography,

UPMC Lemieux Sports Center

UPMC Lemieux Sports Center, Pittsburgh

Dr. Vonda Wright.
Photograph by Michael Fornataro.

As an orthopedic surgeon and the medical director of UPMC Lemieux Sports Center, Dr. Vonda Wright treats patients with a variety of musculoskeletal injuries. Her new office space will be housed in the 185,000-square-foot center, slated to open next summer. A breakthrough in itself, the building, dubbed “the sports Taj Mahal” by Wright, is being constructed in partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and open to not only professional and amateur athletes, but to anyone in driving or flying distance, she says. “We build teams that take care of teams,” says Wright. “Each team will focus on unique specialities that cover every body part, in addition to performance training, nutrition, and diet. The same elite care will be provided to athletes of all ages and skill levels. We’re just psyched about it.” The opportunity to join forces with a professional team is a model for sports medicine. And, she says, it’s another “unique experience” for a woman in a leadership position. “The playing field has become so level now, and young women coming up in sports will see that.” Wright’s tool for helping patients live their best lives is keeping them mobile. “I believe that people are very powerful in their own health,” she says, which led her to create Women’s Health Conversations. On November 6, exhibitors and speakers will gather in the Westin Convention Center Hotel ballroom to empower, educate, and entertain more than 1,000 attendees. “Women will be completely equipped on subjects such as breast cancer, longevity, and lifestyle topics,” says Wright. “It’s about how we take care of ourselves and embrace our ever-changing bodies at age 30, 40, 50, and beyond.” Simultaneously, Wright and her team are establishing some very pertinent research in sports medicine. From hip preservation, where they’re working fast to learn ways to maintain young hips that otherwise would have been destined for hip replacement, to creating cartilage via 3D printing, Wright and the team at UPMC are doing amazing things. “The future is now,” she says. — A.B.

Vonda Wright,
Women’s Health Conversations,
UPMC Lemieux Sports Center is located at the intersection of I-79, I-76, and U.S. 19 and PA Route 228 corridors.

Yoga as Therapy / Everyday Practice

The Yoga Hive, Pittsburgh

Photograph from The Yoga Hive.

Stacey Vespaziani, South Hills Power Yoga, Pittsburgh

Stacey Vespaziani, owner of South Hills Power Yoga.
Photograph by Michael Fornataro.

Schoolhouse Yoga, Pittsburgh

Photograph from Schoolhouse Yoga.

In addition to their current medical treatments, some patients choose to seek the benefits of yoga classes (Get your doctor’s approval first!). Kimberly Musial of The Yoga Hive recommends these patients participate in the Yoga Basics series. Held October 12, 19, and 26 from 12:30-2:30 p.m., these sessions introduce new students to simplified versions of common yoga poses and sequences, teaching them how to place their breath and body in a special way. For extra TLC for injuries, Musial offers Yoga as Therapy. The private, 50-minute sessions incorporate yoga techniques to alleviate pain from back, neck, shoulder, knee, and other injuries. — R.J.

To sign up for a Yoga as Therapy session, email Musial at

The rising number of doctors recommending yoga to patients is just one of the many signs of Western practices accepting Eastern practices. “It’s really cool to see everything we’ve thought to be true about Eastern medicine continually being proven,” says Stacey Vespaziani, owner of South Hills Power Yoga. The studio will host an exciting and innovative workshop on October 4 with local instructor LA Finfinger, called “Heat up to Cool Down,” at the Peters Township location. This two-hour heated workshop will specifically focus on elongation of the spine and calming of the central nervous system. Vespaziani adds, “Regular yoga practice is already so beneficial, but the workshops allow us to pick one or two things that we really don’t get the time to focus on every day. It’s really fine-tuned and specialized, and an enhancement to everyday practice.” — L.P.

Register online at

Schoolhouse Yoga is studying up on ways to use yoga to heal students suffering from trauma. In November, the Strip District studio invites guest instructors to lead two crucial workshops. The first, Neurogenic Yoga™ with Jennica Mills, combines yoga postures, breath, and the body’s natural shaking response. The therapeutic shaking is the nervous system’s way of discharging built-up tension and trauma, as seen in the instinctual tremors in animals. Based on Dr. David Berceli’s technique of Trauma Releasing Exercises™, Neurogenic Yoga™ lengthens and relaxes the psoas muscle, and allows the release of tension and stress. The second workshop is Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery: Veterans Yoga Project Teacher Training. The evidence-informed, clinically tested yoga program was developed for veterans who endure post-traumatic stress and other psychological struggles, and is practiced by mental health and addiction treatment programs for veterans and active-duty military in the U.S. and Canada. Daniel J. Libby, Ph.D, a postdoctoral fellow with Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry and the VA’s Mental Illness Research and Educational Clinical Center, hosts these session of practice and lecture to help instructors better understand post-traumatic stress symptoms and recovery methods. — R.J.

To sign up for a workshop, visit or call 412.401.4444.

Neurogenic Yoga™ with Jennica Mills
November 8, 12-3 p.m.
Cost: $75

Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery: Veterans Yoga Project Teacher Training with Daniel J. Libby
November 14, 5-8:30 p.m.
November 15, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
November 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: $425

Xiangya Hospital of Central South University

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) recently announced that it will partner with Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, located in the Chinese province of Hunan, to help the hospital establish a world-class, international medical center. “This effort will ensure that more patients receive the most advanced medical care close to home. At the same time, the financial and intellectual capital generated by this partnership will allow UPMC to advance its clinical and research missions in Western Pennsylvania and beyond,” says Charles Bogosta, president of UPMC’s International and Commercial Services Division. Serving as the exclusive advisor on the management of the international medical center, to encompass 200 beds at the Xiangya Hospital, UPMC will oversee a number of services over the course of the five-year agreement including: providing medical and administrative staff training in China and Pittsburgh; giving recommendations on technology and equipment; and sharing quality assurance, safety processes, and telemedicine links to UPMC’s Pittsburgh and Italy clinical programs. Says Dr. Bruno Gridelli, executive vice president of UPMC International Services, “We are excited about the potential to exchange knowledge and expertise with one of China’s best hospitals and to lay the groundwork for even greater collaboration in the future.” — L.P.

Xiangya Hospital of Central South University,

Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, UPMC

From left: Dr. Li-Ming Zhang, UPMC anesthesiologist and grad of Xiangya Medical School, who will be spending half of each year at the new medical center; Charles Bogosta, president of UPMC International and Commercial Services Div.; Dr. Bruno Gridelli, executive vice president of UPMC International Services; Jack Berkebile, vice president of International Business Development; and Ning Shao, CEO of the Pennsylvania Center in Shanghai and UPMC representative in China.
Photograph from UPMC.

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