UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


Want to Lose Weight? Neuroscience and EBT Can Help

On April 19, 2012 | At 12:34 pm

Cynthia Moore was in an airport when she spotted the book. The title caught her eye: “The Solution: Winning Ways to Permanent Weight Loss.” Permanent? A registered dietitian, then with the University of Maryland and now with UVA, Moore was intrigued but skeptical.

Cynthia Moore offers Emotional Brain Training for weight loss, stress management, and more.

Cynthia Moore offers Emotional Brain Training for weight loss, stress management and more.

It was one of those moments she’ll never forget. Moore bought the book, read it and quickly concluded that the methods advocated in the book “were going to be part of my personal and professional life.”

Moore attended training, got certified, and in 2006, brought the program to UVA’s Nutritional Counseling Center.

But this is not an advertisement for any old diet plan.

While managing obesity was its original purpose, The Solution Method was renamed and modified to Emotional Brain Training (EBT) — a mind-body intervention that addresses the stress response that is the underbelly of a variety of health and wellness issues, including obesity.

Meditation, Nia: Why EBT?

Other practices, like mindfulness meditation and Nia, for instance (also taught at UVA, through the UVA Mindfulness Center) use neuroscience to explain and test their effectiveness in resolving stress.

What makes EBT unique is its five-point system, which helps a person identify their brain state and shift it in an intentional way. “Shifting to connect with your breath and your body starts with a check-in, which begins to change how your mind perceives your day,“ explains Moore. (more…)


Organ Donation: The Gift of Life

On April 12, 2012 | At 9:18 am

Eighteen people die each day because there aren’t enough organs available for those in need, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Laurie Miller of Harrisonburg donated a kidney to a stranger in need.

Laurie Miller of Harrisonburg donated a kidney to a stranger in need.


And there are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for organs nationwide, including 759 UVA patients. For many of those waiting, time is limited.

Organ Donation: What Can You Do?

Many people agree to donate their organs when they die. It’s called a deceased donation, and it’s as easy as checking a box when you apply for a driver’s license. Some even donate a kidney or a part of their liver to a friend or family member. That’s called a living donation.

Laurie Miller of Harrisonburg donated one of his kidneys as part of a living donation. But Miller donated to a stranger. It’s called an altruistic (or non-directed) donation and it’s fairly uncommon, according to Anita Sites, RN, who coordinates and manages care for patients in UVA’s Living Donor Program. There are about one or two altruistic donations a year at UVA, she says. (more…)

Filed under : Patient Stories,Transplant | By
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Save Your Knees: Pay Attention to the Pain

On March 27, 2012 | At 8:30 am

My knees hurt.

This is nothing new. After dancing fairly rigorously for 14 years, they started hurting when I was in high school, and I had to quit. Now in my mid-thirties – working at a desk job, wearing heels, running and doing yoga several times a week – it doesn’t surprise me that the old knees give me trouble.

Lo Davis getting rehab after knee surgery

Lo Davis getting rehab after knee surgery

Like many people my age with joint pain, I mostly ignore it. I can just suffer – and shuffle – through it.

“It’s a general principle with the knee,” says David Diduch, MD, orthopedic surgeon at UVA. “When damaged, people try to live with it, and that’s going to create additional problems. People say, ‘It’s not that bad, it just happens sometimes, pain and swelling, it’s not crippling.’ Meanwhile, they are chewing up joint cartilage.“

Well, okay. But surely knee pain, orthopedic surgery, joint replacement and all that stuff is for older people or professional athletes, right?

Not always.

Why Worry About Knee Pain Now?

Meet Lo Davis. He’s young, by my standards, at 42; and while he works in fundraising at the Virginia Athletics Foundation, he’s not a professional athlete.

Still, a few months ago, he had knee surgery. (more…)

Filed under : Orthopedics,Patient Stories | By
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Common Bonds: Mended Little Hearts of Charlottesville Helps Families Affected by Congenital Heart Defects

On March 22, 2012 | At 9:23 am

Recreation therapist Laurie Sewell sits cross-legged on the floor of a UVA hospital conference room. She’s demonstrating infant massage techniques on a doll while 2-year-old Haley Poore watches her and plays with a colorful toddler toy.

A lesson in infant massage at a Charlottesville Mended Little Hearts meeting

Recreational therapist Laurie Sewell (right) and Mended Little Hearts volunteer Lisa Wickersty demonstrate infant massage techniques at a recent meeting, while patient Haley Poore plays.

Nearby, two parents quietly begin sharing their story: their 1-year-old son has pulmonary atresia, a condition that affects his heart’s ability to pump blood to the lungs. He had surgery a few months ago and is back in the hospital.

Lisa Curcio chimes in — her son, Owain, also has pulmonary atresia. He’s 3 now and running around the room with his brothers and sister, giggling.

This is a typical meeting of Mended Little Hearts of Charlottesville, where families affected by congenital heart defects (CHD) meet for dinner, support and education.

Some families, such as the Poores, come because their child is in the hospital, awaiting a transplant or other surgery. Haley has had two surgeries to manage her hypoplastic left heart syndrome and now needs a heart transplant. She and her family will live at the hospital until she gets it.

Other kids, such as Owain, are past their surgeries; their post-operation healing provides other families much-needed reassurance.

Congenital Heart Disease: The Most Common Birth Defect

“Throughout my pregnancies, no one told me heart defects were the number one birth defect.”

So says Lisa Curcio. She had a normal pregnancy, but several hours after Owain was born, she thought he looked blue. His pulse oxygen level was 40 percent by the time a doctor examined him; normal is between 95 and 100 percent.

Owain was rushed to UVA, where the Curcios learned he had pulmonary atresia and only one ventricle in his heart. A normal heart has two: one to pump blood to the lungs, the other to the rest of the body. Owain’s ventricle only pumped blood to his body, so his lungs weren’t getting any blood.

Even though there were no warning signs and the defect wasn’t preventable, Lisa Curcio still felt guilty. “I had three pregnancies (before Owain) and I was so blindsided by this.”

But congenital heart disease isn’t rare. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, for every 1,000 babies born in the United States, eight have heart defects. In 2011, UVA’s pediatric heart surgeon, James Gangemi, MD, performed 210 surgeries to address congenital heart defects, 190 of which were on patients under 18.

Routine prenatal care sometimes catches a congenital heart defect; UVA also offers a fetal echocardiogram service for high-risk mothers that shows a detailed view of the fetus’ heart.

But many parents, like Lisa Curcio, are blindsided.

Support, Sometimes Far From Home

Mended Little Hearts is a national organization. Virginia’s other three chapters are in Lynchburg, Winchester and Richmond, and Washington, D.C., also has a chapter. The Charlottesville chapter meets at UVA and focuses on helping families of kids currently in the hospital, who frequently come from all over the state.

Haley Poore’s family, for example, is from Ewing, Va., 6 hours away.

Mended Little Hearts meetings offer a place for families to feel “totally safe, and everyone knows what they’re going through,” says UVA RN Carol Tatum, who works with pediatric heart patients.

Meetings are monthly and include dinner and childcare so siblings can come. While they have a topic, such as the infant massage demonstration, they’re informal and give parents a chance to share stories and talk.

Besides the meetings, Mended Little Hearts does other social events and projects to help families in the hospital. Lisa Wickersty, whose daughter Isla was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, received a grant to order heart pillows for kids in the hospital. The kids like to hug them; the parents get the other families and staff they meet in the hospital to sign them.

“Not a Death Sentence”

Isla had surgery at six weeks old to close the hole in her heart and help blood get to her lungs. She has an annual check-up to monitor her heart but is a healthy 3-year-old with no activity restrictions.

As for Owain, he’s had three staged surgeries to help his blood circulate in a more normal fashion: a Blalock-Taussig (BT) shunt placement, the Glenn procedure and the Fontan procedure. The ultimate goal was to get blood from his heart to his lungs for oxygen and then supply the rest of his body with oxygenated blood.

Doctors expect Owain to live a normal life without more surgeries, but his mom is blunt: His heart is “patched together,” not normal, and something could always go wrong.

While being prepared for the worst, she hopes for the best. She tells parents of newly diagnosed children, “It doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence at all.”

Do You Have a Child With Heart Disease?

Mended Little Hearts of Charlottesville meets the second Monday of each month, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in UVA’s NICU conference room.

You can also connect with them through their:

And learn more about UVA’s Fetal Heart Program.

Not in Charlottesville? Visit the national Mended Little Hearts website to find a chapter near you.

There’s also a new chapter forming in Roanoke. For more information or to volunteer as part of the leadership team, contact Lisa Curcio.

Is congenital heart disease in your family? Share your story by leaving a comment.

Filed under : Children's Hospital,Patient Stories | By
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Gamma Knife Treatment Helps World’s Tallest Man, Gets UVA in Guinness Records

On March 12, 2012 | At 12:26 pm

Sultan Kosen is eight feet three inches tall, and for the first time in his life, he knows that’s his maximum height.

Kosen, of Turkey, had acromegaly — a condition where a tumor caused his pituitary gland to produce excessive growth hormone. In May 2010, UVA endocrinologist Mary Lee Vance, MD, put Kosen on a new medication to slow his growth and stop growth hormone production.

Later that year, UVA neurosurgeon Jason Sheehan, MD, performed noninvasive Gamma Knife radiosurgery on Kosen.

The treatment proved effective: Three months ago, Kosen’s doctors in Turkey reported he’d stopped growing.

Still, Kosen remains listed as the World’s Tallest Man in Guinness World Records. And the 2012 edition cites UVA as the hospital that stopped his growth.

Learn more about Sultan Kosen’s treatment.

Filed under : Neurosciences,Patient Stories | By
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Antioxidants and Vegan Diets: The Role of a Cancer Center Dietitian

On January 16, 2012 | At 8:44 am

Each Monday this month, we’re looking at the UVA Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Program.

How would you react if you found out the 4.5-centimeter lump on your breast was cancer?  What if you were just 31 years old, otherwise healthy and a busy student working towards a PhD?

Jennifer LaFleur tried a vegan diet after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Jennifer LaFleur

My reaction would probably be to scream, cry and curse my body for its betrayal. And then I might eat half a pepperoni pizza or a pint of ice cream. If my body couldn’t stop cancer, why bother continuing to feed it well?

So I was impressed when I met Jennifer LaFleur, a 31-year-old University of Virginia graduate student, and learned how she responded: she cut way back on meat and dairy consumption and began eating a mostly vegan diet.

LaFleur read “The China Study,” which examined a link between consuming animal protein and cancer cell growth. But she thinks the diet was a way to control her situation.

“At that stage, there’s nothing you can do but wait,” she says. “Even when you’re undergoing the treatment, there’s nothing you can do … except try to rest and eat well.”

LaFleur had some questions, though. Her cancer was estrogen-receptor positive, which means the cells depend on estrogen to multiply. Many vegans consume soy as a protein source, but soy is chemically similar to estrogen. Could a vegan diet actually impede her hormone therapy treatments?



A Heart Rhythm Back on Track

On December 15, 2011 | At 8:45 am

After running his first marathon in November 2010, Todd Smith was in the best shape of his life. At 49 years old, he felt great. So it came as a surprise in early 2011 when he started having frequent bouts of unexplained lightheadedness.

Heart rhythm patient Todd Smith benefitted from ablation at UVA.

Heart rhythm patient Todd Smith (left) and his stepson, Conner, enjoy the weekend at their home in Richmond.

“I actually fainted in January and didn’t even realize it,” Todd says. “My son asked if I was ok, and I didn’t understand why he was asking me that. He looked at me with a worried look on his face and said, ‘Dad, you just passed out.’”

What are Premature Ventricular Contractions?

A resident of Richmond, Todd consulted with a cardiologist there who, after performing a stress test, told him he was suffering from a heart rhythm disorder called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

During PVCs, the heart beats more often than it should, resulting in insufficient circulation. This decrease in blood flow leads to lightheadedness and fainting. In Todd’s case, the only time he didn’t experience PVCs was when he was running.


Filed under : Heart,Patient Stories | By
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More than Medicine: Flourish Boutique Helps Cancer Patients and Survivors

On November 29, 2011 | At 11:16 am

Shirley Caparn has been cancer-free since 1984. But she’s reminded of it every day, because she lost her right breast during the surgery that saved her life.

So she’s become a fan of Flourish, UVA’s new boutique for cancer patients and survivors. Before Flourish opened, Caparn purchased bras for her prosthetic breast at other shops. But they didn’t have nearly the selection or the customer service, she says. “Charlottesville had a need for something like this,” she says.

UVA staff and volunteers began to recognize that need five years ago while planning the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. At that time, the Hospital Auxiliary, a group of volunteers and staff, began researching what other cancer centers had in their gift shops.

“What we found was that these cancer centers were carrying specialty items for cancer patients,” says Susan Morris, a volunteer who is co-chair of the Flourish committee. “They were anything but gift shops.”  (more…)


Pancreatic Cancer: Debbie Ryan and Why You Should Care

On November 15, 2011 | At 7:36 am

Surviving pancreatic cancer is just one of Debbie Ryan's many accomplishments.

It’s not every day you get to meet a living legend.

On the eve of November, National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, that’s what I got to do — talk to one of the very, very few people alive who has survived pancreatic cancer. She also happens to be Debbie Ryan, one of the most famous names in women’s basketball, who coached the UVA team for 34 years, received numerous awards and accolades, and has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the UVA Cancer Center.

Reviewing all of Ryan’s accomplishments prior to our interview made my head dizzy. But meeting her in person was what made me feel I was truly in the presence of greatness.

She told her story with an unpretentious passion that gave me goosebumps. As she said at one point, “With me, what you see is what you get.” Dressed in her blue UVA basketball jacket – she just returned from coaching the women’s Pan American team in Mexico – this accomplished coach sat down and got right to it: talking about her own relationship to cancer, going through treatment with her close friend Emily Couric and why she’s so passionate about raising pancreatic cancer awareness. 



A Young Mother’s Story of Liver Transplant and Survival

On November 1, 2011 | At 9:14 am

Leah Yetzer, 30, was 37 weeks pregnant with twin boys in 2009 when doctors discovered she’d developed HELLP syndrome, a rare but serious condition that occurs during pregnancy or just after delivery. HELLP reduces red blood cells and increases liver enzymes. Leah was airlifted to UVA, where she had a liver transplant that saved her life. Leah, who lives in Blacksburg, shared her story with us.

Liver transplant receipient Leah Yetzer and her family

Leah Yetzer with her husband, Nate, and her twins, Nick and Jack

In May of 2009 I experienced a tragic sequence of events that led to my life almost ending at 27 years of age. I was 37 weeks pregnant with twin boys and I loved almost every week of it. But in my 36th week I felt incredible discomfort throughout my body, especially in the abdomen area, as well as headaches, swelling in my feet and fatigue. This was to be expected, I thought, given my condition and that I was carrying over 12 pounds of extra weight on my small 5-foot-2-inch frame.

I was never advised to be on bed rest and was told by my primary obstetrician in Blacksburg that non-stress tests, which monitored my contractions and their effect on my boys’ heart rates twice a week for 2 hours starting at 32 weeks, were a waste of my time. My husband and I trusted the OB’s knowledge and discontinued those tests (recommended by a previous OB seen at the same establishment) after one week. We then trusted his knowledge when we were sent back home on a Monday with a prescription for muscle relaxers, despite how I felt toward my 36th week — that it was time and my body could not handle anymore. We were told that an induction would not be possible with my doctor until at least two days later, a Wednesday, when I would be in my 37th week. (more…)