A selection . . .

“A Rare Pair” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 19, 2011

Brothers Stefan and Tyler Delp have spent every second of their lives together. They go to the same schools, play the violin in tandem, and recently sang a duet, “Put Your Arms Around Someone,” at their school’s spring hop. But the boys have never seen each other’s faces except for some sleight of hand with mirrors or computers.  The boys, born at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital 19 years ago, are a rare set of identical twins, joined at the head so one faces forward while the other is turned backward. When they walk down the hall at the public high school where they take morning classes, one moves ahead; the other steps in reverse . . .

“Reconstruction: A Choice After Breast Cancer Treatment”,  October 28, 2011

My cousin Gail Katz could have told me how surgery and chemotherapy saved her life. Instead, she told me how breast reconstruction saved her soul. Gail was 42 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. The tumor was small, a bit over one centimeter, and had not spread to her lymph nodes. But because she was relatively young, her doctor recommended chemotherapy and radiation after her lumpectomy.

Finally a Lady” The Philadelphia Inquirer November 9, 2011

On June 15, Richard Ramsey checked into Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township for major surgery.  When he left three days later, Ramsey was no longer Richard, but Renee.  Her first words to her doctor when she awakened after the operation were, “Now I’m the lady I always I knew I was.”

“A Visit With Destiny: One of St. Christopher’s Extra-Needy Preemies,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 21, 2011

Destiny Clarissa, the youngest child of Yolanda and Aaron Dent, was born in Abington Memorial Hospital on March 4. She weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces, less than a can of spaghetti sauce. Twelve days later, she was whisked to the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. No one there could predict when she would leave – or whether she would live . . .

“Demand — and Differing Methods — Are Growing in Plastic Surgery” The Philadelphia Enquirer, January  16, 2012

Which cosmetic surgeries do women want most after childbirth?  Which cosmetic procedure is the most popular with men between 30 and 60?  How have face-lifts changed over the last 40 years? . . .

“The Kindest Cut:  Cutting Years with Surgery” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2012

When Daniel C. Baker, one of the country’s most renowned plastic surgeons, graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1968, he never could have dreamed that 43 years later he would be cochairing, with plastic surgeons Sherrell J. Aston and Thomas D. Rees, a symposium that included sessions on vaginal rejuvenation and reshaping the buttocks Italian, Brazilian, French, or Swedish style. “It’s a new world,” says Baker, “where it’s difficult to separate the hype from the science. Every patient must be a savvy consumer” . . .

“On the Edge: Borderline Personality” The Inquirer Magazine

“I knew there was something really bad wrong with me,” says Paula C., a strikingly attractive woman, between sips of peppermint tea in a noisy downtown café.  “But I didn’t know I was a borderline.  Even as a psychologist, I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.  I did know it was ugly, that if you were a borderline, you were the scum of the earth.  Borderlines were the lepers.  So when a doctor at Bryn Mawr Hospital told me I was a borderline, I was very upset.  I asked, ‘What’s the hope of getting well?’  He said, ‘Not much.’”…

“The Dark Side of Tanning Salons” The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, January 30, 2012

When Jessica Lilley was 15, she made her debut at a tanning salon. The shopkeeper who had sold her the ivory silk gown that she would swear in a beauty pageant insisted that the blue-eyed blonde would look even more fabulous with a good tan.

For the next few days Lilley kept imagining herself bronzed and beautiful. So, despite her mother’s vigorous protests, she headed for the nearest salon. “There were more tanning salons in my town of Belmont, Miss. than there were grocery stores,” she says, “so it felt totally normal to me.”

People at the pageant complimented Lilley on how healthy and glamorous she looked, as though she had just returned from a beach vacation. “I loved the feedback and the look,” she says. For the next nine years, she preceded every special occasion–her prom, a party, an exciting date, even her wedding–with a visit to the “beds.”

It wasn’t until Lilley was in medical school and learned about the DNA mutations that form after exposure to ultraviolet light that she began to feel nervous. Still, she thought, “I’m indoors working all the time. I’m not going out much. This is my only indulgence. How much can it hurt me?” . . .

“Sudden, Stressful Broken Heart”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 16, 2012

This syndrome, different from heart track and now more easily identified, affects mainly women. Fortunately, full recover is likely.

Ann Brunner was at home with her best friend when a sudden, wrenching pain took her breath away. Her chest felt like it was being crushed by a sumo wrestler, the squeeze migrating to her shoulder and back. She fell into a chair and her friend told her that her face was ashen. “I felt like the plug on my life had been pulled,” Brunner recalls.

Later, in the emergency room at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, an abnormal electrocardiogram and elevated blood enzymes confirmed what Brunner, a nurse for 34 years, already suspected. She was in the midst of a severe heart attack.

Only, as it turned out, she wasn’t….

“Saving Their Necks”  Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9, 2012

In her best-selling book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, the late author Nora Ephron wrote, “I can’t stand people who say that ‘it’s great to be old, great to be at the point where you understand what really matters in life.’ What can they be thinking?  Don’t they have necks?”

Walter Dowgiallo, 64, has never read Ephron’s book, but he became bothered with “this little thing under my chin.  I didn’t like it and felt I really needed to look good because of the business I’m in.”

Dowgiallo, the father of four adult children, owns a company that creates the aesthetic labels and packaging for Victoria’s Secret, Liz Claiborne, and Bath & Body Works products, among others. “I felt I needed more pizzazz, that I had to look as good as the product I made,” he says, “and nature is not always as nice to you as it is to some people.”

“Therapick Lets Patients Choose a Therapist Online” The Philadelphia Inquirer September 11, 2012

Lisa Marchiano is wearing a black pantsuit with a purple shirt carefully selected for her potential audience. Her long, salt-and-pepper hair has settled into a cascade of ringlets framing her face. She wants to appear professional but chic. She moistens her lips, glances at the klieg lights to her right, looks at the camera, and without hesitation starts to speak.
Marchiano is not an actor or a television talk-show host. She is a licensed clinical social worker and Jungian analyst who is “selling herself” on Therapick, a website where prospective patients can learn, in two minutes, whether the psychotherapist they are watching might have the right chemistry for them…

“Best Christmas Gift” The Philadelphia Inquirer December 24, 2012

Jennifer Boutros will always remember Christmas, 2006. Matthew, her week-old baby was in the critical care unit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, struggling to recover from emergency open-heart surgery. He was swollen and his chest was open, covered by just a thin dressing. A tangle of tubes and pumps was delivering medication to keep him alive and pain-free. A ventilator was breathing for him. During the seven-hour surgery, Jennifer and her husband, Sam, had held each other crying. Sam kept saying, “I can’t believe our baby is having open-heart surgery. I can’t believe this is happening to us.

Jennifer, a labor and delivery nurse, and Sam, a computer engineer, had to make a decision. They could celebrate the holiday at home with their three other children, struggling to maintain some degree of normalcy. Or they could stand by Matthew’s crib and hold his hand as he fought for his life…

Strokes Up In Under-55’s The Philadelphia Inquirer December 31, 2012 (part I)
Brent Wylie was arguing with the doctors in the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta They said he had just had a stroke; he insisted that he had a few beers and was probably drunk. That’s why he had fallen on the sidewalk and was slurring his words.

“I had just graduated from college two months earlier, and I was totally healthy,” Wylie, then 23, said. “Strokes didn’t happen to people like me….”

“The Youngest Stroke Victims” The Philadelphia Inquirer January 7, 2013 (part II)
Sacha Downes was taking a shower when she felt a “weird” explosion in her head. Still dripping, she managed to reach the bathroom mirror where she was stunned to see her face drooping on the right side. She stumbled to her bedroom and fell. By the time her mother dashed upstairs, Sacha was having seizures. She recalls her dad carrying her down the steps and sliding her into an ambulance–then nothing until she awoke in a hospital. “I didn’t have any idea what was going on,” Sacha says…..

“Robotic Helpers Lend Steady Hand…Cardiology resembles a video game as $1.4 million ‘Athena’ aids in heart surgery” The Philadelphia Inquirer February 21, 2013

Dennis Kyriakatos is lying on the table in operating room 15 at Temple University Hospital, just minutes away from life-changing surgery. Sterile, green surgical cloth drapes his body, exposing only his torso. The antibacterial solution chlorhexidine painted on his chest and abdomen has turned his skin into a mustard-colored canvas. He has been
anesthetized for more than an hour.

At 75, Kyriakatos suffers from a faulty mitral valve, which allows blood to flow into the heart’s main pumping chamber. And he has chosen to have T. Sloane Guy, Temple’s chief of cardiovascular surgery, repair it robotically. For most of the four-hour operation, Guy will sit at a console 10 feet from his patient, using master controls to operate virtually….

“Dancing in the Face of Parkinson’s Disease” The Philadelphia Inquirer June 16, 2013
Every Tuesday, Domenic Lanciano 60 and his daughter, Nicole, 34, go to dance class. Their goal isn’t to dazzle relatives at the next family wedding or sharpen their skills for a spin on Dancing With the Stars.  Domenic has Parkinson’s disease, and doctors have suggested the rhythms of dancing may help keep him loose and limber.  He and Nicole have been going to classes for five months, joining 25 or so Parkinson’s patients who every week shimmy and sway in Studio A at West Chester’s Rock School West.

“Polyamory, Lots and Lots of Love The Philadelphia Inquirer November 18, 2013On September 10, 2011, Deirdre Cusack, Jeremy Peirce and Kala Pierson got married.  To one another. More than 60 friends and relatives attended their marriage ceremony at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.  They smiled as the two brides, both in traditional white wedding gowns, and the groom, dapper in his tuxedo, passed Noah, their 18-month-old son, from one set of arms to another. Today, two years later, the foursome appear to be an ordinary family living with their cats, Moonstone and Dandelion, in a single home in a Philadelphia suburb.  Noah goes to a progressive day care center where he is learning Hebrew and Spanish.  He loves pasta, albeit topped with brussels sprouts, and squeals with delight when he is rewarded with a chunk of licorice after success on the potty.  All three parents hold prestigious jobs–Jeremy, Noah’s birth father with degrees from Amherst and Princeton ,is a biotech scientist; Kala writes classical music that has been performed in 28 countries.  Deirdre, Noaha’s birth mother, is a data analyst.  Deirdre’s sister, Deborah, and Jeremy’s mother, Marie, usually laden with gifts for Noah, visit often.

Still–When Kala describes her ordinary, extraordinary family, she shrugs insouciantly and says, “We make dinner for each other…we have sex with each other….”

“Gender Transitioning Can Test Family Bonds” by Anndee Hochman and Gloria Hochman, The Philadelphia Inquirer January 6, 2014

Erica Solis doesn’t actually remember the Placemat Explanation, but her parents have told the story so often, she can recite it herself: She was four years old and sitting at the kitchen table. “If men are there,” her mom said, pointing to the far left side of the placemat, “and women are over there,” indicating the far right margin, “then Mama is right about here:” And she gestured to a spot on the left, close to the ” male” side of the mat. That was seven years ago, before Yoel Solis decided to stop living in that murky middle zone and become a man. Before weekly testosterone injections
lowered her voice and a double mastectomy left her flat-chested. Today “Mama” is “Abba,” and Erica’s family–which includes “Papa,” Matthew Solis, and twin five-year-old brothers–is among an increasingly visible cohort of the LGBT community: families with a transgender parent.

“Acceptance as the New Norm” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 2014

“Where’s the mom in this family?: puzzled 10-year-old Megan asked a few years ago as she glanced around the breakfast table.  she had slept over in the Center City home of her friend Ashley and seemed to have just noticed that Ashley’s mother was missing.  Without skipping a beat, Ashley’s 12-year-old brother, Scott, piped up, “Oh, we keep her in the closet.”

Mark Woodland and his partner, David Blum, just smiled.  Woodland, a gynecologist, and Blum, a lawyer, who have been partners for 25 years, adopted their son and daughter when the children were infants.  Now, Ashley is 12 and her brother nearly 15…

“Being Themselves” The Philadelphia Inquirer June 1, 2014

When Rey and Nicole met a year ago, neither knew that they shared a life-changing secret. It was one that had tormented each of them as far back as they could remember–and that ultimately brought them together. Rey had gone to an event at his church and spotted Nicole across a crowded room. Nicole, a lean, sandy-haired beauty, didn’t sense Rey’s eyes on her, even when he headed her way. But once he came close, the chemistry between them was undeniable.
An hour later, as Nicole was filling in an evaluation form, she turned to Rey and said, “I hate this question, “What is your gender?”
“Me too,” Rey responded. “I’m just a guy.”
“And I’m just a girl,” Nicole said.
Both revealed then that they were transgender.

Philadelphia Doctor Helps Transgender Teen, September 8, 2014
What would you do if your 10-year-old son told you that God had made a mistake, that he had been born into the wrong body, that he is and always was a girl?
Bob Bradley believes he had only one choice: To listen. “I loved my child unconditionally, and more than anything, I wanted him to be happy and healthy. If that could happen only if he lived as a girl, my wife, Debbie, and I would support him with love.”

“Teens’ Immature Brains Pose All Sorts of Dangers” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 1, 2015. Every Sunday night after she steps out of ther shower, 16-year-old Emma texts a nude selfie to her boyfriend.  He has promised to destroy it within five minutes. Michael, 18, knows about the dangers of drinking and driving, but figures a couple of beers won’t put him over the edge.  After an evening of partying with friends, he tucks himself behind the wheel of the 1969 Honda Civic he borrowed from his brother.  The police pick him up 30 minutes later for erratic driving. Alice, 14, who goes to a school for the academically talented, texts until 4 in the morning instead of studying for tomorrow’s midterm science exam.  Alice, 14, who typically gets A’s and B’s on tests, fails this one.

Expecting these Philadelphia teenagers to control their impulses or resist peer pressure is like expecting a 6-month-old to walk, say experts in neuroscience and adolescent psychology.  Their brains are still under construction and, contrary to adult perception, won’t be fully mature until they are in their early to mid-20’s…

“Surviving Tradition:  how two couples coped when one partner changed gender” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 2017
On April 18, 2015, Pam Balentine arrived in Philadelphia with her husband of 15 years, Ken.  Two weeks later, she returned to her South Dakota home with her wife, Kendall.  Just before the multiple surgical surgeries that changed her spouse’s sex and both partners’ lives, Pam was blunt with Ken.  “If you go through with this, one of us will be very unhappy,” she said.  “That will be me.’  The scenario for Yoel and Matthew Solis was dramatically different….

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