Features in February 2019

For the Love of Healing

Many couples have interesting stories about how they met: online, through friends, a chance encounter at a party. For the doctors Birriel (he is T. Javier, MD; she is Lillybeth, MD), the seven-year-married couple’s journey crisscrosses numerous states and several countries. “We met in 2009,” Lillybeth says. “Javier—who is originally from Hawaii but grew up in Louisiana—was in medical school in Grenada. I was studying medicine in my native Puerto Rico. That summer, we happened to be in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, for a two-month-long program.”

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Speed Up Your Flu Recovery

Getting slammed by the flu is no fun. The fever, the aches, the hacking cough, the runny nose…you just can’t wait for it to be over. Unfortunately, there’s no “silver bullet” cure for influenza; the viral infection needs to run its course. (And, because it’s viral, antibiotics don’t help.)

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Shorts in February 2019

In Sickness and In Health


On February 18th, my husband Richard and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and our commitment to one another is stronger than ever.

For years, we’ve both struggled with being significantly overweight. As it often occurs with married couples, we also had similar lifestyles—a long history of unhealthy eating habits and little to no exercise. As we got older, losing weight and maintaining our health only became significantly more challenging. I was diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol. Richard suffered from sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and diabetes. We decided to more seriously consider our options.

We researched and attended several local hospitals offering bariatric surgery and were impressed by the breadth and depth of the Weight Loss Program at St. Luke’s. Their approach included highly qualified and experienced doctors. In addition, it offered support—our physician’s guidance, monthly group meetings, regular information sessions, and access to a nutritionist. This breadth of support, as well as the reputation of the program and St. Luke’s surgeons, made our decision easier.

 Sounds crazy, but we decided to do the surgeries together—the same day, to be exact, one right after the other. It reinforced the love and support we’ve always had for one another.

Post-surgery, each month has brought us closer to our weight loss goals. Not long after the procedure, Richard’s sleep apnea and high blood pressure were resolved, and he significantly reduced his insulin level to treat his Type 1 diabetes. Aside from now being able to enjoy activities we previously couldn’t, we feel so much better about ourselves.

We no longer feel trapped by our weight. We look and feel healthier and our numbers show it. We have self-esteem, confidence, and energy again. My ability to shop for a variety of clothing styles has allowed me to more fully express myself and my husband thinks I look great! Although we haven’t signed up for the St. Luke’s Marathon and 5K yet :-), it’s brought us closer together.

Today, Richard and I tell anyone thinking about bariatric surgery to go to the St. Luke’s information sessions. We also stress talking to someone who has already gone through the procedure. For me, I only wish we would have done it much sooner because the experience has been life-changing.

Happy Anniversary Richard,

Love Helma

1 Thing You Must Know About Seasonal Depression

Most of us experience some form of the winter blues this time of year. Temperatures outside are cold. Days are shorter. Holidays aren’t always a happy time. The passing of a loved one, financial stress, and family disagreements all play a part.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), however, is something more. “Accurately referred to as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns, it’s a serious form of depression found to be directly related to a lack of serotonin in the brain,” says Amie Allanson-Dundon, MS, Clinical Manager at St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Services.

Serotonin impacts every part of our daily life. It helps our body with sleeping and digestion and is also associated with depression and anxiety. In the brain, it regulates happiness and our mood. “Aside from low levels of serotonin, patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder report an increase in appetite, weight gain, low energy, and previous episodes or patterns of feeling down. This is directly related to the low amount of sunlight our bodies absorb in the winter,” Allanson-Dundon explains.

Thankfully, our skin has the ability to make vitamin D when we’re exposed to the sun. In turn, this helps to release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that affect the way we feel. Depending on where we live, the level of serotonin in our bodies changes with each season. In fact, a higher number of  SAD cases are reported in populations farther from the equator.

Above all, the one thing you absolutely must know about Seasonal Affective Disorder is that it can be properly assessed, diagnosed, and treated in a short period of time with the help of your family physician or a behavioral health professional.

Amie Allanson-Dundon, MS, is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and Licensed Professional Counselor at St. Luke’s University Health Network.

Warm Up for Winter Activities


Some wintertime outdoor activities are enjoyable—skiing, for example. Others are, well, not so much (does anyone really like to shovel snow?).

But no matter what you’re doing outside, properly warming up is essential.

“When temperatures are low, your muscles are less functional until they have proper blood flow,” says John Graham, Senior Network Administrator for Fitness and Sports Performance at St. Luke’s. “In winter, your body tends to shunt blood away from your skin and muscles. Warm-up exercises improve blood flow.”

Some of John’s warm-up suggestions are pictured herein, and he notes that you can do them with ordinary objects around the house. Because wintertime activities tend to involve your whole body, we’ve organized them into three major sections.

Of course, it’s smart to check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. “Many times, in cold weather, your perception of your heart rate can be off. That is, you’re working hard—but it doesn’t feel that way to you,” John cautions.


Perform two sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise.


Face the wall, and stand a bit more than arm’s-length away. Keep your feet at shoulder-width.
Extend your arms (at shoulder-height and -width) and lean forward. Place your palms against the wall. Bend your elbows and slowly lower yourself toward the wall. Keep your feet flat. Straighten your arms to regain your starting position.


Hold a light weight (John suggests a soup can) in each hand, with your arms at your sides. Raise your arms straight up, to form a “T” shape. Hold a moment, and then lower your arms.


Stand and place your weighted hands in front of your thighs, palms facing toward you. Raise your left hand and arm straight up, until just above shoulder height. Slowly lower your left arm as you raise your right. NOTE: one right/left cycle = 1 rep.



Stand on the edge of a step facing the stairs; raise and lower yourself with your toes.


Keep your knees slightly bent as you stand with arms raised to 90 degrees (in front or to your sides). Raise your right foot a bit, and then bend your hips as you lower your torso toward the floor. Extend your right leg behind you, and keep your left leg straight. Slowly return to the starting position. NOTE: 2 sets/10 reps for each leg.



Get into the common “push-up” position. Keep your body straight, and hold your head in line with your back. Maintain the position for 20-30 seconds.


Balance on your forearms instead of your hands.


Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders and knees under your hips. Raise your arm and leg in line keeping your head in a neutral position.

Healthy Solutions For Your New Year’s Resolution

The new year inspires many an ambitious promise of self-betterment. Unfortunately, such laudable (and common) objectives as “eating healthy” and “losing weight” may be doomed by a lack of planned, actionable steps. “When people make big, global resolutions they tend to fall apart because the goals are too vague,” says Debbie Cooper, RD, LDN, Network Clinical Nutrition Manager at St. Luke’s.

As a start, Cooper suggests swapping sugar-sweetened beverages for non-caloric drinks. “If you want to cut calories and lose weight, that’s something tangible you can do,” she says, citing the variety of flavored waters and seltzers on the market. Unsweetened iced tea, another good choice available in diverse flavors, is also easy to cold-brew in the fridge—or infuse water with lemons, cucumbers, mint leaves, and other fresh flavors.

Although Cooper notes that restaurant portions are typically double those of home servings, dining out needn’t be a downfall. She recommends asking for a take-home container when the entrée arrives and transferring half the meal immediately. “Taking it off the plate is a safeguard that keeps you from continuing to pick after you’re full,” she explains. People who dine out frequently could trim the number of restaurant dinners per week from four visits to two. However, if work keeps you on the road at mealtimes, make sensible ingredient choices—and start with a modest green salad to take the edge off a roaring appetite.

Target eating foods that are roasted, grilled, or steamed rather than fried, and try to eat proportionally: Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, and limit protein to a 3-ounce portion (the size of a deck of cards). And don’t neglect energy-sustaining complex carbohydrates. “Make sure they’re healthy carbs from whole grains, which provide fiber,” says Cooper, who points to ChooseMyPlate.gov as an invaluable, customizable meal planning website. Lastly, avoid skipping meals to cut calories since this slows metabolism and actually makes weight loss more difficult.

Cooper proposes adhering to an 80:20 diet ratio, the larger number representing healthy-choice foods. With the smaller portion, “give yourself permission” to eat what you enjoy. In moderation.

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