NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

NICU Superheroes Raise Awareness of Preterm Birth

To raise awareness of preterm birth, graduates of the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) recently reunited with their caregivers at a Day of Gratitude event hosted as part of the March of Dimes World Prematurity Day awareness campaign.

Families celebrated with cake and crafts, and the March of Dimes presented each NICU graduate with a purple superhero cape. Families with babies currently in the NICU also received hand-written notes containing words of encouragement from the former NICU families.

Tracy Brnusak, a nurse at Magee, organized the event to celebrate the NICU’s many success stories. Her own son Andy was born preterm at Magee, and he is now thriving in elementary school. Brnusak’s experience inspired her to switch roles at Magee and become a nurse in the NICU.

Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm each year. Even babies born a few weeks too soon can face serious health challenges and increased risk for lifelong disabilities including breathing problems, vision loss, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. The March of Dimes works with hospitals like Magee to raise awareness of preterm birth with the hope of reducing the number of families it effects.

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7 Years of Flu Shots

Flu kills, and critically ill, hospitalized patients are especially vulnerable.

After years of trying different tactics to encourage flu vaccination among its staff – with good, but not good enough, results – UPMC adopted a universal flu immunization policy in the 2015-2016 flu season. The first year saw a nearly 15 percent jump in vaccination rates. And, so far this season the rates are even better, with nearly 98 percent of health care staff immunized. The remaining 2 percent, who can’t be vaccinated for various, approved reasons, wear masks when near patients.

UPMC is proud to share our flu immunization data during National Influenza Vaccination Week, and celebrate that it means less chance of patients being exposed to the flu.

Still need a flu shot? UPMC Urgent Care centers have them available seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with no appointment necessary.

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*No data reported for Dec. 26, 2013

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UPMC Whitfield Celebrates 10th Anniversary


A decade ago, cancer patients in Waterford, Ireland, faced hours of grueling, daily travel to Dublin or Cork if they needed radiation therapy — or they simply skipped their treatments. That’s when local doctors and the government’s Health Service Executive turned to UPMC to meet the need for an advanced cancer treatment center in rural southeast Ireland.

As the UPMC Whitfield Cancer Centre celebrates its 10th anniversary today, more than 17,000 patients have been treated there with state-of-the-art radiation therapy close to home.  Staff, physicians and over 100 guests recently gathered to mark the occasion at Waterford’s Whitfield Clinic, the private hospital that houses the cancer center.

“As UPMC CancerCenter’s first international location, the UPMC Whitfield facility has played a special role in demonstrating that our world-class cancer care and the expertise of our clinicians could be extended far beyond Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Dwight Heron, director of radiation services at UPMC CancerCenter. “By working together with our colleagues in Ireland, we’ve achieved the highest standards of quality and ensured that patients in the southeast no longer have to leave the region for cutting-edge cancer care.”

“This partnership has connected us to the expertise, technology, education and treatment capabilities of one of the world’s largest cancer treatment networks, with more than 40 centers,” added Dr. Dayle Hacking, a radiation oncologist at UPMC Whitfield and UPMC Ireland’s medical director. “This facility is now widely viewed as an asset to the community, and we continue to improve it.”

stretcher-bayRecent renovations at the UPMC Whitfield include new outpatient clinics for follow-up appointments, a bright and airy waiting area within the radiotherapy department, the addition of a stretcher bay for patients coming from other regional hospitals, and new office space for physicians and administrators that encourages collaboration and efficiency. The center is newly decorated with Irish landscapes painted by director of operations Catriona McDonald.

UPMC Whitfield is based on UPMC’s “hub-and-spoke” model in which a wide range of oncology services are offered in local communities with support from UPMC’s academic and clinical hub at the Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh. Based on its high quality standards and patient safety, UPMC Whitfield has been accredited three times by the Joint Commission International since 2008.

UPMC International recently announced a joint venture to own and operate an advanced radiotherapy center in Cork with Bon Secours Health System.  UPMC also operates a radiation center in Rome and works with partners in Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Colombia, Russia, Myanmar and other nations to improve cancer care worldwide.

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ALS Research at Pitt and UPMC Gets a Boost


Research at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, received a significant boost this week with the donation of $500,000 by, a donor-advised fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Last year, the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research was established at the Pitt’s Brain Institute (UPBI) with the help of a starting gift from The fund was created by Neil and Suzanne Alexander at The Pittsburgh Foundation in 2011, soon after Neil Alexander was diagnosed with ALS at age 46. pledged to raise $2.5 million for the research center in five years.

The starting gift given last year was matched by Pitt in an effort to raise $10 million in funding for the center. Neil Alexander, who passed away in early 2016, was inspired by the dignity and perseverance shown decades ago by legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, who died from ALS in 1941.

Currently, there is no effective treatment for ALS, which causes progressive paralysis and eventually makes swallowing and breathing difficult, if not impossible, while sensation and cognitive function remain unaffected. Patients with ALS live two to five years after diagnosis, on average, with about 10 percent surviving for 10 years or longer.

The Live Like Lou Center at Pitt will focus both on developing new treatments and, ultimately, a cure for ALS, as well as improving the quality of life for people who are now living with the progressive, degenerative neurological condition.

One of the researchers who will contribute to that effort is Chris Donnelly, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology at Pitt and member of the UPBI. Donnelly, whose research is funded by the center, hopes to improve our understanding of ALS by studying cells from patients with the disease. His research involves converting these patient cells into stem cells, which have the potential to become any cell in the body. He then coaxes them in the lab to become neurons in order to study how they are different from normal neurons.

Donor Wall Recognizes Contributions, Showcases Research

In recognition of the efforts of the many individuals and organizations that have contributed to this grassroots effort to advance research, UPMC helped construct a “living” donor wall, located at UPMC Presbyterian. The wall features an updated list of donors who have contributed to, and features a display that showcases images from research laboratories at Pitt, along with highlights of efforts by the center.

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Annual Our Hearts to Your Soles Event Provides Foot Care in Time for the Holidays

In partnership with Catholic Charities, Dr. Stephen Conti recently hosted his 11th annual nonprofit Our Hearts to Your Soles initiative alongside fellow foot-care professionals. With supplies donated by Red Wing Shoe Company and Superfeet, Conti and his colleagues from around the country gave some 6,000 donated shoes and 8,000 pairs of socks to disadvantaged and homeless people across more than 20 cities.

Conti and a team of UPMC foot care professionals provided free foot examinations to local adults in need. Volunteers from Colaizzi Pedorthic Center and University of Pittsburgh prosthetic and orthotics students fitted participants with shoes. This year’s event served clients from a variety of organizations, including Catholic Charities, Light of Life, Jubilee Kitchen, Operation Safety Net and 411 Youth Zone.

“It is sad, but so often do we see the homeless with ill-fitted shoes, which often leads to additional stress to one’s health and wellness,” Conti said.

Our Hearts to Your Soles was founded in Pittsburgh in 2004 by Conti, an orthopaedic surgeon at UPMC, and his family after seeing the problems caused by improper footwear. Since then, the program has expanded and now hosts events around Thanksgiving at over 20 sites across the country.

“We are delighted to be able to provide this critical service to our brothers and sisters in need,” said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities. “It’s relatively easy to source winter clothes for clients, but well-fitting shoes are another question.”

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