Health and Wellness

(201) Magazine’s People to Watch in Health

(201) Magazine brings attention to 20 individuals who are making a difference in the health and welfare of Bergen residents
Thinkstock/Andregric
(201) Magazine brings attention to 20 individuals who are making a difference in the health and welfare of Bergen residents
Field Marshall

John Gallucci Jr.

President, Jag Physical Therapy

John Gallucci Jr. is a trusted source when it comes to keeping athletes on the field. He’s president of JAG Physical Therapy and serves as the official medical coordinator for Major League Soccer after working as the New York Red Bulls trainer.

When athletes get hurt, he works to guide them back to the point that they can play as themselves again – but not before they’re really ready. That’s the fundamental belief at his practice, which has several locations across the region, including Hackensack.

It’s also the idea behind his book Soccer Injury Prevention and Treatment. Using his experience with professional and youth athletes, he compiled the answers to many of the questions he’s gotten from parents and coaches throughout the years.

“It looks at a lot of the typical injuries pertaining to soccer, but it can also be useful for other sports because of how similar the movements are,” Gallucci says.

A number of sports involve running and changing directions in sudden bursts. These activities can result in ankle sprains, ACL tears, calf strains and other problems.

The book is a comprehensive, but easy to understand, look at topics like identifying injuries, knowing when to get treatment, building strength and endurance, and proper nutrition and hydration for a good performance.

It also looks at how to handle concussions. Football is probably the first sport people think of for that, but a physical game like soccer also brings the risk for serious brain injuries.

The book also looks at the issue of overuse injuries, which has become very common as more young athletes focus on one sport, rather than switching it up each season, Gallucci says.

“Their bodies don’t necessarily get the break they need from some of the movements and pounding,” he says. “The overtraining can result in injuries.”

Gallucci hopes people can understand the benefits of physical therapy. Whether an injury is from sports or something like climbing a ladder or moving heavy boxes, there could be a muscle imbalance after the pain goes away. People may think they’re not “hurt” anymore, but there could be more chronic health issues later on if the full extent of the injury isn’t really addressed.

“We want to get you back to where you were before the injury,” Gallucci says.

– Sam Passow
Rehab Addict

Pierre Juliano, P.T., D.P.T.

Director of Rehabilitation Services, HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley

At 37, Pierre Juliano decided it was time for a life change. After years of taking care of her children, she wanted to re-enter the workforce, but not in the field in which her degree in animal science would have dictated. She wanted to pursue something in human medicine.

“After volunteering in several places, I decided that physical therapy would be the best fit for me,” Juliano says. “So, at 37 years old, it was extremely encouraging for me when my children would put my transcripts next to their report cards on the refrigerator. It motivated me and helped me get to the finish line in my education.”

Juliano eventually landed at HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley three years ago after working in the network at HackensackUMC. Having given birth to her two children at the old Pascack Valley Hospital, she, like the community it served, was hurt when news of its closing materialized in 2007.

HackensackUMC was granted approval in 2012 to reopen the 112-bed facility. PJ, as she is known to many colleagues and patients, found her new workplace.

“When it closed, it was truly devastating to the community and when the announcement came about the reopening, many felt the energy and excitement of the community,” Juliano says. “I personally felt that energy and became excited about the possible opportunity to become part of the team that would reopen the doors to the community who wanted it back.”

As director of rehabilitation services, Juliano has played a pivotal role in re-booting rehab services in the Westwood facility. In March, Juliano helped cut the ribbon on the Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center. Patients usually receive rehabilitation services at the center for 18 months, recovering from ailments ranging from heart attack and angina to COPD and lung cancer surgery.

“It’s about them being able to tolerate more activity, be more functional, but on a deeper level, it’s about healing their feelings related to illness and motivating them to achieve more while reinforcing that there still is so much more out there for them to attain,” she says.

Juliano has also helped get an outpatient service back on line. Originally not part of the hospital’s business plan, Juliano says daily calls from people in the community that had been discharged and wanted the service necessitated its implementation.

“The beauty of rehab is it’s a whole body experience,” Juliano says. “The relationship that the patients forge with each other has made it what the hospital is all about.”

– Michael Lamendola
The Brain Surgeon

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D.

Co-Director, The Gamma Knife Center, The Valley Hospital Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at Columbia University

Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio became interested in neurosurgery while in medical school at Vanderbilt University. “The neuro-anatomy course blew me away with the things they were able to do with the central nervous system, fixing things like Parkinson’s and pain,” he says. “It’s a field that seemed in its infancy, as it still is. We understand the heart and the liver, but our understanding of the brain is still the tip of iceberg, so that’s exciting.”

One of the many roles he performs at various North Jersey medical facilities is leading The Gamma Knife Center at The Valley Hospital. The Gamma Knife uses a beam to pinpoint radiation to attack tumors or abnormalities.

“The key thing about it is it’s not surgery,” D’Ambrosio says. “It’s done as an outpatient, so it kind of revolutionizes neurosurgery for a lot of things that otherwise might require surgery or prolong surgery by giving us a non-invasive tool to treat tumors and pain.”

He says it broadens doctors’ ability to care for patients who may not want surgery or may not be candidates, while also decreasing the amount of hospital stays. The technology has been updated over the years, but the concept of using cobalt radioactive sources has been around since the 1970s.

“We have a very long track record of successful outcomes, so even if the machine, Gamma Knife Perfexion, is new, the actual technique is not,” he says. “It’s faster and slicker, but the treatment and its outcomes have stood the test of time.”

Patients coming in are usually concerned with the notion that radiation is harmful.

“Gamma Knife is very accurate in terms of the fact that nothing besides the bad piece, like the tumor, is receiving any sort of dose of radiation that would cause problems, so it’s very controlled and accurate,” D’Ambrosio says.

At this point, he’s performed more than 200 procedures and appreciates how the field of neuroscience continues to move forward.

“The brain is so complicated and it’s really electrical with a lot of circuitry, on the cellular level, a lot of computer-style circuits that go on,” he says, adding that the new technology being developed will enable doctors to do things today that neurosurgeons 20 years ago couldn’t do.

“We can get into small spots with very little trauma. We’re able to navigate through arteries instead of going through the brain to get to certain things. We’re able to use electrical impulses to regulate the nervous system using electrodes. There are brain interfaces with computers so people who have had strokes or injuries can control prosthetic limbs,” D’Ambrosio says. “So now that the technology has caught up, I think you’re going to see a real explosion in what neurosurgeons can add to the recovery of patients and their quality of life.”

– Sam Passow
Youthful Practice

Heripsime Ohanian, Ph.D., M.D., FACOG

Cosmetic Surgeon and Gynecologist, Bergen Aesthetics

Dr. Heripsime Ohanian wants women going through menopause to know something very important: What you think is just a normal part of aging doesn’t have to be. “Whether you go through it early in your 40s or naturally in your 50s, life doesn’t end,” she says, “you can still enjoy yourself in relationships and in life.” And she’s seeing results to that end using cutting-edge laser and regenerative technologies to help relieve many of the symptoms that come with this change in a woman’s life.

Ohanian, who emigrated to the U.S. from Syria with her family at age 9, has medical training in obstetrics and gynecology, as well as cosmetic surgery and a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Eleven years ago, she left her busy surgical and high-risk pregnancy practice to build on her laser experience and interest in cosmetic medicine. With a specific focus on regenerative medicine, she uses lasers and other technologies to help reverse the aging process.

In her Paramus practice at Bergen Aesthetics, she is a regional trainer for the MonaLisa Touch and uses this laser to help relieve some of the less talked about symptoms of menopause. While women typically complain of night sweats and hot flashes, symptoms like vaginal itching, dryness, pain, burning and incontinence can be even more devastating. “We go to the gym to take care of our bodies,” Ohanian says, “we should be taking care of this important part of our bodies as well.” This procedure is designed to stimulate new collagen production in vaginal walls, resulting in naturally increased blood flow and lubrication.

Using an innovative technology called Lipogems, she treats urinary incontinence under a clinical trial and for other cosmetic and therapeutic applications. Lipogems isolates the growth factors and other regenerative components from the body’s fat that have the capability of promoting the body’s regenerative processes in the area into which it is injected.

“Regenerative medicine is my passion right now,” Ohanian says. “I really think it’s the future of medicine, and that’s my where my heart is and I will continue to help women stay and feel young, as well as conduct more clinical trials and continue to train other doctors in these technologies.”

– Lucy Probert
Patient Advocate

Robert Brenner, M.D.

Senior Vice President and Chief Physician Executive, Valley Health System

With all of the major changes happening today in health care Valley’s Dr. Robert Brenner knows the right prescription to make it through. “You can put your head in the sand or you can fight like mad, but I’m in the camp of embracing it and making sure that the changes are ones that will meet the demands of our patients,” he says.

In his new role as senior VP and chief physician executive at Valley, Brenner sees great opportunity. “This was a chance to join a culture that drives quality and is built around doing the right thing for patients,” he says. His leadership duties will include working with physicians and staff in the development of their Accountable Care Organization, further developing their robust home health care organization and emphasizing population health strategies.

Brenner received his medical degree in family medicine and served as a physician in the U.S. Air Force. During the Gulf Crisis, he was deployed to Spain and upon returning opened up a family practice. Prior to Valley, Brenner was chief medical officer of Summit Medical Group, as well as a senior executive at Mountainside Hospital/Atlantic Health System. He no longer sees patients, focusing strictly on the management side of medicine.

What drew him to Valley was a culture of quality and caring. “Taking a walk in one of the wards the lights suddenly dimmed,” he says. “When I asked a nurse what was happening she said, ‘It’s quiet time, we like to give our patients a rest from all of the hustle and bustle on the floor.’ It’s the little things like that that make this a different and special place.”

Medicine is one of the most rewarding professions you can imagine, he says. “I live in a town with successful professionals, like investment bankers, and many of them, no matter how wealthy they are, say to me, ‘You know, maybe I should go back and be a teacher’ or ‘I wish I was a doctor because I’m not feeling like I’m making a difference in people’s lives.’”

– Lucy Probert
Strong Connection

Beth Stein, M.D.

Chief, Division of Neurology and Director, EMG Lab and Neuromuscular Diseases, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center

Board certified in neurology, electrodiagnostic and neuromuscular medicine, Dr. Beth Stein is an attending neurologist and director of the Neuromuscular Disorders and Outpatient EMG Laboratory at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center. The Teaneck resident is an electromyographer and active in electrodiagnostic and neuromuscular clinical research; she’s involved in several different trials at any given time in search of the latest treatment methods and medications for patients.

“Many of the conditions I treat are chronic disorders. I really care about helping people, and developing relationships with my patients helps me treat the entire person – not just their disorder,” she says. “A neurological condition can impact every aspect of your life, so my ultimate goal is to understand exactly what they’re going through and develop a bond that I can use to help improve their quality of life.”

Though she’s committed to remaining on the cutting-edge of the latest advancements in her field, Stein is also passionate about educating the next generation of physicians. She has taught medical residents at prestigious institutions such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and New York Medical College.

“I love treating patients, but I also really love teaching,” she explains. “I think the only way to be a good doctor and truly connect with patients is both to thoroughly understand a disorder via clinical research as well as staying on top of what’s new in the field by continuing to train and grow with medical students.” Stein also works closely with her team to provide much-needed care and education to the undeserved population within the local community, such as giving lectures on stroke prevention and treatment.

Stein received her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and completed her internship in internal medicine at Staten Island University Hospital. She completed her residency in neurology at Montefiore Medical Center and her fellowship in neuromuscular/EMG from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. At St. Joseph’s, she played a significant role in strengthening and developing the neurology division and spearheading its epilepsy program.

Today, her division treats patients with any type of neurological disorder. A primary stroke center, the facility treats some 800 patients per year. Stein also helped develop the outpatient EMG laboratory, which provides state-of-the-art diagnostic testing and neuromuscular evaluations, and uses advanced techniques to diagnose neuromuscular disorders including carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle disease (myopathy), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), peripheral neuropathy and others. It’s one of only three laboratories in the state that has earned laboratory accreditation with exemplary status from the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM).

“I pride myself on being able to offer patients such a high level and quality of care,” she says.

– Jennifer L. Nelson
The App Maker

Gabe Schlisser

Creator of the OurMedDB app for the iPhone

Imagine receiving a phone call from the hospital saying your mother was brought in and the doctors need her full medical history right away but you can’t remember all her medications off the top of your head. Having easy access to information like that can make a difference in trying to save a life.

So Tenafly resident Gabe Schlisser built an app for that. OurMedDB, available for iPhones ($4.99), stores all the information that can be needed during a medical emergency, including previous ailments, treatments and testing, current medications and allergies, date of birth and social security number, and contact information for family members and a primary physician.

The data is encrypted locally on the phone with a password. If emergency responders find a person unresponsive and can’t enter the password to get their medical history, emergency contact information can still be viewed on the phone’s lock screen. That way they can still find out the six medications the person is currently taking, which is vital to knowing how to treat them, he says.

Schlisser began his career as an electrical engineer more than 40 years ago, mostly in hardware development.

“Then computer technology moved so I moved with it into software development,” he says.

One of the projects Schlisser worked on involved a security access system the U.S. State Department used at its foreign embassies. He also developed software that insurance companies use to review people’s medical histories to determine the risks for insuring them.

He decided to give up his full-time consulting work after 30 years and found himself interested in the new technology on his iPhone. Schlisser took online courses to learn the programming language that Apple uses for its software. “To prove I learned it, I needed to write an app,” he says.

With his background, it “seemed natural to write an app to store medical information so it’s readily available,” he says.

Schlisser saw similar apps on the market, but decided they “haven’t emphasized security very much,” he says. His app has a strong focus on that with the local storage, encryption and password protection.

“The only reluctance I’ve seen is people are still reluctant to enter their personal data,” he says. “But I know it’s coming, whether it’s my app or another one.”

– Sam Passow
Healthy Attitude

Erin Spitzberg, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator

Erin Spitzberg struggled with her weight throughout her teen and young adult years, tipping the scales at 200 pounds by the time she graduated from college. After years of restrictive diets, she finally sought the help of a nutritionist. Over the course of two years, she successfully managed to lose 60 pounds – and keep it off for good.

Today, Spitzberg is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator in Glen Rock who helps clients achieve their own weight loss and fitness goals.

“I spent hard-earned money on my sessions with a nutritionist and worked hard to lose the weight,” she says, “and I was so afraid of gaining it back that I decided to make it my career.” Spitzberg moved to New York City, where she was accepted into New York University’s School of Nutrition and Food Studies. After receiving her master’s degree, she went through the rigorous training required to become a registered dietitian.

Twenty years later, Spitzberg is on a mission: to help people achieve their weight loss and fitness goals without the need for restrictive dieting. This year, she published a book entitled Eat Like a Normal Person: Your Guide to Real World Solutions for Healthy Living, which recently became an Amazon bestseller.

“I kept hearing clients say that they just wanted to be able to eat like a ‘normal’ person – they wanted to feel like they could have ice cream or eat a cookie,” she says. “Over the years, I found ways to help people enjoy the foods they love while still living a healthy lifestyle and achieving their goals.”

In her practice, Spitzberg offers real-world solutions for healthy living, and her book provides guidance on how to break free from restrictive eating by focusing on what she calls the Three Keys: an individual’s health, lifestyle and food preferences. She strives to help people learn to make healthier choices while still enjoying life.

“If I’m at a wedding, I’m going to have a piece of cake. I don’t believe in dieting, or that people need to restrict themselves in order to be a healthy weight,” she says. “They just need to put the right behaviors in place in order to make their favorite foods a part of their lives.”

In the past year, she has expanded her services to provide enhanced one-on-one interaction with clients. Spitzberg also recently launched an online coaching program.

“I immerse myself in people’s lives,” she says. “I visit their home, cook with them, grocery shop with them, go out to eat with them. They see firsthand how to make the right choices in everyday situations.”

– Jennifer L. Nelson
Medical Pros

The Kasper Family

Doctors from the same school

Whenever members of the Kasper family of Park Ridge get together one thing is certain – there will be always be a doctor in the house, maybe even two or three, along with a few nurses. In May 2015, David Kasper, following in the footsteps of his father, brother and two uncles, graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey at Rutgers, thus becoming the fifth doctor in the Kasper family. Although not a UMDNJ record, they rank as one of the largest family groups.

His father, Dr. Andrew Kasper, the first doctor in the family, credits his own mother with having created the medical dynasty. She served as a nurse during World War II. While assigned to a hospital in Richmond, Va., she tended to a man injured in a motorcycle accident. They ultimately married and moved to Bergen County where she became head of the coronary care unit at Pascack Valley Hospital. Her duties included reading EKG and other electronic diagnosis tests, which she did not understand.

“She told me to learn it and then teach her,” Andrew says. That stirred his interest in medicine. But what really ignited the medical spark was his being named least likely to succeed in his high school graduating class.

“That ticked me off,” he says.

Determined to prove that prediction wrong he applied to colleges offering pre-med programs. He got accepted, maintained a 4.0 grade point average, got into medical school and graduated first in his class.

Andrew is the oldest of seven children. His brothers, John and Joseph, followed him into medicine, as did three sisters who became nurses.

Dr. Joseph Kasper, the youngest, earned a college degree in computer science and wasn’t planning on being a doctor. While researching artificial intelligence medical diagnostics, he read a lot about chemistry, biology, diagnostics and probability. He discovered he was more interested in medicine than computers.

When older brother John, who also has a computer degree, found that out he too decided to go to medical school. “I think he did not want to be the only one that was not a doctor,” Joseph says. They attended med school at the same time and graduated in 1993.

Joseph has practiced internal medicine for 19 years. “What I like best about it is the relationship with my patients,” he says. He maintains a limited practice working alone in a small office in Saddle River. John also practices internal medicine in Ventnor City.

Growing up, medicine was a natural for Michael and his brother David. Their minor aliments were treated by their father or their uncles.

“I did not plan on medicine as a career,” Michael says. He was a business major in college. When his dad dropped him off at school he told him that if he wanted a guaranteed job he should think about medicine. That stuck with him. After awhile he decided to take some biology and chemistry courses and then switched to pre-med. Like his father, Michael specializes in cardiology and internal medicine. After graduating from medical school in 2005, he joined his father’s practice.

“He and my uncles have been a big help to me,” Michael says. “You only learn so much in med school, the basics, the foundations. They don’t teach all the other stuff.”

David is currently serving an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and is expected to join his brother in the Saddle River Medical Group practice.

Meanwhile, their father, Andrew has retired, ending his 39-year career.

– Jerry Pervinich
Contemplative Couple

William and Catherine Krame

Co-founders, Krame Center for Contemplative Studies and Mindful Living, Ramapo College of New Jersey

Mindfulness, a purposeful way of focusing attention in the present moment, had been part of the Krame family lifestyle long before the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but the tragedy did help to crystallize the way in which William and Catherine Krame could use the approach to better serve the community.

“When the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, there was a huge shift for me,” Catherine says. “The shooting was on a Friday, and my daughter, who was writing something for school about bringing mindfulness into education, bounced ideas off me that [following] weekend.”

While debates raged in the U.S. over changes that needed to be made to prevent similar tragedies, it occurred to Catherine that incorporating mindfulness into education could help solve the problem of violence in schools.

“Teach children emotional resilience and how to cope, so that they don’t turn to violence – this is the change that has to come,” she says. “We have to bring more mindfulness to children.”

With that goal in mind, the Krames sought a location for a spiritual wellness center and soon discovered that Ramapo College – located near the couple’s home in Mahwah – was a willing collaborator. The Krame Center for Contemplative Studies and Mindful Living at Ramapo College was opened in 2014 to serve students, faculty and the community at large.

“For the past 15 years I’ve incorporated principles of mindfulness into my everyday life and my business,” says William, a real estate developer by vocation. “I’ve seen the benefits myself and wanted others to see the benefits of a mindful approach to living life.”

The stated mission of the Krame Center is to “support faculty, staff and students while serving the greater community as a distinctive center for learning and research in contemplative and mindfulness practices.” Toward that end, classes and programs – including a speaker series, weekly meditation sessions and an eight-session Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course – have been made available to the Ramapo community and the public.

The objective during the Krame Center’s first two years, William says, has been to “build a strong foundation to ensure the highest quality of programs.” The long-term goal, Catherine adds, is to introduce contemplative studies as part of the curriculum and, ultimately, a degree program.

“We are hoping to create a model that will be used across the country in other educational institutions,” she says.

– Joseph Ritacco
Surgeon and Strategist
<h2>
	Sharyn Lewin, M.D., FACS</h2>
<h4>
	Medical Director of the Regional Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Division, Holy Name Medical Center</h4>
<div style="text-indent: 1em;">
	
		It was by no mistake that Dr. Sharyn Lewin would eventually find herself wandering the halls of a hospital, scrambling from patient to patient on a quest, as surgeon, to eradicate cancers that have afflicted her patients.
	
		Lewin’s grandmother was a gynecologist who practiced in Manhattan. Her grandfather was a preeminent physician who also worked on a cure for polio at the turn of the 20th century through funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. She considered her grandmother her first role model, someone who was a passionate advocate for women’s health issues.
	
		“I have always been driven to study women’s health care issues,” Lewin says. “Since the third grade, I began my quest for medical school. This was reinforced by participating in many women’s health care programs during medical school. As an intern at Washington University in St. Louis, I was drawn to the gynecologic oncology patients. Never before had I met such a kind, compassionate group of women. I was driven to help them.”
	
		Today, as medical director of the Regional Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Division at Holy Name Medical Center, Lewin, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist, spends her days diagnosing, treating and managing ovarian, endometrial, uterine, cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers.
	
		She employs a team approach and applies specialized skills learned during her training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, such as radical pelvic and upper abdomen surgeries to remove any visible area of cancer. She also utilizes the state-of-the-art da Vinci Surgical System for complex, minimally invasive surgeries.
	
		“As a surgeon as well as a chemotherapy specialist for gynecologic malignancies, we care for patients from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy and beyond,” she says. “We also employ comprehensive strategies to ease any side effects of treatment and/or cancer including acupuncture, yoga, nutritional counseling and psychosocial support.”
	
		In late 2012, Lewin founded The Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers, a 501c3 public charity, inspired by one courageous woman who battled gynecologic cancer. The organization’s mission includes supporting novel patient care programs for women affected by cancer and their families, developing educational programs aimed at cancer prevention, and funding novel research to impact cancer outcomes.
	
		“In the fragmented field of cancer prevention and cancer treatment, attempting to make a difference one step at a time, as well as providing a resource for cancer treatment is essential,” she says. “We are doing this through The Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers as well as our work at Holy Name Medical Center.”
	– Michael Lamendola</div>
Victoria Matthews

Sharyn Lewin, M.D., FACS

Medical Director of the Regional Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Division, Holy Name Medical Center

It was by no mistake that Dr. Sharyn Lewin would eventually find herself wandering the halls of a hospital, scrambling from patient to patient on a quest, as surgeon, to eradicate cancers that have afflicted her patients.

Lewin’s grandmother was a gynecologist who practiced in Manhattan. Her grandfather was a preeminent physician who also worked on a cure for polio at the turn of the 20th century through funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. She considered her grandmother her first role model, someone who was a passionate advocate for women’s health issues.

“I have always been driven to study women’s health care issues,” Lewin says. “Since the third grade, I began my quest for medical school. This was reinforced by participating in many women’s health care programs during medical school. As an intern at Washington University in St. Louis, I was drawn to the gynecologic oncology patients. Never before had I met such a kind, compassionate group of women. I was driven to help them.”

Today, as medical director of the Regional Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Division at Holy Name Medical Center, Lewin, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist, spends her days diagnosing, treating and managing ovarian, endometrial, uterine, cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers.

She employs a team approach and applies specialized skills learned during her training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, such as radical pelvic and upper abdomen surgeries to remove any visible area of cancer. She also utilizes the state-of-the-art da Vinci Surgical System for complex, minimally invasive surgeries.

“As a surgeon as well as a chemotherapy specialist for gynecologic malignancies, we care for patients from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy and beyond,” she says. “We also employ comprehensive strategies to ease any side effects of treatment and/or cancer including acupuncture, yoga, nutritional counseling and psychosocial support.”

In late 2012, Lewin founded The Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers, a 501c3 public charity, inspired by one courageous woman who battled gynecologic cancer. The organization’s mission includes supporting novel patient care programs for women affected by cancer and their families, developing educational programs aimed at cancer prevention, and funding novel research to impact cancer outcomes.

“In the fragmented field of cancer prevention and cancer treatment, attempting to make a difference one step at a time, as well as providing a resource for cancer treatment is essential,” she says. “We are doing this through The Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers as well as our work at Holy Name Medical Center.”

– Michael Lamendola
Earnest Explorer

Shernett Griffiths, M.D.

Rheumatologist, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center

A day in the life of Dr. Shernett Griffiths would reveal that she has the compassion of a true health care professional and the instincts of a true detective. As a rheumatologist at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Griffiths is responsible for identifying rare diseases and applying the immunology she learned in medical school. The challenges of the field drew her to this mission.

“I spent my intern year and some of my second year of residency intent on becoming a cardiologist,” says Griffiths, who emigrated from Jamaica and watched her parents successfully pursue the American Dream, which gave her the fortitude to pursue the arduous path of becoming a medical doctor. “However, when I experienced my first elective rheumatology rotation, there was a sense of intrigue and mystery in the field; so much novelty. It was like I discovered a hidden treasure. Each day of my experience was a welcomed conundrum.”

Griffiths joined the team at Englewood in March 2015, drawn to its commitment to the community and dedication to staying abreast of the latest technology and medical advancements. However, the greatest tool in her discipline is the patient she’s working with, she says. Griffiths takes consultations very seriously, listening to her patients’ symptoms, how they have affected them, delving into family history, and many times finding a genetic predisposition that went unrecognized for years.

“I don’t allow my patients to blow things off as ‘this is what happens to people when they get old’,” Griffiths says. “I let them know that we are going on this path of discovery together, and starting that day is the beginning of a new long-term relationship, in which I am completely committed and they can always count on me.”

Griffiths finds happiness in the revolutionary advancements that are occurring in rheumatology. She said while prednisone and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs remain common treatment options, individualized treatments are more prevalent. The options now include disease modifying agents and biologic treatments, targeting treatment at a more specific molecular level.

Griffiths has dedicated herself to patients afflicted with lupus, the “great imitator,” which has the ability to affect any organ system in diverse ways. Her research on the use of alternative therapies caught the attention of the Lupus Foundation of America and she presented her findings at its advocacy summit.

Griffith says her patients are pleased they finally have a doctor who presents them with evidence-based information on alternative therapies.

“Life is measured in quantity, but it’s the quality that makes it worth living,” she says. “I like to think that I give my patients that quality.”

– Michael Lamendola
Health Care Progressive

John Hajjar, M.D.

CEO and Chairman, Sovereign Medical Services

Nearly a quarter-century after opening Bergen County’s first surgery center in Fair Lawn, Dr. John Hajjar continues his mission to deliver high-quality, cost-effective patient care in state-of-the-art facilities staffed by an elite group of primary care physicians.

“I want a truly integrated health care system driven by the physicians,” Hajjar says, “not the hospitals or the insurance companies.”

Toward that end, Hajjar has created an “ecosystem” of health care services under the umbrella of Sovereign Medical Services, headquartered in Glen Rock and consisting of 15 ambulatory surgical centers located throughout New Jersey, New York and Florida. Hajjar describes the surgical centers as one of the “three pillars” of his system, along with oncology radiation and multi-specialty care – all supported by anesthesia, laboratory and other ancillary services, as well as information technology to track patient outcomes.

Services provided by Sovereign include cancer treatments, diabetes, knee and hip replacements, and minor injuries and illnesses, all provided with an emphasis on convenience and cost-efficiency.

In recognition of his efforts at Sovereign, Hajjar earned the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014 in the Health Systems category in New Jersey, an accomplishment that stands among the highlights of his professional career.

A native of Syria, Hajjar immigrated to the United States at age 13 and grew up in South Paterson. His successful career in health care has afforded him the opportunity to impact North Jersey communities through numerous philanthropic endeavors. “I believe in the power of education and treating the poor,” he says.

Among the local institutions nearest to his heart are St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, where the Children’s Hospital building is now named in honor of his wife, Sharon, and himself, and Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, where the Hajjar STEM Center – a $20-million science, technology, engineering and mathematics center – opened this past September.

“We strongly believe in paying it forward,” Hajjar says. “I always tell my children, ‘If I die a wealthy man, shame on me. If I die poor, I’ll be a happy man.’”

– Joseph Ritacco
All-Star Fundraisers

Gary Cohen and Ben Zangoglia

Champions of Hope, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

My philosophy is you need to be mentally strong, physically strong and family strong,” says Hillsdale resident Gary Cohen of his 30-year battle with cancer, which began when he discovered a lump in his neck at age 28 during his honeymoon with his wife, Roberta.

Cohen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease shortly thereafter, and has dealt with blood cancer and the side effects of its treatments – including congestive heart failure – ever since. A self-described “cardio freak,” Cohen began fundraising with the New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) more than a decade ago as a participant in its Team in Training (TNT) fundraising program, an endurance sports training program for charity that raises money for blood cancer research.

He participated in two TNT bike rides in Lake Tahoe and a triathlon before heart problems made endurance events too risky, forcing Cohen to find other fundraising opportunities.

“The organizer of my first Lake Tahoe team said, ‘I think I have something else you may be interested in,’” Cohen recalls, and that was the LLS Man & Woman of the Year fundraiser, a 10-week campaign between February and June during which participants raise funds to advance the LLS mission. Cohen signed up in 2012, raising more than $130,000 and earning the Man of The Year title for the New Jersey Chapter.

“I do it the old-fashioned way,” Cohen says, “I mail to 300 friends, family and business contacts. Ours is all personal. Unfortunately, we have a good story, or fortunately we have a good story – it’s how you look at it.”

In 2015, he was approached by LLS to participate in its first “All Star” program for Man & Woman of the Year alumni, earning top honors with more than $60,000 raised.

“Do you want to win? Yes,” Cohen says, “But is that the reason I do it? No. I want to collect what I can to find a cure. I don’t want to see a younger person go through what I went through.”

One younger person doing his part to raise money for blood cancer research is 17-year-old Ben Zangoglia of Old Tappan, who was diagnosed at age 10 with chronic myeloid leukemia, which causes bone marrow to create too many white blood cells and requires daily medication.

He is a patient of Dr. Michael Mauro at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who serves on the board of the LLS New York City Chapter and nominated Zangoglia to be part of the 2015 Man & Woman of the Year campaign. Competing against older candidates and large corporations, his team – named Team Be CUREious – raised $115,332, the second highest total in New York City. He was the youngest participant in the New York fundraising contest, and the only one fighting active cancer at the time.

For his efforts, he received the 2015 Mission Award, given to candidates who demonstrate exceptional integration of the LLS mission into their campaign, and was recently recognized by the Northern Valley School District Board of Education.

When not busy fundraising, Zangoglia maintains an active lifestyle that includes studying, wrestling, playing video games and working on college applications.

“It feels good to be recognized and it shows that teenagers can do something like this, even if they are running against older people who are working on Wall Street,” Zangoglia says in a recent interview with The Record. “If you have a vision to get something done, you can do it.”

– Joseph Ritacco
Ardent Investigator

Andre Goy, M.D., M.S.

Chairman and Director, Lymphoma Division Chief, John Theurer Cancer Center at HackensackUMC

In 1992, Dr. Andre Goy made the long trip across the Atlantic Ocean from high in the Alps with the hopes of working in a research and clinical hematology/oncology program in the states. It was an interest that was sparked in his native France, where he was exposed to basic and translational research, including breast cancer research and hormonotherapy, while pursuing his medical degree.

“My early interest in hematology/oncology was definitely consolidated when I diagnosed and treated my own mother as my first patient before even finishing medical school,” Goy says.

Today, he is an internationally renowned clinician and researcher who, along with his team at the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) at HacknsackUMC, are making groundbreaking progress in the fight against cancer. He joined JTCC in 2005 after training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and working at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“I chose the HackensackUMC team and John Theurer Cancer Center because it was a rapidly growing program with a strong bone marrow transplant unit,” he says, “and with the hope that I could help shape this program into a highly focused research program in oncology.”

At JTCC, he became chairman and director in 2011 and heads the lymphoma division, a field he gravitated to while at MD Anderson, where he became very involved in clinical research that led to several clinical trials.

“Lymphoma is the most common blood cancer and also somewhat of a paradox as it is a cancer of the immune system, i.e., derived from lymphocytes, which function among others to eliminate cancer cells occurring on a regular basis in any normal individual,” Goy says. “Focusing on lymphoma appeared then logical given my interest in immunology and immunotherapy, but also because of the impressive diversity of lymphoma as a disease itself.”

Goy’s research in the field has been groundbreaking. He was the first investigator to show the activity of a proteasome inhibitor (Bortezomib), which led to the first FDA approval of a drug in mantle cell lymphoma (a rare but difficult type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma). He’s been principal and coinvestigator on other important global trials and, at JTCC, his team has more than 350 clinical trials open for adult oncology research, including a dedicated Phase 1 unit with many firstin- human compounds. He also established a tissue repository when he arrived in Hackensack, which now has 3,500 patients that have consented to tumor banking.

But, beyond the research, Goy says he and his team remain patient-centric, including activities like cooking, gardening, yoga, art and physical exercise.

“This is very important to embrace every patient as an individual without forgetting the human factor that is critical in everything we do, regardless of the sophistication or complexity of the technology and science involved,” he says.

The connection to patients is particularly evident each year at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, where Goy and the team at JTCC host the annual “Celebrating Life and Liberty.” Thousands attend the event, Goy’s conception, which celebrates the survival of cancer patients that have passed through the HackensackUMC network.

– Michael Lamendola
Compassionate Clinician

Melissa Fiorito-Grafman, Ph.D.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Center for Neuropsychology & Psychotherapy

When pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Melissa Fiorito- Grafman has the task of delivering a diagnosis of a learning disability or ADHD to a parent, she knows how important it is to do so with compassion and care. “It’s vital, as a clinician, to step back and be cognizant that the information I’m conveying to them about their child can be very overwhelming,” she says. “So my main goal is to be mindful of that.”

What are some of the many reasons a child may end up in her care? Typically it’s a concerned parent who knows that something is different with regard to their child’s behavior or learning, or a referral may come from a school. She also works closely with pediatricians, neurologists and psychologists who may have similar concerns about their respective patients. Her specialty lies in an extensive background in the understanding of brain-behavior relationships in children (of all ages) with known or suspected neurodevelopmental issues like epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities, as well as emotional and behavioral disorders.

Fiorito-Grafman spends hours with her young patients and their families, getting to know them, testing them, gathering information from parents and teachers, as well as observing at school. “My approach is to consider the whole child,” she says. In addition to the cognitive-academic piece, I need to consider the biological, psychological and social factors, as they all play a significant role in human functioning in the context of any disorder and in making a proper diagnosis.”

Her personalized care has been enhanced since becoming a mom herself three years ago. “I feel like I’ve built my referral base on my reputation as a compassionate person,” she says, “but having a child has humbled me in ways that I never thought imaginable and helped enrich my professional development.”

– Lucy Probert
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