Photojournalist spotlights patients in series of films

Photojournalist Ross Taylor captures an interaction between music therapist Claire Arezina and patient Aiden Erwin, as Aiden’s mom looks on.

Patient Kayla Smith touches the guitar as music therapist Claire Arezina sings to her, a moment caught on film by photojournalist Ross Taylor.

A child without hair reaches inquisitive fingers to the strings of a guitar during a “music therapy” session.

A man with kidney failure tears up when his sister — “she’s my everything,” he describes — offers her healthy kidney for transplant. 

A mother and father remind themselves “one day at a time,” as their preschooler battles a brain tumor. 

Ross Taylor of The Virginian-Pilot. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)These video vignettes tell the poignant stories of Upstate University Hospital patients. They were produced by Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist Ross Taylor, a fellow at the Multimedia Photography and Design Department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Working closely with Kathleen Paice Froio of Upstate’s Public and Media Relations Department, Taylor spent many days at the hospital last fall talking with patients, family and staff who allowed him to be present during many personal and emotional moments.

Taylor, a photojournalist for 20 years, is known for his sensitive ability to tell deeply personal stories. He has shot on assignment in six countries and is co-creator of The Image Deconstructed, a nationally recognized blog that highlights an image and asks the photographer to deconstruct the creation of the image, and the psychology and emotion behind the photograph.

He has won the prestigious National Photojournalist of the Year award, and he was nominated for a Pulitzer for his documentary photographs in a trauma hospital in Afghanistan.

For his projects at the hospital, Taylor is working in video, rather than still photography. 

“Film is much more difficult to do, and even harder to do well. It takes much more time and investment on both my part, but also the hospital and the patients who are willing to share their story,” he says. “I believe, though, that in the end, it’s a very powerful way to share someone’s story, and it’s worth the extra work.”

His three Upstate films include:

* “Music Therapy” showcases the work of board certified music therapist Clare Arezina,  who uses music as a tool to help connect with and heal patients in the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. 

“I do have days where I feel like there should be ‘Rocky’ theme music playing in the background behind me, and it’s fantastic,” Arezina says. “It’s those very clear moments of ‘this is absolutely why my job has worth,’ and ‘this is why I do what I do.’ It’s really rewarding those days to be able to have that kid smile, to have a kid reach who hasn’t reached for anything, to have a kid play and interact who hasn’t been playful or interactive.”

She goes on to explain that musical performers are focused on how they sound. But she is focused on how the child is experiencing the music and what it’s doing for his or her body, mind, emotions and spirit.

* “This Changes Everything” tells the sort of Aiden Erwin, 4, and his parents, Melanie Overy and Glen Erwin, as they cope with their son’s brain cancer diagnosis. They have been basically living at the hospital.

“Just one day at a time. That’s what you tell yourself every day,” Overy says. “Things change very quickly, and you don’t want to get your hopes up or have your hopes too low. You just kinda want to take it as it comes.”

* “A New Beginning” follows a brother and sister through a living kidney donation. LaToya Alexander says when she learned that her brother Robert Barnes was suffering kidney failure, she said “I’ll do it. Yeah. I’ll get tested, and I’ll donate my kidney if it’s a match.

“He said, ‘what’s your blood type?’ And I said, ‘O postive.’ And he said, ‘that’s the same one I am.’ 

Loved ones prayed with Barnes and Alexander before their surgery on Nov. 12, 2013 with transplant director, J. Keith Melancon, MD.

“If you don’t have good kidney function, your life is tremendously shortened. Even a young person is not going to have a normal life expectancy. So when someone donates a kidney to you, they’re really vastly extending your life. They’re saving your life,” the surgeon explains.

“These people are different after that operation. Everybody is transformed by this experience.”


Posted in cancer, community, Golisano, physical therapy, surgery, transplant | Leave a comment

Children with cerebral palsy improve physical abilities through dance

Upstate patient Miracle Thompson, 5, dances with Jowonio occupational therapist Lisa Neville, and is supported by Nottingham High School student and dancer, Bela Harris. The ballet program is sponsored by the Madeline Cote fund. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Upstate patient Miracle Thompson, 5, dances with Jowonio occupational therapist Lisa Neville, and is supported by Nottingham High School student and dancer, Bela Harris. The ballet program is sponsored by the Madeline Cote fund. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Like many preschoolers, Marley Aberdeen was enthralled with the mouse, Angelina Ballerina from the series of children’s books. So it was easy to enlist her participation in a pilot project last year exploring how ballet could help children with cerebral palsy.

Her mother brought her in pink leotard and tights to Jowonio School, where teenage dancers from the Syracuse City School District volunteered to help Marley and other children enjoy the benefits of dance.

Layout 1It’s a program created by Nienke Dosa, MD, a developmental pediatrician at Upstate, and Lisa Neville, an occupational therapist at Jowonio. They were inspired by Citali Lopez, PhD, an exercise scientist at the Rehab Institute of Chicago who gave a presentation at Upstate last year, attended by physicians, dance instructors and physical therapists from throughout Central New York. 

“In ballet, dancers learn positions that are held for eight counts, then four counts, then two counts until they become fluid movement,” Dosa explains. Her patients are children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. She says dance is a good way for them to experience movement and motor learning and to be part of a group. 

“Motor learning is about repetition. We don’t sit down at a piano and play music right away. We practice our scales until finger movements become second nature. Same thing with ballet. We give children with cerebral palsy the opportunity to practice postures and for postures to turn into movements. Structured movement in a social setting is beneficial for any child.”

Many dance studios offer creative movement classes for youngsters before formal dance classes begin. The classes for children with cerebral palsy are a step between the two, helping the children to become comfortable with movement and helping their muscles to strengthen. 

Because many of the children do not stand independently, two dancing assistants are required per child. Neville and Dosa developed a workbook full of photographs to teach high school dancers who are willing to volunteer, and they formed a partnership with the Syracuse City School District. Students from Nottingham High School walk to nearby Jowonio after school one day a week to dance with the children with cerebral palsy.

Cheryl Darby admits that she was unsure how ballet would benefit her niece, Miracle Thompson, 5. “I was skeptical. I was not sold that it would help her so much. But boy, what a change,” she says, explaining how Miracle can balance on one leg and hold the other up to form a P. Ballerinas call the move a passe. It’s quite an accomplishment for a little girl who struggles to walk.

Marley’s mom, Stephanie Pearman noticed improvement in her daughter, now 6. Before, when she sat on the floor, she would bend both knees backward. Now she keeps one straight. “She’d got what we call ‘dynamic’ tone. If she’s reaching for something, the tone in her arm will stiffen up.

“What ballet will help her to do is calm down, and it becomes more of a fluid movement. It’s almost like she can quiet down that tone with her brain when she does ballet.”

Plus, says Pearman, “it’s fun. She enjoys it.”

Listen to a HealthLink on Air interview with Dr. Dosa and Lisa Neville

Look through an album of photographs by Susan Kahn

See the story in Upstate Health magazine

View the video of photographs by Susan Kahn

Posted in community, fitness, Golisano, Health Link on Air, volunteers | Leave a comment

1958: Citizens envision community hospital

Going over tract of Onondaga County Sanatorium land as the probable site for the new Community Hospital, May 4, 1958.

Going over tract of Onondaga County Sanatorium land as the probable site for the new Community Hospital, May 4, 1958. Published in the Syracuse Newspapers. From the Onondaga Historical Association.

The well-worn adage – never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world – may remind us that this small group of citizens got together in 1958 with the idea of building a new hospital to serve the neighborhoods on the west side of Syracuse. This small group  may not have “changed the world,” but they certainly changed the face of healthcare in our region when they envisioned  a community hospital where most saw only overgrown fields.

Thanks to the Onondaga Historical Association and the Syracuse Newspapers, we know that this group, pictured in the field where Upstate’s community campus hospital now stands, included (from left to right): Harry King, architect; Dr. Albert Snoke, consultant; George Cooper and David Jasper, building committee members; and Thad Collum and Carl Maar, hospital fundraisers.

Upstate's community campus hospital, 2013.

Upstate’s community campus hospital, 2013.

By the time the hospital,  then known as Community-General  Hospital, opened several years later, this “small group” had grown to include 48,000+ individuals, foundations and corporations who donated a total of $7.2 million to build the hospital, which is located at 4900 Broad Rd. on Onondaga Hill.

Do you have old photos or memories related to the planning or building of the hospitals of Upstate Medical University? If you do, please contact the hospital anniversary committee through Susan Keeter,

Posted in community, foundation, health care, history, hospital | Leave a comment

What you need to know about medical marijuana

Lots of news coverage lately has been devoted to whether New York will legalize marijuana for medical use. Stepping away from the politics, here are some facts to consider:

iStock_000011843212LargeIt can be used to:

reduce muscle spasms. “It will release muscle spasms, for example, in people with multiple sclerosis who have spasticity,” says Upstate psychiatrist Gene Tinelli, MD. This may allow a person to use a walker rather than a wheelchair.

* provide a calming, euphoric effect.

* reduce intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma, although the effects are short-lived.

* help people forget suffering, such as in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

* reduce nausea and vomiting, especially after chemotherapy, and to a lesser extent after radiation therapy. “That’s a big thing,” Tinelli says, “because if people can eat, they can survive.”

* treat some seizure disorders.

* lessen the pain of shingles and other painful conditions.

* relieve suffering in patients with chronic pain who develop breakthrough pain. Many already take prescription opiates and don’t want to increase their opiate dosages.

* mask the pain of migraines, although scientists are still exploring exactly how.

Its side effects can include:

* slowed central nervous system and impaired motor coordination.

* increased high blood pressure and heart rate.

* worsening of some seizure disorders.

* impaired memory.

* lung irritation, if smoked.

* personality disturbances.

* irritability and psychosis, in high doses.

* addiction, if use becomes compulsive.

* possible learning and memory deficits in adolescent users.

* attention, memory and problem solving deficits in babies born to mothers who use marijuana in pregnancy.

Whether marijuana use permanently reduces IQ, cognitive functioning, learning and memory has not been proven.   

Patients don’t have to smoke it.

“Inhaling a burning plant is not healthy, period,” Tinelli says.

Herbal vaporizers allow the drug to be inhaled without ingesting toxins.

The active chemicals of the cannabis plant are available as alcohol elixirs or teas, or made into a spray that can be absorbed sublingually. A variety of edible products are made using butters or oils derived from the cannabis plant. Marijuana is also available as a salve, lotion or spray for the skin.

A synthetic version of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high, is available in the prescription drug, Marinol, but some patients dislike the drug’s side effects of dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, an exaggerated sense of well-being, red eyes, dry mouth, headaches and lightheadedness.

Its potency has increased.

Cannabis grown today contains higher levels of THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol.

“In the 1970s, the THC content was around 1 or 2 percent. Today it’s more like 11 or 12 percent,” Mahmoud ElSohly, PhD, director of the University of Mississippi’s Marijuana Project, told Men’s Health magazine.

But it is cannabidiol, another of the more than 60 psychoactive compounds in cannabis, that captures the attention of patients and scientists. Cannabidiol and THC balance each other, cannabidiol tempering the stoned sensation caused by THC and maximizing the pain relieving effects.

It affects the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Scientists are still learning about the body’s endocannabinoid system, a neural communication network which plays an important role in normal brain development and function, and which some medical authorities consider the bridge between body and mind. It is this system that marijuana overactivates and, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, causes distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving and disrupted learning and memory.

The first endocannabinoids were discovered in 1992. Anandamide and 2-AG are natural brain compounds that activate the same receptors as THC and cannabidiol. The function of the endocannabinoids is to maintain homeostasis, or to keep internal conditions the same, whether they’re physically located in the brain, abdominal organs, connective tissues, glands or immune cells. They play a role in appetite, memory, pain, mood and several other physiological processes.

Research is sparse.

Marijuana remains categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a “schedule I” substance, like heroin, LSD and Ecstasy, meaning it has no medicinal value, a high potential for abuse — and is out of reach of scientists.

Removing it from the schedule would allow it to be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes, and available for research.

Listen to a radio interview with Dr. Tinelli about medical marijuana

Posted in community, psychiatry, research | 3 Comments

The basketball-prostate cancer connection in Syracuse

SU Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim is surrounded by Upstate’s prostate cancer team: urologist Oleg Shapiro, MD, pathologist Steve Landas, MD, urologist Gennady Bratslavsky, radiation oncologist Jeffrey Bogart, MD, pathologist Gustavo de la Roza, MD, radiologist Andrij Wojtowycz, MD, urologist Srinivas Vourganti, MD, and radiologist Robert Poster, MD.

SU Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim is surrounded by Upstate’s prostate cancer team: urologist Oleg Shapiro, MD, pathologist Steve Landas, MD, urologist Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, radiation oncologist Jeffrey Bogart, MD, pathologist Gustavo de la Roza, MD, radiologist Andrij Wojtowycz, MD, urologist Srinivas Vourganti, MD, and radiologist Robert Poster, MD.

Syracusans love our basketball team and our coach, who happens to be a prostate cancer survivor. That’s why Jim Boeheim is featured in many of the advertisements for Upstate’s prostate cancer services.

Boeheim, who was diagnosed in 2001, speaks about his experience as a way to encourage other men to be screened for prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society does not offer strict screening guidelines but urges each man to speak with his healthcare provider to determine whether and when screening is appropriate. Screening may include a blood test and/or a rectal exam.

“If you’re diagnosed, you have to figure out the right treatment for you, and then just take care of it,” Boeheim told Men’s Fitness a few years ago.

The American Cancer Society projects that 17 of 100 men who are age 50 today will be diagnosed with prostate cancer sometime during their lives, and three of 100 will die of the disease. A man’s chances of developing prostate cancer increase with age.

In a series of recent ads, Boeheim is surrounded by Upstate physicians, led by Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, who offer a variety of treatments for prostate cancer. They all wear serious looks and white physician coats. Four carry basketballs. They are Syracusans, after all. And the academic medical center where they work is adjacent to Syracuse University.

The ads are succinct. One uses the words “outstanding technology and treatment” to summarize the amazing advances available at Upstate. (Read about the latest, on page 4 in this magazine.) Another simply says, “If you ever face prostate cancer, put Upstate’s specialists on your treatment team.”

Learn more at

Posted in cancer, community, urology | Leave a comment

‘Upstate Answers’ question on funerals after organ donation

Q: “When somebody in my family dies, we have an open casket at the calling hours. If I sign up to be an organ donor, can I still have an open casket when my time comes?”

–Tim Jones of Syracuse

A: “Many people have the same concerns, so thank you for the opportunity to reassure that someone who has donated his or her organs can still have an open casket. Donation does not disfigure the body or change the way it looks in a casket.

“Every donor is treated with great care and dignity during the donation process, including careful reconstruction of one’s body. Surgery lines will be fully covered by most clothing chosen for the viewing. For skin donation, skin is taken from the back and the legs and is not visible with clothing. For bone donation, a stand-in plastic bone is used to allow the shape of the arms and legs to remain the same. For eye donations, plastic caps are placed over the eye to maintain the shape of the closed eyelid.

“Organ donation, as a rule, does not delay funeral plans.”

– Nurse Ellen Havens, certified clinical transplant coordinator, Upstate Transplant Clinic.

If you have a question for Upstate Answers, send it to and it may appear in a future issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in community, surgery, transplant | Leave a comment

Ballerina on cover of winter ‘Upstate Health’ magazine

Photographer Susan Kahn shoots images for the winter issue of Upstate Health magazine. Photo by Amber Smith.

Photographer Susan Kahn shoots images for the winter issue of Upstate Health magazine. Photo by Amber Smith.

Layout 1A physical therapist offers encouragement, along with her therapy session.  A surgeon offers hope to a patient who wants to be able to walk. A professor offers enthusiasm for science.

Upstate Medical University is academic medicine at its best. We care for patients with a range of health issues from routine to complex. We train tomorrow’s healthcare providers, and we conduct research that may lead to the cures of the future.

This year as we celebrate 50 years our hospitals welcome a dynamic electronic medical records system called Epic that wasn’t even dreamed of 50 years ago. It will organize patient care documentation and allow patients access to much of their health information. Even as Epic illustrates technical advances, we are mindful to maintain the human touch and our important role in Central New York community.

Three examples in the winter issue of Upstate Health:

  • the physician who prescribes ballet to improve the lives of her patients with cerebral palsy, (p. 6,)
  • the scientist who helps us understand how smoking addictions affect babies in utero, (p. 11,)
  • the staff who volunteer on Onondaga County’s Search & Rescue Team, (p. 15.)

We hope you enjoy your Health, brought to you by Upstate.

To obtain a print copy of Upstate Health, email your name and address to

Need a referral or more information?

Contact Upstate Connect at 315-464-8668 or 1-800-464-8668, day or night, for appointments or referrals to the health care providers on these pages or anywhere at Upstate — or for questions on any health topic.

Posted in community | Leave a comment

Love Potion ’65: A gall bladder, a black out and a blizzard

Paul Berman MD and Yvonne Axtell met at the newly opened Upstate University. Pictured on their wedding day, June 1966

Paul Berman MD and Yvonne Axtell met at the newly opened Upstate University Hospital. Their wedding day, 1966.

The hospital’s 50th anniversary — and this cold, snowy winter — inspired Paul Berman MD, class of ’63, to share his strongest memory of the newly built Upstate University Hospital: The night the lights went out and he met his future wife, Yvonne Axtell.

At 5:16 p.m. on Tuesday, November 9, 1965, the power went out at Upstate University Hospital, and across 8,000 square miles of the northeastern United States and Ontario, Canada. It lasted for 13 hours and affected 30-million people, including the patients and staff at Upstate.

At the moment the lights went out,  Paul — a second-year medical resident — was observing a gall bladder surgery in the operating room  and Yvonne — a senior nursing student — was handing out dinner trays on the sixth floor of the new hospital at 750 East Adams Street in Syracuse.

Paul Berman MD, class of 1963

Paul Berman MD, class of 1963

Once the lead surgeon realized the sudden pitch-black in the OR was no prank, Paul Berman was sent in search of light. He ran around the  darkened hospital and finally found a source —a single lantern on the sixth floor medical unit.

Paul grabbed the lantern to take it back to the operating room, but was stopped by Yvonne, who was in charge of the medical unit that night, for the first time in her career.

Yvonne had patients to take care of and no intention of giving up her only light. But Paul implored, “We’re in the middle of surgery!”

He won the debate and the lantern was used to finish the gall-bladder surgery. Yvonne laughingly admits, “I forgave Paul, eventually.”

Fortunately, the windows in the hospital rooms were large, the moon was full and the sky was clear, so Yvonne used moonlight to help see her patients that night.

Gary Kittell, assistant vice president for Upstate’s physical plant services, remembers the 1965 black out and welcomes the technological advances that make such an event less likely now. “Today, New York state’s electrical grid is better automated. Hospital generators come on automatically and support patient care equipment, the fire alarms, ventilation, and so on. There was a similar regional outage in 2004 and, because our grid is highly automated,  Syracuse didn’t lose power.”

Less than three months after relinquishing her lantern to the operating room, Yvonne had another opportunity to save the day at Upstate. The infamous “Blizzard of ’66” began on January 29th and, as she remembers, “The storm brought the city to a halt. People were stuck for days.”

Yvonne lived nearby, on the campus of Syracuse University, and trudged through many feet of snow to work at the hospital throughout the blizzard.

Did Paul admire Yvonne for her work ethic and grace under pressure? Did Yvonne admire Paul for his resourcefulness and pluck? It certainly seems so, since the two married just  seven months after they met during the November black out and wrestled over the lantern.

After marriage, the Bermans moved to Missouri, then Utah, eventually settling in Massachusetts in 1969. They’ve raised two children, and are looking forward to celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary in June.

Dr. and Mrs. Berman and granddaughter, Zanna, in 2013.

Dr. and Mrs. Berman and granddaughter, Zanna.

Paul retired from his primary care practice in 2007, but continues to volunteer as a physician at the “Survivor Center,” a clinic that provides health care free of charge to  those in need, especially immigrants and the homeless.

What’s Dr. Paul Berman’s advice to today’s medical students?

“Go into primary care, please,” he says. “It doesn’t pay as much as some specialties, but we’re needed, and the work is very rewarding.”

Posted in alumni, community, education, emergency, entertainment, family medicine, health care, history, hospital, medical student, nursing, volunteers | Leave a comment

Particle database featured in ‘Science is Art is Science’

Photo by Andrew Hunt, PhD, who currently is a Faculty member in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Photo by Andrew Hunt, PhD, who currently is a Faculty member in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Particles that we breathe leave fingerprints, of a sort, says Jerrold Abraham, MD, medical director of environmental and occupational pathology at Upstate. “Your lung retains some evidence of what you’ve inhaled over your life.”

Jerrold Abraham, MD

Jerrold Abraham, MD

His lab has created an extensive particle database and uses electron microscopy to identify, characterize and quantify particulate materials in tissue samples. This image — featured on the back page of the winter issue of Upstate Health magazine — shows a magnetic iron oxide bearing pulverized fuel ash particle, a waste product from a coal burning power plant. The finest of these particles can escape into the atmosphere. They form spheres as they cool, and depending on how quickly they cool, elements within the particles may or may not crystallize out. In this image, iron oxide dendrites create the star shapes and probably form a dendritic lattice structure within the sphere.


Posted in community, environment, research | Leave a comment

Search and rescue volunteers expand skills, comfort levels


Renae Rokicki and Ann Salvagni in the woods.

Renae Rokicki and Ann Salvagni in the woods.

Health administrator Renae Rokicki has not one iota of outdoors in her blood. She does not hunt or hike or camp. But she does believe in coincidences, which is how she ended up a member of a team that is summoned to search and rescue missing hunters, hikers, campers and others who go missing in the wilderness of Central New York. 

Three years ago before bed one night, she caught a story on the television news about training for the region’s Wilderness Search and Rescue program. The next morning, a friend who lives out of state was effusive in a Facebook status update about her work with a search team that resulted in locating a missing child. Rokicki decided to look into joining.

Ann Salvagni is a registered nurse who enjoys hiking and the outdoors. A paramedic friend suggested the search and rescue program needed people with her skills. So she looked into joining.

Salvagni and Rokicki are Upstate colleagues who volunteer together on the region’s Wilderness Search and Rescue team. 

That means they underwent training and certification and continue training with the team at least twice a month in all kinds of weather. They purchase their own uniforms and gear and gasoline. And they are basically willing to respond to outdoor emergencies throughout the region, at any hour. They receive no compensation, and people who are rescued receive no bill. The Search and Rescue program relies on donations and volunteers.

“When hunting season starts, that’s a very busy time for us,” says Salvagni. 

Rokicki says one type of rescue that is becoming more common is “an elderly person with dementia who has wandered.” The team is trained to support a program called Project Lifesaver through the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, which provides arm bands with tracking devices to people who are known to wander.

When the team is activated, members arrive with the food, water and equipment necessary to sustain themselves for as long as possible, knowing they may be needed for hours or days. 

Salvagni says her volunteer role is part of growing, as a person and as a professional. 

“It has helped me to learn new skills that I would have never learned before. It sort of pushes your comfort zone — and you get to meet people who have a similar interest as you whom you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” she says. “You get to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself. Isn’t that awesome?”

Want to learn more?

Members of the Onondaga County Wilderness Search and Rescue team ( work closely with the Oswego County Pioneer Search and Rescue team ( The teams seek volunteers who are in good health, at least 18 years of age and able to pass a moderate physical fitness test.

Posted in community, emergency, volunteers | Leave a comment