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Eye on Medicine

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By Saul Hymes, M.D.

Dr. Saul Hymes

Make sure you and your loved ones are ready for the flu season by getting vaccinated. While the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, you can get vaccinated before the flu season and even in December or later. We don’t yet know what type of season we will encounter, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Cold or flu: How can you tell?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and tends to be more severe than a cold. A cold is caused by a different virus and has milder symptoms. People with the flu will usually have fever, muscle aches and more fatigue.

The flu can also cause very severe complications including pneumonia and can lead to hospitalization and death. More mild cases may be indistinguishable from a cold and the duration can be the same (about 5-7 days). There may be times when you’re uncertain if you have the flu or a cold, so it’s good to know that there’s a test to diagnose the influenza virus, which most doctors’ offices and ERs are able to perform.

Treating the flu vs. a cold

Both are treated with rest and lots of fluids, while the pain and fever associated with either can be treated with medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Influenza may also be treated with a direct antiviral medication, Tamiflu. However, depending on risk factors and the person’s age, not all people with influenza need Tamiflu. This should be discussed with your physician. 

Who is at risk? 

People who are over the age of 65, adults and children with conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease need to get a flu shot. Pregnant women and people who live in facilities like nursing homes are also encouraged to get a flu shot. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get their yearly flu vaccine. There are documented benefits from this, including reductions in illnesses, related doctors’ visits and missed work or school. Even an imperfect vaccination can contribute to fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza. 

Dispelling the myths

Some people think that the flu shot can cause the flu. Not true. While some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot, it goes away in a day or two. And the nasal mist flu vaccine might cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and cough. But the risk of a severe allergic reaction is very rare — it’s less than one in four million. 

Others say the flu shot doesn’t work, which is also not true. Most of the time, the flu shot will prevent the flu. In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 70 to 90 percent when there’s a good match between circulating viruses and those in the vaccine. 

Habits that can help

Help keep the flu at bay. Avoid those who are ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, then cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder (not into your hands). Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Stay home from work if you’re sick. Keep your children out of school and after-school activities if they’re sick.  

At Stony Brook University Hospital, we also encourage visitors who may be experiencing symptoms not to visit their loved ones in the hospital until they are healthy. 

If you would like to get a flu shot, we can refer you to a provider in your area. Call Stony Brook Medicine’s HealthConnect at 631-444-4000 or visit your physician or local pharmacy.

Dr. Saul Hymes is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and specialist in pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital on July 23. Photo from SBU

By Carol A. Gomes

With the latest addition of Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, Stony Brook Medicine further expands its role as a leading integrated health care system delivering increased care options to benefit our patients across Long Island.

The Stony Brook Medicine health care system now consists of Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH), Stony Brook Children’s Hospital (SBCH), Stony Brook Southampton Hospital (SBSH) and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital (SBELIH). The system includes more than 1,200 physicians on the full-time faculty in the Renaissance School of Medicine and nearly 200 additional employed physicians in the community. Our ambulatory footprint is comprised of more than 100 outpatient care sites, strategically located to enhance convenient access to care.

The hospitals in the Stony Brook Medicine health care system will work together to provide access to the full range of health care services to East End residents, locally in the community and at SBUH, a world-class tertiary medical center. By combining our resources, we will match patients with the right type of care in the right facility.

Our objective is to improve coordination of complex episodes of care for our patients while at the same time improving efficiency and lowering the cost of care. To deliver this seamless care, we are making considerable incremental investments to facilitate caregiver communication, including integration of electronic medical records.

We look forward to further realizing the benefits of combining a large academic medical center with community-based hospitals. The latter offers unique academic and training opportunities for our residents and fellows. As clinical campuses and training sites, SBELIH and SBSH will help increase the number of physicians, specialists, allied health professionals and nurses on Eastern Long Island choosing to explore opportunities to practice medicine in community settings.

For example, Stony Brook Medicine already hosts a psychiatric residency program at SBELIH, and a new Mastery in General Surgery Fellowship program provides surgical fellows with four months of community hospital experience.

Stony Brook has also improved access to prehospital emergency care on the North Fork, with two EMS “fly cars,” staffed by paramedics who serve as first responders on the scene of emergencies. In the future, telehealth connections will be established between the emergency departments of SBUH and SBELIH, and on Shelter Island, to further improve direct access to Stony Brook Medicine specialists.

Fortunately, Stony Brook Medicine has a long history of working collaboratively with both of our community-based hospital partners to meet the needs of patients on the East End. Formalizing the relationship with SBSH two years ago and now adding SBELIH to the system will allow us to work even more closely together to improve access to medical and surgical services, as well as specialty care, and to offer new community-based health programs.

We look forward to creating even closer ties in the future as we further develop our integrated healthcare system, with the patient at the center of everything we do.

Carol A. Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ is the Interim Chief Executive Officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

Pictured above, at the Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony, held on July 23, from left: New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.; Paul J. Connor III, Chief Administrative Officer, Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital; Greenport Mayor George Hubbard; Thomas E. Murray Jr., ELIH Board Chairman; Scott Russell, Supervisor, Town of Southold; Michael A. Bernstein, PhD, Interim President, Stony Brook University; Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, MACP, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University; Al Krupski, Suffolk County Legislator; Margaret M. McGovern, MD, PhD, Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy, Stony Brook Medicine; and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine
Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

When choosing a hospital, whether for yourself or a loved one, it pays to have the peace of mind in knowing that you or your loved one will receive the highest quality of care. One way to help ensure that peace of mind is to do your homework.

We recently received news that will give the residents of Suffolk County and beyond one more reason to feel confident about choosing Stony Brook University Hospital for their health care needs. Our hospital has been named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals™ for 2019 by Healthgrades, the first organization in the country to rate hospitals entirely on the basis of the quality of clinical outcomes.

Recipients of the America’s 100 Best Hospitals Award are recognized for overall clinical excellence based on quality outcomes for 34 conditions and procedures for 4,500 hospitals nationwide. Healthgrades reviews three years of Medicare and other inpatient data, comparing actual to predicted performance for specific and common patient conditions. 

This impressive distinction was achieved by the entire Stony Brook University Hospital team working together to achieve one goal — to deliver on a commitment to provide every patient with exceptional care. We continuously put patient safety and quality of care first, while bringing cutting-edge services and evidence-based medicine to our community. 

As one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals, Stony Brook University Hospital is in the top 2 percent of hospitals nationwide and one of only four hospitals in New York State exhibiting exemplary clinical excellence over the most recent three-year evaluation.

Stony Brook was also named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for cardiac care, coronary intervention and stroke care. I’m proud to report that our hospital is the only one in the entire U.S. Northeast region, and one of only two hospitals in the nation, to achieve America’s 100 Best Hospitals in all four of these categories.

With so many choices, it helps to understand that the quality of care you receive varies from hospital to hospital. Whether you are planning an elective surgery or you are admitted to our hospital unexpectedly, it’s important to know that at Stony Brook University Hospital, you’ll be at one of the nation’s best.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky is senior vice president, Health Sciences, and dean, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

Stony Brook University Hospital plans to launch two mobile emergency room units in the spring designed to treat stroke patients.
Lifesaving service for the community

By Ernest J. Baptiste

Ernest Baptiste

According to a study in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, when a blood vessel supplying the brain is blocked, nearly two million brain cells are lost for each minute that passes, making stroke one of the most time-sensitive diagnoses in medicine. The faster blood flow can be restored to the brain, the more likely that a person will have a full recovery.

That said, Suffolk County residents now have one more reason to look to Stony Brook Medicine for the highest level of care for both ischemic stroke (when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain) and hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding within the brain tissue).   

This month we are launching Long Island’s first mobile stroke unit program — a revolutionary pre-hospital program designed to provide specialized, lifesaving care to people within the critical moments of stroke before they even get to the hospital.

While new to Long Island, mobile stroke units have successfully reduced stroke disability and have improved survival rates in other major metropolitan areas across the country. Stony Brook Medicine is collaborating with over 40 emergency medical service (EMS) agencies throughout Suffolk County to provide this lifesaving, time-sensitive care.

Each mobile stroke unit is a mobile emergency room with a full crew of first responders, brain imaging equipment and medications. The units also have telehealth capability to Stony Brook University Hospital, which allows our physicians at the hospital to communicate in real time with the crew and patient, and immediately check for a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain. This helps to markedly accelerate the time needed to make an accurate stroke diagnosis.

The first responders onboard the mobile stroke unit can then begin administering time-sensitive, advanced stroke treatments while the person is en route to the nearest hospital that can provide them with the appropriate level of care. 

The units are in operation seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is the window of time when most stroke calls are received in Suffolk County.

One is strategically stationed at a base station located off of the Long Island Expressway at Exit 57. The other, which will be launched soon, will be stationed similarly off of Exit 68. These locations were chosen for easy east-west and north-south access. The team will take calls within a 10-mile radius of each base, which includes about 40 different communities.

Ernest J. Baptiste is chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine
New name honors long-standing support from Renaissance Technologies families

By Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

There’s an old adage that things get better with age: The relationship between Stony Brook University and the families of Renaissance Technologies is certainly proof of that, having maintained a close connection for more than 35 years.

Throughout the years, 111 families at Renaissance Technologies have donated more than $500 million to the university. Now in recognition of their contributions and generosity, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University president, recently announced that Stony Brook University School of Medicine will now be known as the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. This new name was recently voted on and approved by the board of trustees of the State University of New York. 

The relationship began in 1982 when Jim Simons, the former chair of the Department of Mathematics at Stony Brook University, made a $750 unrestricted gift to the university’s annual fund, becoming the first at Renaissance Technologies to contribute to the Long Island institution. 

Since that time, current and former employees of Renaissance Technologies and their families have donated more than $500 million to date in support of Stony Brook’s students, faculty and primarily research in life sciences and medicine. This significant investment has improved the quality of medical education at Stony Brook, creating 34 endowed faculty chairs and professorships, nine innovative academic and research centers and $35 million for student scholarships and fellowships.

Gifts have supported areas where the personal interests of the Renaissance families intersect with the strategic investment needs of the university, such as Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, basic science research, imaging, health care for those who are underserved, cancer research, medicine and the Staller Center for the Arts.

This incredible engagement by Renaissance employees and their 111 donor families — very few of whom attended our university — has created a true “renaissance” at Stony Brook. 

As dean of the School of Medicine, I’m so proud that our school will carry their name in recognition of the excellence they’ve helped create at Stony Brook. During the Campaign for Stony Brook alone, more than 72 Renaissance Technologies employees and their families donated $166.5 million that directly benefited Stony Brook Medicine and the School of Medicine and a total of over $400 million to the university as a whole. 

The Renaissance School of Medicine is the top-ranked public medical school in New York State and ranks 57th in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report. 

A member of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)-accredited medical school, the Renaissance School of Medicine was established in 1971. With 25 academic departments, it trains over 500 medical students and more than 750 medical residents and fellows annually.

The investments in medicine and throughout Stony Brook by Renaissance families have transformed the university and the communities it serves by deploying the most inventive new solutions to the most important issues of our time. 

And as the years go on, things will only get better as their contributions ensure continued access to groundbreaking medical treatments and leading-edge, innovative medical care for the residents of Suffolk County and beyond.

Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., is the senior vice president of Health Sciences and dean of Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

Bertha Madras will be the keynote speaker at Stony Brook University's 9th annual Meeting of the Minds symposium

By Ernest J. Baptiste

Ernest J, Baptiste

Not a week goes by without a news story referencing the misuse of, addiction to, treatment of and deaths caused by opioids. And it’s no wonder. While the United States accounts for 4.4 percent of the world’s population (per U.S. Census Bureau figures), we consume 30 percent of prescribed opioids worldwide, according to the International Narcotics Control Board. 

Sadly, within New York State, Suffolk County bears the brunt of this notoriety. Based on information from the NYS Department of Health, between 2009 and 2013, the county reported 337 heroin-related deaths — more than any other county in our state. 

As Suffolk County’s only academic medical center, Stony Brook Medicine has the clinical, research and educational expertise to lead our community in the battle against addiction. We have a duty and an obligation to do so. For years we have worked closely with both Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital to help those affected by the opioid crisis. 

In 2017, we took our commitment a step further by launching an Addiction Psychiatry Division. Our team of experts evaluates, diagnoses and treats people who suffer from one or more disorders related to addiction. They also conduct research into the causes and effective interventions for addiction and train our health are professionals in how to better identify and treat addiction.

In addition to treating those affected by the opioid epidemic, it’s also important to have a forum where the physicians and nurse practitioners, who have the authority to dispense prescriptions for pain medication, can explore, and develop, with input from the public, the future of pain management medicine.

This was the premise for a recent conference panel discussion held in August at Stony Brook University Hospital titled, Changing Perceptions About Pain Management and Opioid Use Across the Continuum of Care. During the panel discussion, Stony Brook experts explored current issues in the practice of managing chronic and acute pain. The event was part of our Ethical Decision Making Series and attracted over 100 clinicians and members of the community. 

This month, Stony Brook has two more opioid epidemic-related events planned. 

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital will present its 5th annual Addiction Medicine Symposium at Stony Brook Southampton University, Avram Theatre, 39 Tuckahoe Road, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The goal is to help increase knowledge and improve performance of medical staff members, residents, nurses and other health care professionals when working with patients who suffer from addiction. To learn more, visit http://cme.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

The following day, Friday, Oct. 19, the opioid epidemic will be the focus when the Stony Brook University Neurosciences Institute hosts its 9th annual Meeting of the Minds symposium at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The free event is open to physicians and other health care professionals, researchers, students and anyone with an interest in the opioid epidemic.

Experts from Stony Brook Medicine will present, discuss and explore the clinical implications of their scholarly research findings and discuss translational and informatics approaches to the opioid epidemic. This year’s keynote speaker will be Bertha Madras, a prominent psychobiologist, public policy maker and member of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Breakfast will be provided and a discussion and Q&A will follow each presentation. To learn more, visit www.neuro.stonybrookmedicine.edu/motm. 

Let’s fight the opioid epidemic together as a community so that our children and future generations of Long Islanders won’t have to.

Ernest J. Baptiste is chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

 

By Yusuf A. Hannun, M.D.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun

Recently the New York State Department of Health (DOH) reported elevated levels of leukemia, bladder cancer, thyroid cancer and lung cancer in three central Long Island communities — Farmingville, Selden and Centereach. 

As Suffolk County’s only academic-based cancer research facility, Stony Brook University Cancer Center has researchers working with DOH scientists to interpret the data and look at possible causes of these high incidence rates.

More information and analysis are needed

The state’s reports raise important questions about possible reasons, what the results mean and what can be done to change them. First, we need to determine which subtypes of the four cancers are responsible for these higher incidence rates. Each type of cancer can be divided into subtypes, based on certain characteristics of the cancer cells, and these subtypes may have distinct causes and risk factors. It’s important to know the subtype of a cancer to identify the possible causes.

Also, it is important to know whether mortality rates from these cancers are higher in the three Long Island communities than they are in the rest of the state. This information is critical because sometimes increases in incidence rates are due to improved diagnosis and detection. We must determine if the data in the DOH study truly are the results of higher incidences, which can be assessed by determining whether the higher incidence rates have translated into higher mortality rates. 

Findings for Farmingville, Centereach and Selden

Bladder cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer and leukemia were diagnosed at statistically significant elevated levels in Farmingville, Centereach and Selden, according to the DOH data. The cancer incidences were identified with information from the New York State Cancer Registry.

The registry collects reports on cancer diagnoses from health care providers, which include the sites of tumors, the stages when diagnosed, the cell types of the cancer, treatment information and demographic information. Every person diagnosed with cancer in New York state is reported to the registry. The incidences also were identified from statistical mapping of neighborhoods in the three communities. 

We learned that, from 2011 to 2015, the following number of cases occurred:

• 311 cases of lung cancer, 56 percent above statewide rate

• 112 cases of bladder cancer, 50 percent above statewide rate

• 98 cases of thyroid cancer, 43 percent above statewide rate

• 87 cases of leukemia, 64 percent above statewide rate

Cancer research

With all the resources of an academic medical center, the Stony Brook Cancer Center will move quickly to examine the findings from this study.

Transforming cancer care is the driving force behind the construction of our new cancer center, which will be located in the 240,000-square-foot, eight-story Medical Research and Translation (MART) building opening in November. It is where researchers will revolutionize breakthrough medical discoveries and create lifesaving treatments to deliver the future of cancer care today.

For more information on the DOH study, or the Stony Brook Cancer Center, call us at 631-638-1000 or visit www.cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun is the director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center and vice dean for cancer medicine.

By Eric Rashba, M.D.

Dr. Eric Rashba

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is generally considered to be reaching epidemic numbers, especially among people over age 60. This condition, which is characterized by an erratic, irregular heartbeat, can cause problems ranging from unpleasant symptoms to serious problems like heart failure or stroke.

At the Stony Brook Heart Rhythm Center, our physicians and entire team of heart rhythm experts are constantly working to help people with AFib live better and longer. These are some of the important new state-of-the-art therapies:

Reducing stroke risk for people with atrial fibrillation

People with AFib have a 5 to 7 percent increased risk of having a stroke compared to people without AFib. To help prevent strokes, blood thinners such as warfarin or direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are prescribed. Most people do well with medication, but some experience bleeding problems or have other reasons why blood thinners aren’t the best option. 

At the Heart Rhythm Center, our specialists are treating appropriate patients with an implantable heart device, called Watchman™, to offer lifelong protection against stroke. For people who have AFib that’s not caused by a heart valve problem, the device provides an alternative to the lifelong use of blood thinners by blocking blood clots from leaving the heart and possibly causing a stroke. 

Miniaturized pacemaker for people with bradycardia

Bradycardia, also called slow heart rate, is when the heart beats at 60 times a minute or less. Not everyone with a slow heart rate needs a pacemaker — the presence of symptoms and the type of rhythm disorder are key. At our Heart Rhythm Center, for people whose slow heart rate can be treated with a pacemaker in just one of the four heart chambers, we use a pacemaker that is 93 percent smaller than traditional pacemakers, called Micra™. It is the world’s smallest pacemaker available and it offers some big benefits to the patient. 

Conventional, bulkier pacemakers are visible under the skin and have a lead wire that is threaded from the pacemaker into the heart. Our team implants the Micra pacemaker in the electrophysiology lab where the device is placed aboard a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) and moved up to the heart through the femoral vein in the leg. The device lasts for about a decade, and because it is so small, another one can be added to the same heart chamber years down the road when needed. The patient can also be safely scanned using certain types of full-body MRI.  

Zero-radiation ablation

Ablation is a procedure that uses cauterization to burn or scar the electric pathways that trigger the arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. During a conventional ablation procedure, real-time X-ray, called fluoroscopy, is used and it delivers the equivalent radiation of up to 830 chest X-rays. At Stony Brook, my colleague, Dr. Roger Fan routinely performs complex ablations for AFib without any fluoroscopy at all. This important advance eliminates radiation exposure to the patient, with the same excellent results as conventional ablation. Zero-radiation ablation is such an important advance for the overall health of the patient, since excessive radiation can lead to medical problems over the long term. 

Questions about your heart’s rhythm? Call Dr. Rashba at 631-444-3575 or call 631-444-3278. Interested in learning more about your heart health? Take the free heart health online risk assessment at www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/hearthealth.

Dr. Eric Rashba is the director of the Heart Rhythm Center at the Stony Brook University Heart Institute.

By Joanna Chickwe, MD

Dr. Joanna Chickwe

February means heart health awareness, but taking care of your heart requires a year-round commitment that has lifelong benefits. What will you do differently to take better care of your heart?

Heart disease can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age or background. That’s why all of our cardiac care experts at Stony Brook University Heart Institute remain focused on how to best prevent heart disease and heal the heart.

We fight cardiovascular disease from every angle, using the best that cardiovascular medicine can offer: risk factor prevention; state-of-the-art diagnostics, such as 3-D cardiovascular imaging; advanced minimally invasive interventions, including mitral valve repair using a patient’s own valve tissue versus an artificial heart valve; and advanced lifesaving technology, including ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) that gives new hope to people with a serious heart or lung failure.

In the hands of our highly trained heart specialists, these and other important new state-of-the-art therapies are changing cardiac care and lives:

• Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) for patients with inoperable aortic stenosis (failing heart valves)

• MitraClip, a less invasive treatment option for mitral regurgitation (caused by a leaky mitral valve), for patients who are not candidates for open-heart surgery

• The HeartMate 3 left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for patients with advanced heart failure

• Watchman to provide lifelong protection against stroke in appropriate patients for heart rhythm disorders

• Impella, the world’s smallest heart pump, making procedures safer for high-risk individuals

And while we hope that you and your family never need our acute cardiac services, you can be assured knowing that Long Island’s only accredited Chest Pain Center is right in your community. As one of only nine Chest Pain Centers statewide, Stony Brook Heart Institute is a leader in saving the lives of heart attack victims.

Since “time is muscle” when it comes to treating heart attacks, it is critical to treat patients as fast as possible, so less muscle is damaged. Stony Brook has achieved a “door-to-balloon” time, spanning the arrival at the hospital until the blockage is cleared, of 55 minutes — much better than the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association guidelines to open the blockage in 90 minutes or less.

And, if you suspect a heart attack, it’s best to call 911. Ambulances are equipped with defibrillators and most are equipped with 12-lead EKGs (electrocardiograms), which means they can transmit results to the hospital while en route. At Stony Brook, we assemble the treatment team and equipment you need before you arrive.

Have a question about heart disease prevention? Seeking a solution to a cardiac problem? Call us at 631-44-HEART (444-3278). We’re ready to help.

Joanna Chikwe is the director of Stony Brook University Heart Institute; chief, Cardiothoracic Surgery; and T.F. Cheng professor of cardiothoracic surgery.

Above, Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team. Photo from SBU

By Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

As the holidays arrive, our thoughts turn to giving — and giving back to those who need our help. Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team did just that, spending two weeks on the devastated island to treat patients and give a much-needed break to health care workers there.

We got word, after Category 5 Hurricane Maria swept through, of the conditions in Puerto Rico. Pharmacies were in ruins. Patients with chronic illnesses who needed to see their primary care physicians could not get appointments. Health care professionals couldn’t tend to their own families, nor repair their damaged homes, because their services were needed around the clock.

Relief efforts for those in Puerto Rico took on many forms. In my role as chair of the Greater New York Hospital Association board of directors, I served as part of an organization that teamed up with the Healthcare Association of New York State to establish the New York Healthcare’s Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund to assist hospitals, health care workers and their families in Puerto Rico. The fund is a vehicle for New York’s hospital community to show its support for frontline caregivers and their families who have suffered significant losses.

I’m proud how Stony Brook Medicine also responded to this human health crisis. As part of a 78-member relief team of personnel from hospitals around the region, Stony Brook organized a team of health care professionals that was deployed to Puerto Rico. They signed on to spend two weeks living and working 12-hour days in less-than-ideal conditions, with widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.

Our 23 care providers — three physicians, two nurse practitioners, nine nurses, four paramedics, four nursing assistants and one pharmacist — split up after arriving in Puerto Rico. Most were stationed in the city of Manatí, while the rest went to the city of Fajardo and then to the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. They worked closely with military personnel, federal agencies and the people of Puerto Rico. They saw more than 2,000 patients and helped local health care workers get some rest and get back on their feet.

Our team returned home in November to cheers and hugs from their co-workers and loved ones who met them at Stony Brook University Hospital. Despite the hardships and long hours, they spoke of the deeply fulfilling experiences they had in Puerto Rico. Their trip embodied the reasons why people choose a career in health care in the first place — to be of service and to provide excellent care.

Stony Brook Medicine’s mission is to deliver world-class, compassionate care to patients and families. And sometimes that mission extends well beyond our own four walls. We are making a difference, not only here at home but in communities around the world.

All of us at Stony Brook Medicine are so extremely proud of our Puerto Rico relief team. The work they did was heroic, generous in the extreme and so worthwhile. Our thanks also go to their families and to their Stony Brook colleagues who stepped up to cover extra shifts while the team was away.

Having heard many of their experiences, I cannot say enough about the team members and their devotion. I know they have returned much better for the experience and are now safely back to continue their efforts to improve the health of our patients.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky serves as dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice president of Health Sciences at State University of New York at Stony Brook.