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Stony Brook Medicine

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is set to join Northwell Health. File photo from Mather Hospital

A historic change at a nearly 90-year-old Port Jefferson institution has been finalized.

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital will officially finalize an affiliation agreement with Northwell Health Dec. 21, according to a Mather board member, who asked not to be referred to by name. Leadership from Mather Hospital signed a letter of intent to join Northwell, New York’s largest health care provider, in August, though the sides had not yet finalized the terms of the agreement at that time. It is the first time in the hospital’s history it will be affiliating with a larger health system, and a signing ceremony is set to take place Thursday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m. in a conference room at the hospital. The board member said he expects Northwell Health president and chief executive officer Michael Dowling as well as Mather board of directors chairman Ken Jacoppi to attend the signing.

Mather Hospital is set to join Northwell Healht. Photo from Huntington Hospital

“We’re very pleased Northwell has committed to making an investment in our community and bringing their extraordinary capabilities to our community,” the board member said. “They’ve committed to preserve our culture of patient safety.”

The board member said part of the agreement is that Mather’s board and CEO will remain in place through an initial period of five years, allowing the hospital to remain “largely self-governing” during that time with collaboration and cooperation from Northwell. The Mather board member did not specify the total length or any other specifics of the agreement. A spokesperson from Mather confirmed the ceremonial signing will take place Dec. 21 and that the agreement has been reached, but declined to confirm any details relating to the contract.

The board member summed up what the change might mean for hospital patients going forward.

“In the near term the experience should not change at all,” he said. “We happen to believe that’s a good experience, generally speaking. In the long term Northwell has greater capabilities than we do and we’ll gain those. They’re committed to supporting our residency program as well.”

In August, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) voiced opposition to the agreement, saying he would have preferred Mather affiliate with Stony Brook University Hospital.

“I don’t think it’s a good decision,” LaValle said at the time. “For 50 years-plus there’s been a culture in place if people needed tertiary care they would go from Mather to Stony Brook. Stony Brook will still be in place, will still offer services and people if they choose can go to Stony Brook.”

Mather Hospital vice president of public affairs Nancy Uzo said in August Stony Brook was considered an option for affiliation and offered an explanation by email.

“Our goal through this process is to ensure that our communities continue to have access to advanced, high-quality care and superior satisfaction close to home, and to serve the best interests of our medical staff and employees,” she said.

Dowling commented similarly about Mather Hospital’s reputation around the letter of intent signing in August, and as to why Northwell would be a good fit for Mather.

“Mather Hospital is known for patient-centric care both in the community and throughout the industry,” he said. “That deeply embedded sense of purpose is the type of quality we want to represent Northwell Health, along with an excellent staff of medical professionals and physicians. Together, Mather and Northwell will play a crucial partnership role expanding world-class care and innovative patient services to Suffolk County residents.”

A public relations representative from Northwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This story was updated Dec. 19 to include a Mather spokesperson’s confirmation of the signing ceremony.

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.

New one-stop clinic opens in Commack to provide care for 9/11 first responders

First responder John Feal gets a checkup at the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program center, which opened a new facility in Commack, Nov. 28. Photo from Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program website

Accessing medical treatment on Long Island has become easier for 9/11 first responders.

Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program celebrated the official opening of its new one-stop health clinic in Commack Nov. 28. The program relocated from Islandia to the Stony Brook Medicine Advanced Specialty Care building, located at 500 Commack Road. The move allowed the program to expand from a monitoring facility into a 20,000-square-foot, integrative clinic where World Trade Center responders can receive more comprehensive medical treatment under one roof.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, program director and principal investigator, said the clinic is dedicated to caring for approximately 10,000 patients suffering from illnesses after volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11. He said the responders suffer from a wide variety of conditions and the new location will provide the medical staff more resources. Among the new services available will be blood testing and imaging, which weren’t available in Islandia and caused patients to have to go elsewhere.

“This is ideal for the World Trade responder patient population, and the reason why is these patients who have been so severely affected by the World Trade Center disaster have a compendium of various abnormalities and disorders which are directly related to 9/11,” Luft said. “These included diseases ranging from psychiatry diseases to respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, to cancer.”

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility.”

— John Feal

The doctor said the program has a research team dedicated to studying neurocognitive problems, autoimmune issues and cancer-related illness. The new Commack location has an in-house laboratory that will make accessing patients’ samples and processing them easier. He said many of the illnesses related to the disaster were not initially recognized, and the number of patients has grown approximately 8 to 10 percent each year since the monitoring clinic first opened on the Stony Brook University campus shortly after 9/11.

The day of the Commack grand opening, the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program honored John Feal, a first responder and founder of the Fealgood Foundation. A Nesconset resident and Commack native, he said having the clinic where he grew up is special to him. Feal and members of his organization worked tirelessly to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in Dec. 2010 and again in 2015. The act enables first responders, volunteers and survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks to receive health monitoring and financial aid.

Luft said at first the program treated many patients who lacked medical insurance coverage. “So when they got sick, they didn’t have health insurance or have someone to take care of their acute problems,” he said. “We established our clinic to do that at no additional costs to the patients.”

Feal, who was a patient at the Islandia clinic and recently had his physical in Commack, said he was impressed with the new location.

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility,” Feal said.

He said having a one-stop clinic is important to many, especially for those who have become too frail to travel. Aging is an issue as many are now in their mid-50s or older.

“As we get further away from 9/11, the illnesses are getting worse,” Feal said. “One, because of age and, two, because with these illnesses, some latency periods and manifestations in the body take this long.”

The first responder said it was humbling to be honored for his work Nov. 28.

“We’re talking about human life, and I’m never going to apologize for anything I ever said or did, because at the end of the day I only care about helping those who are sick from 9/11,” Feal said. “And so many people are getting sick. It’s not ending anytime soon.”

Dr. R. Trevor Marshall, right, consults with a New York Presbyterian Hospital nurse while assisting patients at a coliseum in Manati. Photo by Alejandro Granadillo

Many in Puerto Rico still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria recently received much-needed medical care from a local Long Island hospital.

There were 23 staff members from Stony Brook Medicine stationed on the island from Oct. 24 to Nov. 8 as part of a 78-member relief team consisting of professionals from New York metropolitan hospitals. Three physicians, two nurse practitioners, nine nurses, four paramedics, four nursing assistants and one pharmacist from Stony Brook put their skills to use to help those with physical aliments and relieve overloaded hospitals in Puerto Rico.

The Coliseo Juan Aubin Cruz  Abreu “Bincito” in Manati, Puerto Rico, was the temporary workplace of 19 from Stony Brook, while four others assisted at Hospital HIMA San Pablo-Fajardo for a week, followed by another seven days on the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is docked in Old San Juan.

Dr. R. Trevor Marshall, emergency physician and director of Emergency Medical Services at Stony Brook, said he and 18 others worked with the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams — part of the National Disaster Medical System — Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Army at the coliseum in Manati.

“It was a nice way to be able to provide additional resources down there to help the local community,” he said.

The grateful husband of a patient wears a Stony Brook Medicine hat while serenading the medical staff. Photo by Alejandro Granadillo

The physician said the staff members treated patients with diarrhea, conjunctivitis, abscesses, severe cuts and broken bones. Marshall said the patients were appreciative, and the staff was grateful for local high school and college students who volunteered their time to translate. The South Setauket resident said it was his first medical relief trip, and he’s open to volunteering for another one in the future due to his positive experience in Puerto Rico.

“This was an outstanding opportunity,” Marshall said.

Dr. Richard Scriven, associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at Stony Brook University, was one of the doctors working alongside Marshall at the coliseum. While driving from the airport to the arena he said he could see half of the homes were covered with the tarps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided to protect the houses that lost roofs during the Category 5 hurricane.

He said the staff would alternate working 12-hour shifts, slept on cots in the mezzanine section and bathed in outdoor showers. Scriven said food was provided from the local veterans agency, nearby residents and appreciative patients who bought them pizzas.

The physicians said DMAT tents were set up outside the arena, where many patients were treated for minor ailments. Inside were 50 to 70 inpatients who were frail and on ventilators and mostly relocated from nursing homes.

Scriven, who lives in Stony Brook, said he and others would walk to the nearest Walgreens, and while Manati didn’t have as much damage as other areas, many were still without power and he didn’t witness any utility crews working on restoring it.

“Yet the people were so nice, so appreciative and really amazing,” Scriven said.

Many areas in Puerto Rico still have downed power lines after Hurricane Maria. Photo by Ralph Rodriguez

Emergency Medical Specialist Dr. Rolando Valenzuela, a St. James resident, was one of the team members who spent time in Fajardo and on the USNS Comfort. He said the hospital in Fajardo needed help with its emergency room, and the New York medical professionals assisted with ambulatory patients and mostly dealt with benign medical complaints. He said a number of people were in distress because they were unable to get treatment for diabetes or use medical equipment such as nebulizers and oxygen concentrators without electricity. Others were experiencing health problems as a result of a lack of water or medications.

Valenzuela said many hospitals on the island are low on supplies and are operating on generators. Any kind of extensive imaging or lab work wasn’t available on site; however, the staff had basic medications, antibiotics, IV fluids and EKG machines on hand.

“The medical infrastructure is ground down to a halt,” Valenzuela said.

Patients with more serious problems in Fajardo were transported to San Juan or to the USNS Comfort. The ship was staffed by Navy personnel and DMAT tents were set up outside for ambulatory patients. Valenzuela said medical professionals from around the country working in the tents saw 500 to 600 patients a day. Patients with serious conditions were transferred to the Comfort.

“I can’t say enough about how amazing the Navy personnel was,” Valenzuela said. “These guys had been on board for over a month before they were allowed off the ship. They were getting a few hours of sleep here and there but their main focus was on treating patients.”

Valenzuela visited Puerto Rico in the past and remembered how friendly the people were, and said despite the devastation on the island, the residents were in good spirits.

“The people were extremely enthusiastic to have us there,” he said. “They were so grateful for any kind of assistance. They just wanted to make sure that they weren’t being forgotten, and we did our best to provide them with the standard of care that would be acceptable on Long Island. I think we were successful.”

Tree decorated in honor of national Breast Cancer Awareness month

Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, founder of the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, places a flag with her friend Camille's name under the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai's Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

Throughout October, a tree at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai will be pretty in pink in celebration of national Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Up to 5,000 lights on the Pink Tree for Hope, which sits in front of the Heritage Center on Mount Sinai-Coram Road and overlooks the park, burned bright during a ceremony Oct. 4 held by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition.

The Pink Tree for Hope glows pink at Heritage Park in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Photo by Kevin Redding

The glowing tree will serve as a reminder to passersby of the importance of breast cancer prevention by way of early detection screenings and education. The names of local breast cancer survivors and those who lost their lives to the disease are displayed on little flags around the tree.

“There’s not one person I know that has not been affected by breast cancer in one way or another,” said Anker, whose grandmother passed away after a long fight with the disease. “I am honored to partner with the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition to raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer, honor our loved ones lost to breast cancer, and support survivors across Long Island.”

Anker encouraged residents to work together and support groups like the coalition to help find a cure for breast cancer. The North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, founded in 2001 by Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, is a grassroots organization that raises funds to provide non-medical or support services for local families fighting breast, gynecological and other forms of cancer. If someone is out of work for a number of weeks during and after breast cancer treatment, it can be devastating financially, Kozlowski said.

“We need to help raise awareness and hopefully help people understand the magnitude of what we’re dealing with,” said Kozlowski, who will be collecting donations to support the nonprofit’s mission at the park throughout the month. “Treatment is incredibly important.”

Darlene Rastelli, assistant director at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at Stony Brook Medicine, set up at a table during the ceremony to spread the word that “early detection is the best prevention.”

A flag placed in honor of a man’s wife, a breast cancer survivor, sits under the Pink Tree for Hope at Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

The American College of Radiology, Rastelli said, recommends women over the age of 40 have a breast screening once a year.

“It’s so important to screen not only in October, but throughout the year,” she said. “Breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. If you get your screenings done early enough, it can be managed early and you can survive.”

Miller Place resident Felicia Lopez said she was scared when she was diagnosed in 2011, because she wasn’t educated and assumed the worst.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but the doctors comforted me and told me it was curable,” said Lopez, who is now cancer-free. “You have to be your own advocate. You have to check your own body regularly.”

Before the ceremony, Kozlowski, who started her nonproit as a way to inspire women to come together, wrote her friend Camille’s name on a flag.

“She’s a co-worker of mine who retired Aug. 31 and was diagnosed with breast cancer Sept. 1,” Kozlowski said before placing the flag under the tree. “I think this tree will give people a good feeling to know they’re not alone.”

The Pink Tree of Hope, adorned with lights donated and installed by Bob Koch of Koch Tree Services Inc., will be lit throughout October at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai.

Learn more about the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition at https://www.facebook.com/NSNBCC/.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (fourth from left) with local community members around the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Eat well, live well” was the tagline for the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Health & Wellness Fest, which was held April 22 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson. Attendees were instructed on how to do both by vendors set up at tables in the school’s gymnasium, featuring representatives from Stony Brook Medicine, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, St. Charles Hospital and many others.

“It’s been growing every year, and in the last two years, we were so fortunate as to have St. Charles Hospital provide us with the healthy snacks, and that’s really helped us boost the attendance,” Chamber President Jim Karras said in an interview during the event.

Chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome was also pleased with the number of vendors who turned out to offer advice to interested community members.

“We had no extra tables this year,” she said. “We had over 80 tables this year…I think there were like 45 individual vendors…All of our local nonprofits, we don’t charge them, so we feel like this is giving back to our community.”

Karras said he is proud of what the chamber has built with the annual event.

“There’s a lot of health and wellness events in the area, but I think we’re the only one that has the three major hospitals sponsoring them,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”

Ransome thanked the district for their hospitality.

“We want to put a shout out to our school,” she said. “Fred Koelbel, who is the superintendent of buildings here for the Port Jefferson School District, and for them to allow us to use this great facility, we have elevated this event.”

Other vendors included Jefferson’s Ferry lifecare community, L.I. Botanical Wellness, Save-A-Pet, Paws of War, Port Jefferson Hearing and many more.

Kenneth Kaushansky speaks at the opening ceremony of the establishment. Photo by Kevin Redding

On April 18, Stony Brook Medicine officially extended its reach to residents in western Suffolk County, with a ribbon cutting for a new, state-of-the-art medical center that provides 30 specialty services under one roof.

Advanced Specialty Care in Commack, which opened to the public last month, serves as a “one-stop shopping” destination for the health care needs of patients no matter where they are located. The center itself sits near the Sunken Meadow Parkway, the Northern State Parkway and the Long Island Expressway.

The variety of specialties includes internal medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, urology, neurosurgery and radiology. A complete imaging center is on site to provide X-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds, bone densitometry, and CT and MRI scans. Stony Brook doctors, including primary and specialty care internists, gynecologists, orthopedists and surgeons of all kinds, make up the staff.

“But this facility is more than just a multi-specialty clinic,” Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., senior vice president for health sciences and dean of Stony Brook University School of Medicine said, addressing a crowd of Stony Brook Medicine and university staff, elected officials and community members.

According to Kaushansky, one of the leaders behind the 120,000-square-foot center, patients who come to the center have easy access to “the power of Stony Brook medicine.”

“As part of Suffolk County’s only academic medical center,” he said “Advanced Specialty Care connects consumers to Stony Brook Medicine’s cutting-edge research, clinical trials and advanced technology. This is what truly distinguishes it from other physician practices in the area. You not only have access to Stony Brook primary care physicians and specialists, but also to the best ideas in medicine.”

He also said the Commack facility will soon be the new home of Stony Brook’s World Trade Center Health Program, a service that offers comprehensive, integrative health care for World Trade Center responders dealing with 9/11-related illnesses.

Samuel Stanley, M.D., Stony Brook University president, said the center signifies another Stony Brook step toward creating an aspiring, integrated health care network, focused on providing quality and value, for all of Long Island and beyond.

“Every day, we take ambitious ideas from the minds of our expert researchers who are working in medical laboratories, driven by their boundless curiosity, and bring those ideas to life at the patient’s bedside to continuously redefine health care in the 21st century,” Stanley said. “Through our leadership role in health care reform, we are driving forward with new initiatives to improve health, reduce costs and eliminate the unnecessary care for our patients.”

Among the elected officials in attendance were Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga); Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson); and New York State Assemblymen Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Saint James) and Andy Raia (R-East Northport.)

Stanley said they were vital to what Stony Brook Medicine does, by helping with the budget and supporting Medicare and Medicaid for the state, among other important contributions.

Fitzpatrick and Raia presented an official New York State assembly citation to the center and its faculty.

“I just wanted to say thank you to Stony Brook for taking medicine to the next level by opening this beautiful facility here in Commack,” Fitzpatrick said. “Stony Brook is growing and is offering new services and treatment and wellness to people beyond just the Three Village area. Stony Brook represents excellence.”

Margaret McGovern, M.D., professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at the university’s School of Medicine and physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said this is truly the “power of Stony Brook medicine, closer to you.”

“We’re extending the reach of Stony Brook Medicine,” she said, “offering medical expertise in a new and growing
market.”

She also commended Kaushansky for making the center possible.

“Ambitious ideas require exceptional leadership and imaginative solutions, and this project required both,” McGovern said. “I want to thank Ken Kaushansky, especially, for his vision and confidence in moving this project forward. By working together across traditional boundaries, we are achieving a new vision for the future of Stony Brook Medicine.”

The front entrance to the new ambulatory care center. Photo from SBU

By L. Reuven Pasternak, M.D.

Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak

As a native Long Islander, I know that we Long Islanders like to have choices and flexibility in many aspects of our lives, and we’re not shy about saying so. Having choices and flexibility in the quality of medical care we receive is certainly no exception.

That is why, on March 1, Stony Brook Medicine opened a new, multispecialty ambulatory care center, Advanced Specialy Care, at 500 Commack Road in Commack. The new center has more than 30 specialties designed to meet the majority of families’ medical needs, all under one roof.

Not only does this provide convenience for you and your family, it provides peace of mind because it means you can expect to receive the high level of expertise and compassionate care Stony Brook Medicine primary care doctors and specialists are known to provide.

And if surgery or other specialty care or access to clinical trials is needed, you can go to Stony Brook University Hospital without any disruption in the continuity of your care. As part of the only academic medical center in Suffolk County, Advanced Specialty Care offers it all.

Stony Brook doctors located in the Commack facility include primary and specialty care internists and pediatricians, gynecologists and obstetricians, dermatologists, orthopedists and urologists, surgeons and neurosurgeons. We also have a complete imaging center on site to provide X-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds, bone densitometry, and CT and MRI scans.

Another indication of how committed we are to serving our patients in western Suffolk and beyond is the sheer size of our state-of-the-art facility. The Advanced Specialty Care center occupies nearly 120,000 square feet of space, with room to expand as additional services are added. The location is just minutes away from the Sunken Meadow Parkway (Sagtikos), the Northern State Parkway and the Long Island Expressway.

We want this to be as close to a one-stop shopping experience as possible for you and your family. Whether it’s for a regular checkup or something more, I hope you will take advantage of having the power of Stony Brook Medicine close by, under one roof, at Advanced Specialty Care in Commack.

Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak is CEO at Stony Brook University Hospital and vice president for health systems at Stony Brook Medicine.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner speaks at the Organ Donor Enrollment Day kickoff event at Stony Brook University Hospital Oct. 6. Photo from Bonner’s office

By Rebecca Anzel

Registered organ donors are hard to come by in New York state compared to the rest of the United States, and for one elected official in Brookhaven, that’s not going to cut it.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) did not hesitate when her friend Tom D’Antonio said he needed a kidney. She decided right then, at the Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival in Huntington Harbor in September 2015, that she would share her spare.

She underwent comprehensive medical testing at the end of the next month to determine if she would be a viable donor — a blood test, chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, CT scan, MRI, psychological evaluation and cancer screening, to name a few.

“It’s the ultimate physical you’re ever going to have, and by the blood test alone several people were disqualified,” Bonner said. “For once in my life, it turned out that I was No. 1. And it worked out really, really well.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and her friend Tom D’Antonio after their surgeries to transplant her kidney into his body in April. Photo from Jane Bonner
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and her friend Tom D’Antonio after their surgeries to transplant her kidney into his body in April. Photo from Jane Bonner

The surgery was April 26, a Tuesday, at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Bonnor was home that Friday and missed only eight days of work. She said she just had her six-month checkup and she is in good health.

“Jane didn’t just save my life, she saved my family’s life,” D’Antonio said. “Donating an organ doesn’t just affect the person getting the organ — although certainly it affects them the most — it affects everyone’s life.”

Bonner said she takes every opportunity to share her story to bring awareness about the importance of being an organ donor.

“I want to be a living example to show that it can be done because it’s life changing for the recipient and only a little inconvenient for the donor,” she said.

There is a large need for organs in New York. More than 9,700 people are on the organ waiting list, and someone dies every 18 hours waiting for one, according to LiveOnNY, a federally designated organ procurement organization.

New York ranks last among the 50 states in percent of residents registered as organ donors, despite surveys showing 92 percent of New Yorkers support organ donation. Only 27 percent of New Yorkers are enrolled in the state registry, versus the average of 50 percent registered across the rest of the country.

Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook University hosted the Organ Donor Enrollment Day event Oct. 6, including Bonner, in a statewide effort to boost the number of registered organ donors.

“Our residents need to be reminded about the importance of organ donation,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “Along with stressing how one organ and tissue donor can save multiple lives, understanding and debunking the social and religious myths about organ donation are also critical to turning the tides in New York as we currently rank last in registered organ donors in the nation.”

Dawn Francisquini, transplant senior specialist for the hospital, said volunteers enrolled 571 people.

“New York has a very large population, so it’s going to take a lot to get us up to where the other states are,” she said. “But we’re making progress.”

There are two ways to become an organ donor. One is to be a living donor, like Bonner. A potential donor does not have to know someone in need of an organ to donate a kidney, lobe of liver, lung or part of a lung, part of the pancreas or part of an intestine.

“I’ve been able to accomplish really amazing things, but this is a step above that. Satisfying is not even the word to describe it.”

— Jane Bonner

“Living donation is so important because not only are you giving an organ to someone, so you’ve saved that life, but you’ve also made room on the list,” Francisquini said. “So you’ve saved two lives by donating one organ.”

The most common way is by registering when filling out a driver’s license registration or renewal form to be considered as a candidate upon death. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, though, only about three in 1,000 deceased people are suitable for organ donations.

Doctors determine whether organs like kidneys, livers, bones, skin and intestines are medically viable for a waiting recipient and they typically go to patients in the same state as the donor.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation Aug. 18 allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to register as organ donors. If they die before turning 18, parents or guardians are able to reverse the decision.

“By authorizing 16 and 17-year-olds to make the selfless decision to become an organ donor, we take another significant step to grow the state’s Donate Life registry and create opportunities to save lives,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Francisquini said she thinks this new law will make a big difference. Previously, because those under-18 were not allowed to express their wishes when filling out a driver’s license form, many would not register as donors until years later when renewing their license.

Since her surgery, Bonner has shared her story in speeches, panel discussions and on social media using the hashtag #ShareTheSpare.

“I really feel like this is much better than anything I could accomplish in my professional career,” she said. “Through the support of the people that keep electing me, I’ve been able to accomplish really amazing things, but this is a step above that. Satisfying is not even the word to describe it.”

Stony Brook University Hospital

By Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D.

In a unique type of collaboration, Stony Brook Medicine and Mount Sinai Health System have entered into a formal affiliation agreement that combines the strengths of both organizations to create positive change in biomedicine, the delivery of care to our communities and the education of the next generation of health care professionals.

The affiliation of Stony Brook Medicine and Mount Sinai Health System is based on our common values, as well as a reverence for translating basic biomedical science into new cures for human disease and a commitment to providing health care professionals of the future the most advanced approaches to both didactic and experiential learning.

We also share the commitment to using robust clinical evidence to determine the very best medical practices that improve the quality of care delivered to our patients. Both institutions seek to apply our understanding of human health and disease to the entire population we serve, through our leadership positions in the New York State Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) Program and other avenues, so that all will benefit from our efforts.

Often, when people hear the word “affiliation,” it is thought that there is a merger or acquisition; however, this is not the case — Mount Sinai is not buying Stony Brook or vice versa. It is an agreement that allows collaborative efforts to flourish and heighten academic, research and clinical care synergies.

This means boundless opportunities on a number of fronts. For example, the Stony Brook University School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will develop joint graduate and medical educational programs, maximizing the strengths of existing master’s and doctoral programs at each institution. Students will have the opportunity to take classes on both campuses, allowing them to learn new techniques and expand their exposure.

In addition, the combining of two research powerhouses has immense promise to influence both institution’s abilities to make major breakthroughs by moving discoveries made at the very basic level and bringing them to the bedside faster — all to improve diagnostics and treatments. We believe that the joint efforts will yield greater discoveries than would arise from either institution alone. Mount Sinai and Stony Brook have already taken steps in this direction by investing a combined total of $500,000 to introduce new research programs, with the intent of receiving collaborative external funding.

The areas of focus include biomedical engineering and computer science; drug discovery and medicinal chemistry sciences; neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry; basic biology and novel therapeutics; and public health and health systems. The alliance will capitalize on Mount Sinai’s strengths in biomedical and clinical research and health policy and outcomes and Stony Brook’s expertise not only in the School of Medicine but also in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences and in departments such as mathematics, high-performance computing, imaging and the physical and chemical sciences.

It is a momentous time for academic medicine, health care, our respective students, faculty and staff and for the communities we serve across the Island and into Manhattan. The partnership allows both institutions to look at new ways to be innovative and bring the benefits of our shared transformation to our patients.

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

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