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St. Charles Hospital

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By Aidan Johnson

The world has drastically changed in the recent decades, with one of the leading transformations being the rapid evolution of technology. In a short span of time, smartphones and social media have become seemingly permanent fixtures in society. However, this new technology brings about new challenges, such as anxiety heightened by prolonged interactions on social media and cellphone use.

Theresa McKenna, clinical health psychologist and director of Psychology Services at St. Charles Hospital. Photo courtesy of St. Charles Hospital

Theresa McKenna, clinical health psychologist and director of Psychology Services at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, discussed how social media and the overuse of cellphones can lead to increased anxiety, especially in adolescents and teens — and how to combat these feelings, stressing that a more nuanced approach is often necessary.

Curing emotions brought about by use of technology is not as simple as painting social media as purely evil, as it can allow people to easily connect with others, and even build groups and communities around shared hobbies.

However, McKenna explained, there are still plenty of issues that social media can create.

“If you’re looking at what your friends are doing, especially with younger people … you might have gotten wind that [there was] a party,” she said, describing how if an adolescent didn’t previously know about that, seeing pictures of it online, along with being able to know who was there can create a feeling of being left out, which can increase the risk of depression, isolationism and anxiety.

This also contributes to a problem of a lack of boundary setting for oneself with the amount of social media usage, along with the amount of information shared.

“They know where their friends are, they could track them down easily. It’s like there’s no unspoken time,” McKenna said.

“You wouldn’t want all of your time taken up with one person in person either, because that wouldn’t be healthy. You don’t want that time taken up with social media so frequently,” she added.

However, screen time usage has also been made more complicated by the global pandemic. While a sense of normalcy has returned, with many COVID-19 era policies and mandates ending, there has still been a lingering shift to remote work. 

In a March 2023 Pew Research Center survey, around 35% of workers who had jobs that had the ability to be done remotely were done so full time, as opposed to just 7% before the pandemic.

“For younger people, especially people coming into working age, they’re losing some of that ability to have mentorship [or] even just to meet people different than themselves in a lot of ways, because they’re not in a work environment,” McKenna indicated.

She said that people struggling with overuse of cellphones try to engage in a “digital detox,” in which they start to use cellphones and other smart technology less. One of the biggest steps that she suggested was to keep smartphones away from the bedroom.

In talking to one patient, McKenna said it was admitted that even though the person goes to bed at 10 p.m., the phone is used for another two hours.

“The stimulation that comes from playing a video game before you go to bed causes an irritable type of sleep, so even if you fall asleep easily, it’s not a good type of sleep,” McKenna added.

Instead of being on a smart device before going to bed, she stated that reading or doing activities such as crossword puzzles would be a better alternative. In lieu of using a phone as an alarm clock, buying a cheap alarm clock would do the trick

Additionally, McKenna suggested downloading meditation apps on the smartphone such as Calm. There are also special wellness apps for those in specific communities, such as Chill Drills, a free mindfulness app released by the Department of Defense for the military community.

Smartphone overuse does not just affect adolescents and teens, which is why McKenna stressed the importance of parents and adults to model good phone usage.

While tech advances have certainly made some aspects of life easier, such as the abundance of information and the ability to connect with those far away, it is important to be mindful of how much a cellphone is being used on a daily basis. While it isn’t necessary to completely cut it out of everyday life, it is imperative to set boundaries and have a good balance between screen time and other activities.

On the left is Viviana Cueva Gomez and Brian Cueva with their son Mattias. On the right is Byron and Anita Gomez with their second son Thiago. Viviana and Byron are siblings. Photo courtesy St. Charles Hospital

It started on Friday, Oct. 13, and concluded with a near photo finish the next day.

Viviana Cueva Gomez, who was getting close to her due date, went to St. Charles Hospital with her husband Bryan at around 7 p.m., when she started to feel discomfort.

The medical staff admitted her to the hospital, where she and Bryan anticipated the delivery of their first child.

Around 3 a.m. on the 14th, Anita Gomez, who is married to Viviana’s brother and was also pregnant, began to experience contractions, which sent her to Port Jefferson-based St. Charles Hospital as well.

At one point during the night, Viviana suspected that her sister-in-law was at the hospital.

Viviana asked the hospital staff if they could confirm that Anita was on the same floor.

The hospital, however, couldn’t give her that information because of confidentiality rules.

At some point during the next day, Viviana’s husband Bryan bumped into his brother-in-law Byron.

“I didn’t know my sister was there,” said Byron. “When I saw Bryan, we were joking” about how their sons were coming on the same day.

Indeed, as that Saturday wore on, Dr. Sarah Karalitzky performed C sections on both women.

Despite coming to the hospital second, Anita won the birth race, delivering her son Thiago at 4:26 p.m., while Viviana gave birth to Mattias soon thereafter, at 5:45 pm.

Separated by just over an hour with their birth times, the cousins were also just over half a pound different in weight: Thiago weighed in at 8 pounds, one ounce, while Mattias was 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

Anita Gomez holds her son Thiago. Photo from Byron Gomez

Big announcements

The extended family work in the same business, towing and fixing cars at S&B Auto Repair in Middle Island.

Viviana recalls the moment her brother shared the big news with their father Secundo at work.

Byron “started to tell my dad,” she said. “Everyone asks him what happened, is someone here [having] a baby?”

The family looked at Anita, who also works at S&B.

“Yes,” Byron said, “but someone else is, too.”

Their father looked at his daughter.

“Viviana, you?” he asked.

When she nodded, he jumped up and clapped for the impending arrival of two grandchildren.

“We didn’t believe we would deliver the same day, but things happen,” Viviana said.

Viviana, 31, and Byron, 29, have two other siblings, neither of whom is married and has children.

In addition to this momentous day, the extended Gomez family, who are originally from Ecuador, is having a memorable year, with a cousin giving birth this past June while another cousin is expecting a child in January.

“My family is growing a lot this year,” said Viviana, who lives in Medford.

Viviana Cueva Gomez and husband Bryan pose with their son Mattias. Photo from Viviana Cueva Gomez

Expectations for the cousins

Byron and Viviana anticipate that the two cousins, who were born one room apart at St. Charles Hospital and who each left the hospital the following Tuesday, Oct. 17, will be close.

“They’re going to be like brothers,” predicted Byron, who lives in Coram.

The two families haven’t yet decided whether they would consider having joint birthday parties for the Libras, whose Zodiac sign is, perhaps fittingly, represented by two equal parts of a scale.

A friend suggested the two cousins “don’t have to share the same day” for future birthday celebrations, said Viviana. Their friend wants to “go to two different parties” to celebrate each of their births.

Newborn Thiago with his older brother Dereck, who is five. Photo from Byron Gomez

A beaming brother

Thiago’s brother Dereck, who just turned five, is already fond of his younger sibling.

“He says he’s going to share TV and toys with him,” said his father Byron. “All the time, he’s kissing him. He really loves him.”

Indeed, Dereck used to play with a friend, but he only wants to be with his younger brother. When Dereck speaks to Thiago, he tells him he loves him and asks his father to translate his newborn brother’s movements and sounds.

“I say that he loves you, too,” said Byron.

Karalitzky, who delivered both babies, said staff members were caught up in the excitement.

An OB-GYN, Karalitzky feels “lucky to be in a field where the vast majority of the time, she’s able to be a part of good news and a happy day” in people’s lives. For the extended family, the shared birthday ensures that people “will always remember your birthday.”

Karalitzky, who has been at St. Charles Hospital for 10 years, should know: she was born on her mother’s birthday.

Her mom “always made it a special day,” Karalitzky said. “Every year, she’d say, ‘This is the best birthday present ever.’”

The statue of St. Charles outside the hospital. Photo by Marilyn Fabbricante

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

September is National Substance Use Disorder Awareness Month. Saint Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson began substance abuse awareness month by acknowledging International Overdose Day.

People from our local school communities and local elected officials were present, as well as our town supervisor, Edward Romaine. Representatives from other treatment and support programs were also present. The program was simple but to the point. Fentanyl and heroin overdoses are out of control across the country and locally. It is a growing epidemic in every town and village across the nation. I was asked to share a reflection that day as someone who has spent more than four decades living and working with people battling substance use disorders and mental health issues.

Saint Charles Hospital has been a leader in the field of detox and rehabilitation treatment for decades. Their dedicated professional staff has done and continues to do an extraordinary job with those battling addiction. Saint Charles continues to give voice to this epidemic need but unfortunately due to the insurance industry and politics, addiction treatment still gets buried in the weeds because it does not break even.

They have the space to increase the number of beds desperately needed for treatment. As a community, we need to stand up and give support to these vital services for our local and larger community. Saint Charles is leading our region in partnering with our school communities, and other not-for-profit resources that support people battling substance use disorder and mental health issues.

Every morning when I get up, I look out my bedroom window on the grounds of Little Portion Friary. I am greeted by the 120 crosses representing the 120 young people from our community that have died due to an overdose since the pandemic. Our Garden of Remembrance has become a safe place for a growing number of families who feel so displaced and shunned because they buried a son or daughter due to addiction.

It is scandalous that insurance companies have so much power when it comes to authorizing vital treatment for people who are battling addiction and mental health issues. The insurance protocols that determine whether or not someone will be approved for detox, residential treatment and outpatient treatment services are ridiculous. It’s not about the person in need of services, but rather about how much it will cost; that attitude is shameful and out of control.

In the past 10 days, I buried two young people who overdosed and one young woman who killed herself due to addiction. These senseless deaths are not decreasing, they are escalating. We do not have enough treatment services to keep up with the epidemic need.

We must stand up and support programs like Saint Charles, and other programs that are going the distance and so much more to protect the quality of life for the growing number of young people that are struggling with substance use disorders and mental health issues.

Every day I see firsthand the miracles of change and transformation for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, who have the opportunity to work on themselves and reclaiming their lives; we can do better in this regard. People do get better and reclaim their lives; families are healed and renewed.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.


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St. Charles and elected officials at the emergency room groundbreaking. Photo by Aidan Johnson

By Aidan Johnson

Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital, a part of Catholic Health, held a ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday, July 24, for its upcoming emergency department expansion.

The expansion will be 4000 square feet, to include 10 more treatment bays, an expanded waiting room and additional nursing and changing stations, according to a Catholic Health press statement.

“The ED expansion will also include an ED-dedicated advanced diagnostic imaging room with a fully outfitted CT scan to decrease wait times and improve patient flow from the ED to the inpatient setting,” the statement said.

The project cost of $10 million was partially funded through a $4.2 million grant from the NYS Statewide Health Care Facility Transformation Program.

During the ceremony, hospital President James O’Connor thanked the people involved throughout the process, including local officials, the Catholic Health executive leadership, local first responder organizations and the architects.

“As many of you know, St. Charles was founded in 1907 by four sisters of the order of the Daughters of Wisdom, helping homeless children with disabilities,” O’Connor said during his speech. “Their mission continues … over 116 years later as we continue to help those in need.”

Construction will officially begin on July 31 and is expected to conclude before the end of summer 2024.

Canadian wildfire smoke reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground over Long Island. Photo by Terry Ballard from Wikimedia Commons

Brian Colle saw it coming, but the word didn’t get out quickly enough to capture the extent of the incoming smoke.

Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, director of the emergency room at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. File photo from St. Charles Hospital

The smoke from raging wildfires in Quebec, Canada, last week looked like a “blob out of a movie” coming down from the north, said Colle, head of the atmospheric sciences division at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. As the morning progressed, Colle estimated the chance of the smoke arriving in New York and Long Island was “80 to 90 percent.”

Colle, among other scientists, saw the event unfolding and was disappointed at the speed with which the public learned information about the smoke, which contained particulate matter that could affect human health.

“There’s a false expectation in my personal view that social media is the savior in all this,” Colle said. The Stony Brook scientist urged developing a faster and more effective mechanism to create a more aggressive communication channel for air quality threats.

Scientists and doctors suggested smoke from wildfires, which could become more commonplace amid a warming climate, could create physical and mental health problems.

Physical risks

People in “some of the extremes of ages” are at risk when smoke filled with particulates enters an area, said Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, director of the emergency room at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. People with cardiac conditions or chronic or advanced lung disease are “very much at risk.”

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of the Division of Toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook University

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of the Division of Toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital, believed the health effects of wildfire smoke could “trickle down for about a week” after the smoke was so thick that it reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground.

Amid smoky conditions, people who take medicine for their heart or lungs need to be “very adherent to their medication regimen,” Schwaner said.

Physical symptoms that can crop up after such an event could include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or breathing difficulties, particularly for people who struggle with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When patients come to Schwaner with these breathing problems, he asks them if what they are experiencing is “typical of previous exacerbations.” He follows up with questions about what has helped them in the past.

Schwaner is concerned about patients who have had lung damage from COVID-related illness.

The level of vulnerability of those patients, particularly amid future wildfires or air quality events, will “play out over the next couple of years,” he said. Should those who had lung damage from COVID develop symptoms, that population might “need to stay in contact with their physicians.”

It’s unclear whether vulnerabilities from COVID could cause problems for a few years or longer, doctors suggested, although it was worth monitoring to protect the population’s health amid threats from wildfire smoke.

Local doctors were also concerned about symptoms related to eye irritations.

Schwaner doesn’t believe HEPA filters or other air cleansing measures are necessary for the entire population.

People with chronic respiratory illness, however, would benefit from removing particulates from the air, he added.

Wildfire particulates

Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health. Photo from Stony Brook University

Area physicians suggested the particulates from wildfires could be even more problematic than those generated from industrial sources.

Burning biomass releases a range of toxic species into the air, said Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done a “fairly decent job” of regulating industrial pollution over the last few decades “whereas wildfires have been increasing” amid drier conditions, Yazdi added.

In her research, Yazdi studies the specific particulate matter and gaseous pollutants that constitute air pollution, looking at the rates of cardiovascular and respiratory disease in response to these pollutants.

Mental health effects

Local health care providers recognized that a sudden and lasting orange glow, which blocked the sun and brought an acrid and unpleasant smell of fire, can lead to anxiety, which patients likely dealt with in interactions with therapists.

As for activity in the hospital, Dr. Poonam Gill, director of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at Stony Brook Hospital, said smoke from the wildfires did not cause any change or increase in the inpatient psychiatric patient population.

In addition to the eerie scene, which some suggested appeared apocalyptic, people contended with canceled outdoor events and, for some, the return of masks they thought they had jettisoned at the end of the pandemic.

“We had masks leftover” from the pandemic, and “we made the decision” to use them for an event for his son, said Schwaner.

When Schwaner contracted the delta variant of COVID-19, he was coughing for three to four months, which encouraged him to err on the side of caution with potential exposure to smoke and the suspended particulates that could irritate his lungs.

Joel Gonzalez, right, with his wife Amanda, daughter Isabella and son Julian. Photo courtesy Gonzalez

Joel Gonzalez was waking up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. During the day, if he ate too quickly, he felt like food was getting stuck in his throat.

In 2018, Gonzalez, who lives in Coram and is a high school counselor, was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. A small hiatal hernia, in which part of his stomach bulged through an opening in his diaphragm and into his chest, caused the condition.

Gonzalez started taking medications, which helped relieve the symptoms and enabled him to sleep without experiencing discomfort or waking up suddenly.

In August 2022, after learning that his hiatal hernia had gotten slightly larger and deciding he didn’t want to continue taking reflux medicine for the rest of his life, he met with Dr. Arif Ahmad, director of the St. Charles and St. Catherine of Siena Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence, to discuss the possibility of surgery.

Gonzalez was so convinced that the surgery would help and confident in Dr. Ahmad’s experience that he scheduled the procedure during that first meeting. Since his November surgery, which took about an hour, he hasn’t had any GERD symptoms and is not taking any medication for the condition.

Gonzalez said he would “absolutely” recommend the surgical procedure, which became a “simple decision” after consulting with Dr. Ahmad.

Caused by a mechanical problem with a valve at the bottom of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter that allows stomach acid to enter the esophagus, GERD affects over 20% of the population.

Symptoms of GERD vary, which means doctors can and do take a range of approaches to treatment.

Hospitals, including St. Charles, St. Catherine of Siena, Stony Brook and Huntington Hospital, have been ramping up their efforts to evaluate and treat GERD.

Port Jefferson-based St. Charles and Smithtown-based St. Catherine of Siena, both part of the Catholic Health system, have been expanding these services at the Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence.

“There is a big need” for this increasingly focused effort to help patients dealing with the symptoms of GERD, said Dr. Ahmad.

At St. Charles and St. Catherine, Dr. Ahmad, who has been doing hiatal hernia and GERD-correcting surgery for over 25 years, created the center to ensure that the nurses on the floor, the people who do the testing, and the recovery staff are aware of the specific needs of these patients.

Dr. Ahmad has done presentations for the staff to ensure they have “the highest level of expertise,” he added.

Dr. Ahmad, also the director of the Center of Excellence in Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Mather Hospital, said he could perform surgery, if a patient needs it, at any of the hospitals, depending on a patient’s request.

Stony Brook’s efforts

At the same time, Stony Brook recently created a multidisciplinary Esophageal Center at Stony Brook Medicine, designed to provide a collaborative care model for diagnosing and treating GERD.

The center provides minimally invasive endoscopic treatments as well as surgical options.

Dr. Lionel D’Souza, chief of endoscopy, said the center provides a cohesiveness that “allows an evaluation by a group of people who are experts and can communicate with each other” to provide a patient-specific plan.

Dr. D’Souza suggested people seek medical attention from their primary care physician or gastroenterologist if they experience any of the following conditions: heartburn every day or severe heartburn several times a week, trouble swallowing, food getting stuck in the throat, anemia, blood in the stool or weight loss without another explanation.

Other partners in the Stony Brook GERD Center include Dr. Olga Aroniadis, chief of the division of gastroenterology, Dr. Alexandra Guillaume, director of the gastrointestinal motility center, and Dr. Konstantinos Spaniolas, chief of the division of bariatric, foregut and advanced GI surgery at Stony Brook Medicine and director of Stony Brook’s bariatric and metabolic weight loss center.

“When someone has a lot of excess weight, the chance of developing GERD is a lot higher,” Dr. Spaniolas said. “Sometimes, getting patients through a program to facilitate with weight loss can help [people] avoid GI symptoms, such as heartburn.”

Stony Brook will see patients in different parts of its network and then, depending on the needs, will determine who is best-suited to start their work up and treatment, Dr. Spaniolas added.

While a potential option, surgery is among a host of choices for people who have ongoing heartburn.

Huntington Hospital, meanwhile, will begin offering esophageal motility testing starting in June. Patients can call Northwell Health’s Heartburn and Reflux Center to schedule an appointment.

A team of gastroenterologists, surgeons and dietitians will work with patients at Huntington to determine the cause of GERD and possible treatments, according to Dr. David Purow, chief of gastroenterology.

Soft foods

Those who have surgery return to solid foods gradually.

Marlene Cross, a resident of St. James who struggled with GERD for about a decade, had the procedure in March.

For the first few weeks, she ate primarily liquids, with some protein drinks and puddings. She added Farina and oatmeal to her diet and then could eat flaky fish.

At 83, Cross, who lost sleep because of GERD-induced heartburn, said the surgery was a success.

“I’m not running a marathon, but I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” said Cross, who is a retired teacher’s assistant for special education students.

Cross urged others who might benefit from surgery to “see a specialist and ask questions and do it” if the doctor recommends it. “The younger you do it, the better.”

Catholic Health patients identified as having food insecurities will be able to take home a bag with enough food for three days. Photo from Long Island Cares

A local health care system and nonprofit have joined forces to help patients in the area.

Catholic Health and Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares food bank have been working together to help patients battling food insecurities.

“We have to engage health care partners in the fight against hunger,” said Jessica Rosati, Long Island Cares vice president for programs.

A pilot program was launched last summer in Catholic Health emergency rooms, including St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, to identify residents who need grocery supplements. The initiative includes health care practitioners screening emergency room patients for what are called “hunger vital signs.” If a screener deems a person is food needy, the patient can take a bag that has enough food for one or two people for three days.

Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Catholic Health vice president and chief public and community health officer, said there has been data showing that 10-15% of Long Islanders experience food insecurities.

“We don’t want people leaving our hospitals and going to a home with no food,” Eisenstein said.

The doctor said questions asked during screening include if there is enough food in the patient’s home or if they have enough money to buy more. Eisenstein said the bags are meant to be a bridge until a person can receive additional help. Health care professionals will also ask patients if they need help connecting with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, or social services.

Rosati said food insecurity is a social determinant of health.

“It makes a lot of sense for health care providers to start screening individuals for food insecurity, simply because it has such a strong correlation with other diseases and disorders,” she said. “If we can treat people when they immediately come in, then we have a better chance of linking them with the appropriate services so they have all of their needs met — not only their physical health, but everything else.”

Eisenstein added that the hope is to prevent unnecessary readmissions. He gave the example that if a patient with congestive heart failure may not be able to afford nutritious food, they may be back in the emergency room with health problems.

He said unnecessary admissions might mean financial consequences for a health care system, but ensuring people don’t return to the emergency room unnecessarily is part of a hospital’s mission “to be humane and serve the most vulnerable.”

According to Rosati, more than 1,000 meals in to-go bags were distributed at all six Catholic Health hospitals to date. She added all the food included in the bags are nonperishable, shelf stable, and staff ensure food is nutritionally sound before being purchased.

She added Catholic Health officials approached Long Island Cares about initiating the program and the health care system has taken ownership of the program and found donors to expand it. She commended Catholic Health for its efforts, adding that such an initiative is “imperative for people’s overall health and the success of their health,” and hopes other providers will take note.

Bags are now also being distributed throughout the Catholic Health’s ambulatory care, walk-in clinics, home care operations and cancer institute locations throughout Long Island, including Smithtown, Port Jefferson, Commack and East Setauket.

Uniondale-based Harris Beach law firm recently donated $5,000 to the program, according to Long Island Cares, which will cover 2,000 meals.

Dr. Arif Ahmad, St. Charles and St. Catherine of Siena Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence Director Photo courtesy of Catholic Health

Catholic Health is expanding its service offerings with the opening of the Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson and St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown. The Centers will offer minimally invasive surgical procedures as a permanent solution for acid reflux and repair of hiatal hernia. 

Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a chronic condition affecting 20 percent of people in the United States. Common symptoms include acid reflux, heartburn, nausea, persistent regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough and chest pain.  

“We are delighted to provide this much-needed service in our community for those who are suffering from chronic heartburn and acid reflux, looking for a long-term solution,” said St. Charles and St. Catherine of Siena President James O’Connor. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life for patients suffering from heartburn and GERD, with an individualized treatment plan and successful outcome.” 

“Many patients want to eliminate dependence on medications and are concerned about long-term side effects,” said St. Charles and St. Catherine of Siena Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence Director Arif Ahmad, MD. “Most patients continue to regurgitate in spite of medications. Minimally invasive surgical techniques are safe alternatives that should be considered.”

For more information, call 631-474-6808 for St. Charles Hospital and 631-862-3570 for St. Catherine of Siena Hospital.

Kris Kringle and the St. John's Ophan Asylum Band from Brooklyn lead Cheese Club down Port Jefferson's Main Street toward Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church; charitable organization; gifts for children at St. Charles

The Cheese Club was a charitable organization formed in 1915 and comprised of members of Brooklyn’s Knights of Columbus.

Considered among the leading citizens of Brooklyn, each a “big cheese,” the group’s influential founders self-mockingly referred to themselves as the Cheese Club, though other stories about the name’s origin abound.

The Cheese Club is best known in Port Jefferson for its Christmas pilgrimage to the village, which it made without interruption from 1916-58 despite stormy weather, world wars and the Great Depression.

During each annual holiday visit, the club members gave yuletide gifts to the youngsters at the Brooklyn Home for Blind, Crippled and Defective Children, known today as St. Charles Hospital, and donated money for the year-round comfort of the handicapped boys and girls and their caregivers.

The club members and their entourage typically traveled from Flatbush to Port Jefferson on a specially chartered LIRR train, the Santa Claus Express, made up of coaches and a freight car filled with Christmas presents.

After disembarking at the Port Jefferson railroad station, Kris Kringle and the St. John’s Orphan Asylum Band from Brooklyn led the group as it marched to Infant Jesus R.C. Church at Myrtle and Main to attend Mass.

Christmas postcard. Photo courtesy the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Numbering 400 strong during peak years, the procession then continued to St. Charles Hospital, where the sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom, who operated the hospital and looked after its disabled charges, served a welcoming luncheon.

Following the reception, children at the hospital provided two hours of entertainment, performing as singers, dancers, musicians and actors.

When the talent show ended, Santa Claus and his helpers took the stage and gave each boy and girl a Christmas stocking stuffed with toys, candy, games, clothing and fruit.

The Daughters of Wisdom also received a check to fund various projects at the hospital and on its grounds. Over the years, the money was used to purchase radios, movie projectors and physical therapy equipment for the children, build a sun shelter, defray the costs of a memorial organ, improve the sisters’ living quarters and maintain outdoor Stations of the Cross. 

Following the establishment of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1957 out of territory once within the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Cheese Club phased out its holiday visits to Port Jefferson and concentrated on charitable work closer to home.

The Cheese Club was a pioneer in bringing Christmas cheer to the handicapped children hospitalized in Port Jefferson and spurring other religious and nonsectarian organizations to support the disabled youngsters at St. Charles — not just at the holidays but throughout the year.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of the village.

St. Charles Hospital
Dr. Arif Ahmad

Do you suffer from acid reflux/GERD? St. Charles Hospital’s Wisdom Conference Center, 200 Belle Terre Road, Port Jefferson will host a free community lecture on acid reflux on Thursday, Nov. 10 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Presented by Arif Ahmad, MD, FRCS, FACS Director, Acid Reflux and Hiatal Hernia Centers of Excellence at St. Charles Hospital and St. Catherine of Siena Hospital, topics will include why PPI drugs are not always the answer as a treatment option and permanent solutions with minimally invasive anti-reflux surgery procedures.

Followed by a Q&A. Light refreshments will be served and masks are required. To register, please call 631-474-6797.