OB-GYN Meghan Malentacchi, MD, on Postpartum Depression

What is Postpartum Depression?

It is very common for new moms to experience stress and a short-term bout of “the blues” after having a baby. However, Postpartum Depression is a mood disorder that causes emotional and physical changes that are more severe and last for a longer period of time. Typically, it involves a prolonged sad mood, inability to focus and to find pleasure in things. Moms with Postpartum Depression often have feelings of worthlessness and unhealthy changes in sleeping and eating. They may cry frequently, have no appetite, or be unable to sleep even when exhausted. Postpartum Depression can occur anytime in the first year after birth. Unlike the exhaustion and anxiety that accompanies nearly all births, Postpartum Depression doesn’t usually go away on its own.

What causes Postpartum Depression?

The postpartum period is a perfect storm of emotional and physical changes, fluctuating hormones, stress, and sleep deprivation that all contribute to Postpartum Depression. This can also be exacerbated by a lack of support after birth. There is often a genetic link to Postpartum Depression, and women who have previously experienced bouts of depression or anxiety are more at risk.

What are the symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

Look for anxiety that goes beyond what would be normal after having a baby. Women may be overly worried about the baby’s health or their ability to take care of their baby. On the other hand, they may be uninterested in the infant’s activities or unable to bond with baby. They can be overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Watch out for excessive crying, appetite changes, mood swings, reduced concentration, withdrawing from family and friends, and failure to enjoy the things the new mother used to enjoy.

OB/GYN’s can screen for Postpartum Depression by utilizing a questionnaire in the office. If a woman scores 12 or higher out of a possible 30 points, she is probably suffering from Postpartum Depression.

Can it be prevented?

Having a baby is a stressful and difficult time even in the best of circumstances. While Postpartum Depression may not be preventable for some, there are things you can do to help set yourself up for success. The best way to help is to build a support system before you have a baby. Oftentimes people ask if they can help you out, so take advantage of that. Having family members and friends pitch in to help you after you welcome your baby will ease some pressure and help you cope. Try to sleep whenever you can and do small things to take care of your own well-being.

Another tip I recommend is to watch for symptoms right away, especially for women who have had depression in the past, as Postpartum Depression can be more easily helped the earlier it is addressed. All new moms should come to their OB/GYN for a follow-up around six weeks after giving birth, but if Postpartum Depression is suspected, come in earlier.

How is Postpartum Depression treated?

Both mood-elevating medications and therapy are recommended to help combat the effects of Postpartum Depression. Using a dual approach of medication and therapy often works better than either treatment does alone. You don’t have to be on medication forever afterward, but the boost these proven drugs can provide may be able to effectively help a Postpartum Depression sufferer, and talking to someone about your problems always has the potential to help.

What do you want women to know?

Postpartum Depression is common.  It’s not something to feel guilty or embarrassed about. Think about it this way: if you had diabetes, you would have no trouble seeking treatment for it, and you should think about Postpartum Depression in the same way.

There are very effective treatments available. If you don’t treat Postpartum Depression, it can lead to longer-lasting emotional issues for the mother and developmental issues for the baby. Mother-baby bonding can also be affected, so please, if you feel like you may be experiencing Postpartum Depression, ask for help.

If you need an OB/GYN, Dr. Malentacchi is taking new patients at our MedStar Waldorf location. You can call her office at 301-645-8867, or you can use our Find-A-Doc feature at MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/FindADoc

Please visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Maternity for more information on pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care.

MedStar Southern Maryland Recognized as Breast Imaging Center of Excellence

CLINTON, MD - The American College of Radiology (ACR) has recognized the MedStar Regional Breast Health Program at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center (MSMHC) as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence (BICOE). The BICOE designation is awarded to breast imaging centers that achieve excellence by seeking and earning accreditation in all of the ACR's voluntary accreditation programs and modules, according to Anna H. Choi, MD, Chief of Radiology at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. MedStar Southern Maryland is accredited by this organization in mammography, stereotactic biopsy, breast ultrasound, ultrasound-guided biopsy, and breast MRI (via a relationship with MedStar Washington Hospital Center).

"The breast imaging team has been instrumental in maintaining high standards and meeting the high bar set forth by the American College of Radiology," said Dr. Choi. "I am very proud of the teamwork!"

MedStar Southern Maryland employs a team approach to treat breast health, of which Dr. Choi, as a breast image specialist, is a part. The team also includes a roster of OB/GYN's, medical and radiation oncologists, a contracted genetic counselor, Dr. Ekaterini Tsiapali, breast surgeon, and Dr. Sarah Sher, plastic surgeon.

"We are honored to receive this recognition," said MedStar Southern Maryland President Christine R. Wray. "Breast health is a significant health concern for women, and in southern Maryland, they can be reassured by our comprehensive program that includes preventative care, early screening, use of the latest technology and innovations in treatment, surgical options that minimize risk and recovery times, and after-care that is compassionate and diligent in follow-up. We are proud of our program, proud to serve southern Maryland and proud of this attention given by the Commission on Quality and Safety, and the Commission on Breast Imaging with the American College of Radiology."

MedStar Southern Maryland's breast care experts provide comprehensive breast care for both women and men. They treat a wide range of breast conditions, including breast cancer and benign breast disease. They also follow women who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Our breast health services include:

  • Disease prevention: breast self-exam training, risk assessment, genetic testing
  • Routine evaluation: annual well-woman exams
  • Breast imaging: screening, diagnostic and digital mammography, with breast radiologists to interpret the images
  • Diagnostic evaluation: needle localization, open surgical biopsy, frozen section pathology, stereotactic biopsy, sentinel node biopsy
  • Comprehensive treatment: treatment for benign breast disease and breast pain, fine needle aspiration, lumpectomy, partial or total mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy

For more information, visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Breast.

Cheryl Richardson
Director of Marketing & Community Relations
[email protected]
(301) 877-5556

MedStar Southern Maryland Partners with PG County on New Healthy Baby Initiative

Earlier this month, Prince George’s County, along with partners MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center (MSMHC) and the University of Maryland Capital Region Health, which are the two entities delivering babies in Prince George’s County, the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services and the Prince George’s County School and Library Systems, hosted a press conference announcing a new Healthy Baby Initiative.

The Healthy Baby Initiative provides several items to new parents to help after the birth of a new baby.  First, it provides a Graco Pack ‘N Play, which functions as a portable bed and playpen for babies.

Second, the Healthy Baby Initiative provides a bag with literature that helps educate and provide resources to parents.

Third, the Healthy Baby Initiative provides a set of soft-cover, washable books in this branded bag.  The bag also contains information on how to sign your baby up to receive additional books, totaling around 60, by the time the child is five years old and ready for school

Representing MSMHC at this press conference was Dr. Nahid Mazarei, Director of MSMHC’s OB/GYN Department.  Last year, said Mazarei, MSMHC delivered around 1,200 babies, 65-percent of which were classified as high-risk births.

“What we’re doing today is elevating the level of awareness for what we can do,” said Dr. Mazarei. “What we have learned as individuals, we can take this today and expand it to the community and raise awareness of how to best promote healthy babies.”

The Press Conference took place at the Prince George’s County Health Department.  Dominique Stuckey, Nursing Director of MSMHC’s Women and Newborns Center, and Cody Legler, MSMHC’s Senior Director of Nursing, were also in attendance. 

“We’re so proud to be a part of this great initiative,” said MSMHC President Christine Wray.  “We love bringing babies into the world here in Prince George’s County, and we want to do all we can to promote healthy pregnancies, healthy births and a healthy start to life.  Providing this Pack ‘N Play and all the books and resources that come with it, will really help families in Prince George’s County, and we’re excited to help distribute these items to our new babies.” 

To learn more about MSMHC’s Women and Newborns Center, or to sign up for a tour of our facility, visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Baby.

About MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center:

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, located in Clinton, Maryland, is a 182-bed acute care hospital serving the Washington, D.C., metro and Southern Maryland area. The hospital is focused on caring for patients and their loved ones utilizing advanced technology under the guidance of expert clinicians. Quality, Safety, Wellness, and Patient Satisfaction are achieved through a spirit of patient-centered services that connect us to the community we serve.


Cheryl Richardson
Director of Marketing & Community Relations
(301) 877-5556
[email protected]

Saving a Family: Pregnancy Complications Halted by OB/GYN & Critical Care Experts

Local Woman and Newborn Saved After Sudden Potentially-Fatal Pregnancy Complications

Our story begins on a chilly night in late December 2016. Excited, soon-to-be parents, LaWan Sypert-Mujiheed, an accountant, and her doting husband, Dawud, arrived at our doors ready to welcome their daughter.

OB/GYN Dr. Michael Hotchkiss was ready for this moment, as well. “They’re a wonderful couple,” he said. “Dawud would come to every single visit with LaWan. We were following her carefully throughout her pregnancy, as it was a high-risk case, being IVF with advanced maternal age. At her last appointment, Dawud asked, ‘Doc, are we doing okay?’ I said, ’we’re doing just great.’”

Dr. Hotchkiss knew LaWan was on her way to the hospital that evening. The plan was for the OB/GYN on duty, Dr. Meghan Malentacchi, to begin induction of labor. Dr. Hotchkiss planned to see LaWan by morning when she was ready to deliver. Soon after arrival at our doors, though, LaWan began contracting on her own. This baby was ready to meet her parents. And the OB/GYN team was prepared.

But it quickly became frighteningly apparent that something was very wrong. LaWan, who was in active labor, let out a noise, a whoosh of air, and collapsed, passing out completely. The baby’s heartbeat slowed.

Nurses sprung into action, activating the hospital code for Rapid Response. The mother's condition continued to deteriorate. An anesthesiologist was paged. The baby needed to come out, now. Dr. Malentacchi performed an emergency c-section and baby Laila was delivered around 1:40 a.m. Both mother and baby needed immediate attention. Both were in grave danger.

Dr. Brook Gebeyehu, the anesthesiologist on duty, intubated and oxygenated LaWan. She was rushed into the Intensive Care Unit as the doctors worked in concert to try to save her life. LaWan was comatose and experiencing a blood clotting disorder that caused her to begin to bleed out of every orifice of her body.

Across town, the Chair of our hospital’s OB/GYN Department, Dr. Nahid Mazarei, received a phone call. It was 2:30 a.m.

“I’m so glad the nurses didn’t hesitate to call,” said Dr. Mazarei. “They called at 2:30 a.m. with no reservations and that accelerated what we were able to do. They’re empowered to go above and beyond. I tell every patient, you’ll get everything I have and that’s how the whole system operates. We work collaboratively and it’s seamless the way we work with one another and communicate with patients and their families.”

Dr. Mazarei thought carefully about what was being described to her. It sounded like a case of an amniotic embolism, which was a scary proposition. She knew these cases are around 80 percent fatal and that fatality comes so quickly these cases are typically only diagnosed during an autopsy after the mother passed away. She also remembered, with the remaining 20 percent who survive, the majority experience the tragedy of permanent brain damage. Dr. Mazarei sprung into action, jumping in her car and calling another of our hospital’s experts, Dr. Sara Parker.

Around 3 a.m. the piercing ring of her phone awoke Dr. Parker. She bolted out of bed, raced to her car and discussed the facts of the case en route. They concurred: it was an amniotic fluid embolism, wherein the amniotic fluid and fetal cells flood a mother’s body, disrupting every system, causing LaWan’s heart and lungs to collapse and her body to have a seizure. She was dying and they had to hurry.

“I’m one of the luckiest OB/GYN Chairs around,” said Dr. Mazarei. “To have Dr. Parker, who is trained in both critical care and obstetrics, it’s rare across the nation. It takes us to a whole different level. What is great about this place is that with the MedStar network, you get layer after layer of support.”

In Labor & Delivery, baby Laila was struggling. After birth, she was experiencing a drastically fluctuating heart rate. Her lungs were also compromised. Then, baby Laila coded, her tiny body going into cardiac arrest, three times. She was intubated with an unstable heart rate and was readied to be flown to Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Parker arrived. She saw LaWan had lost way too much blood. She ran down to the blood bank, to the lone associate working this normally quiet shift before dawn. Dr. Parker counted units of blood herself, determined the amount of platelets LaWan needed and made the call that the Red Cross must bring extra units to save LaWan’s life. The Red Cross’s truck departed Baltimore for Clinton.

The skies outside turned from mist to rain. It would be unsafe for baby Laila to fly by helicopter to Children’s Hospital. It would take longer, but they must drive, with paramedics performing CPR for an hour on the road, not knowing how fortuitous it was that the weather prevented their flight. They did not know until later, when the x-ray came through after they were already on their way, but during the event of her birth, Baby Laila had developed a lung condition called bilateral pneumothorax. The pockets of air that were present in her walnut-sized lungs meant the pressure changes that would have occurred during a helicopter flight would have been fatal.

Laila arrived in dire condition, but alive, at Children’s Hospital. It was now after 10 a.m. To stabilize the baby, physicians there put her into a hypothermic state, where her delicate body was cooled down, slowing her metabolism and hopefully, they fervently wished, sparing her from brain damage.

Back at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, steroid treatments and units of blood had been administered to LaWan, and the medication began to help her blood coagulate again. After all the units of blood and platelets she received, it looked like there was a sliver of possibility she might live. She was in a coma, but was as stable as possible under the circumstances. Would she come out of her coma? Would she live long enough to meet her baby? If so, would she ever wake up and be able to hold her?

Exhausted, Dr. Parker and Dr. Mazarei could finally breathe again. For now, though they would stay at the hospital for countless hours ahead, as would the entire team, they could rest. And wait.

The Aftermath

LaWan lay in her bed, barely responsive, for days. ICU nurses were losing hope for recovery because their patient just wasn’t responding. But Dominique Stuckey, Director of the Women and Newborn’s Center, would bring her fellow Labor & Delivery nurses in numerous times per day, believing LaWan could hear and understand them. Slowly, she began to respond to simple commands.

Baby Laila gained weight. Her daddy came to see her every day. Her doctors waited nervously for the results of her EEG tests measuring brain activity. To their delight, the tests came back with normal results. Laila was bright-eyed, and incredibly, she was perfect. After just over a week at Children’s Hospital, she was ready for discharge and was finally brought to the bedside of her mom.

From MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, LaWan would transition to the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (MNRH), thanks to the help Dr. Parker and hospital administration provided to secure transition to this top-tier facility.

It would take her months in rehab at the MNRH for LaWan to recover. There, she learned how to eat, swallow and speak again. She grew stronger by the week.

The Present

Miraculously, ten months have passed and LaWan and Laila are doing well. Laila is a happy baby who likes to make her voice heard. She has two teeth and is mere weeks from crawling.

“You are never prepared to hear your wife is dying and your baby is too,” he said. “But God had a plan. I thought of that every time I would drive to the hospital to see my baby. I knew she would pull through, just like her mother. They are strong women. And I think about Dr. Mazarei. I’ve never seen a woman as strong as my wife, but she is.”

As his anxiety has faded with time, the overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude remain with Dawud. He calls Laila the apple of his eye and a gift from God. He also continues to marvel at LaWan powering through her recovery. She still goes to therapy three times per week, but they are healthy, they are alive and they are a happy family.

For the doctors, nurses and all MedStar associates who played a part in this story, the experience has not left their minds, either. What remains with the team is an inspiring, touching memory of being a part of something that can truly be called a miracle.

“The whole team functioned extremely well,” said Dr. Hotchkiss. “Every time we’d say ‘you’ve got to do more!’ they did more. It was an amazing response and a great outcome.”

Visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Family for more information about our Women and Newborns Center.

SiTEL Mock Drills Hone Skills, Help Craft Policy

When Perinatal Nurse Educator Lisa Hulvey, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, comes up with an idea for an educational exercise that can reaffirm best practice or help the team identify ways to improve current practice, she contacts the MedStar Simulation Training & Education Lab (SiTEL) team to design and implement a drill. 

Hulvey also works with the MedStar Obstetrical Simulation Team (MOST), which is affiliated with SiTEL, to develop quarterly obstetrical drills, such as a Code Stork scenario where a birth is taking place outside of Labor and Delivery. 

These drills help to evaluate aspects of practice such as teamwork, available resources, and response times.  The drills conclude with a de-briefing meeting to discuss the exercise, which Hulvey says is the most important aspect of the drill.

“This is one of the great benefits of being a part of MedStar,” says Hulvey.  “SiTEL has always been there for me, taking my vision and creating realistic scenarios, using both mannequins and actors, and running the drills really well, so participants can see a realistic scenario and process through what we’re supposed to do.”

Hulvey says that not only do the drills help improve care, they have also been used to craft policy when they are run during the development phase of hospital policy.

Cheryl Camacho, NRP, Manager, EMS Certifications & Programs, Clinical Education & Experiential Learning with SiTEL, also works with MedStar Southern Maryland on other drills, such as Code Blue, or Cardiac Arrest drills, which also measure skill and response times.

“We look at timed responses,” says Camacho.  “How quickly was CPR started?  Was the first drug administered within five minutes?  And overall, we look at teamwork and communication.”

OB/GYN Meghan Malentacchi, MD, FACOG, Joins MedStar Southern Maryland

Dr. Meghan Malentacchi, the newest OB/GYN to join MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, brings with her experience using the latest in robotic surgery technology, having learned how to perform this less-invasive surgery that has the benefit of shortening recovery times after procedures. She also brings with her experience serving in the military at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at nearby Joint Base Andrews.

“In the military, we were expected to be hands-on from the start,” said Dr. Malentacchi. “We were also taught it’s always important to develop close relationships with our patients, particularly since OB/GYNs deal with very personal questions, and because good prenatal and preventative OB/GYN care are important to a woman’s health.”

Dr. Malentacchi says she looks forward to serving this community and helping patients through their pregnancy journey to delivering a healthy baby. She also wants to provide health care for women throughout their lives, as long-term relationships with patients mean addressing medical issues before they develop into problems.

Dr. Malentacchi earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, her MD from their School of Medicine and completed her residency in OB/GYN at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT. Prior to joining MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, she was an OB/ GYN staff physician at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, where she also served as Assistant Flight Commander.

Contact Us Today

To make an OB/GYN appointment with Dr. Malentacchi, call 301-843-7737.

For more information, please visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/OBGYN.

Detecting Breast Cancer: Innovative Machines and Expert Specialists Come Together


One key to the declining rate of breast cancer is advancement in early detection.  At MedStar Southern Maryland, radiologists Anna H. Choi, Gina Kim-Ahn and Tina Sprouse are on the forefront of early detection, thanks to their fellowship training and years of experience in breast imaging, paired with a new 3-D tomosynthesis digital mammography machine.

This new $500K mammography unit creates a 3-dimensional mammogram that yields an advanced form of breast imaging that is especially helpful in dense breast tissue.  The 3-D mammography also allows for detection of smaller tumors and of subtle secondary findings of cancer.

“Not all mammograms are created equal,” says Dr. Ekaterini Tsiapali, who relies on Choi, Kim-Ahn and Sprouse to interpret mammogram images.  “It’s best to go to a facility that specializes in breast imaging, because adequately reading a mammogram requires expertise.”

Two additional tools in the arsenal of these women, who have a combined 50 years of experience in the field, are the Breast Ultrasound and the Breast MRI.  The ultrasound is a tool that uses sound waves to look at breast tissue identified as abnormal on a mammogram.  The Breast MRI is the most sensitive test available and is used to evaluate the anatomy and function of breast tissue.  On the horizon is yet another test using nuclear medicine, which Choi, Kim-Ahn and Sprouse are watching, as all MedStar Medical Group Radiology physicians make sure to stay on the forefront of all new research and advance technology in their field to make sure MedStar Southern Maryland is able to provide the most state-of-the-art care.

For more information about breast imaging, contact 301-868-6900

Hospital Introduces New Plastic Surgeon, Sarah R. Sher, MD

sher-sarah_wellerCLINTON, MD – MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center welcomes new plastic surgeon, Sarah R. Sher, MD.  In this position, Dr. Sher will concentrate on breast reconstruction for breast cancer patients, as well as breast reductions and general reconstruction.  Dr. Sher will work in close partnership with breast surgeon Ekaterini V. Tsiapali, MD.  Together, these surgeons will surgically remove cancerous breast tissue (Tsiapali) and reconstruct breasts (Sher). 

“I’m looking forward to playing a positive role in a patient’s journey through breast cancer,” said Dr. Sher.  “It’s so fulfilling to be a part of a team of physicians who can understand what patients are going through.  I want potential patients to know that most breast reconstruction procedures are covered by insurance, and that many problems, like asymmetry, can be easily fixed.  A two to four hour procedure can change a woman’s life.”

Prior to joining MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, Dr. Sher served as assistant professor at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital’s Department of Plastic Surgery, and will continue to see patients at that location. Dr. Sher has extensive training on all the typical plastic surgery procedures, such as tummy tucks, skin cancer excisions, general reconstruction, breast augmentation, facial rejuvenation, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), surgery after weight loss, rhinoplasty, liposuction, Botox and fillers, chemical peels and Latisse.  Dr. Sher will offer consultation in all areas of plastic surgery at Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. 

“We’re thrilled to make this announcement during Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” said MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center President Christine R. Wray.  “Dr. Sher brings much-needed expertise to our hospital, and I know the community will greatly benefit from her expertise, as we serve the women of southern Maryland.  Breast cancer surgeon Dr. Ekaterini Tsiapali and plastic surgeon Dr. Sarah Sher are an integral part of a comprehensive chain of gifted physicians who treat women at every stage of health.”

Dr. Sher received her undergraduate degree from Southwestern University and her medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.  She completed her internship and residency in plastic surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.  Dr. Sher also volunteered on a mission trip fixing cleft lips and cleft palates with Operation Smile in India.

Dr. Sher has published numerous papers on plastic surgery procedures and has won several awards, including the honor of Top Resident in Hand Surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.  Dr. Sher is also fluent in Spanish.  To refer a patient or make an appointment, please call 301-877-5607.




Media Contact

Cheryl Richardson
Director of Marketing and Community Relations
[email protected]

About MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center:

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, a 192 bed full-service hospital serving the Washington, D.C., metro and Southern Maryland areas, was founded in 1977 and joined MedStar Health in December, 2012.  Throughout the hospital’s history, it has remained a community leader, a strong supporter of health care education and a dedicated advocate for quality health care services.

My Story: Breast Cancer Survivor Valerie Calhoun

Valerie Calhoun feels like she’s back.  After an exhausting battle with breast cancer, she has thrown her wigs to the back of her closet, she is active in her church again and she is scheduling ice cream dates with her granddaughter.  None of this would be possible, she says, without the breast cancer treatment she received at MedStar Southern Maryland and the special attention she received from breast surgeon Dr. Ekaterini V. Tsiapali.

It was during a yearly mammogram last July when Valerie found out she had a tumor.  After her mom’s three-time battle with breast cancer decades ago, she was scared.  Her primary care physician put Valerie in touch with Dr. Tsiapali, who biopsied the tumor.  The initial diagnosis was grim:  it was a malignant, aggressive form of cancer, in Stage 3.  A lumpectomy followed in September, when Dr. Tsiapali removed the tumor and four lymph nodes.

This understandably difficult time was made a little easier, says Valerie, because Dr. Tsiapali made sure she knew what was happening every step of the way.

“Her bedside manner is the greatest,” says Valerie, of Dr. Tsiapali.  “She takes time and explains everything.  She gave me so much information and she’s very truthful; this is what it is, these are your options.”

Chemo began last November.  Valerie experienced hair loss, along with a loss of energy and appetite.  Her husband Thomas stopped working to be there for her, and her church, Woodstream Church in Mitchellville, fervently prayed for her health.  Her sister took her wig shopping, her mother, the original cancer survivor of the family, prayed with her, and her children and grandchildren rallied around her.  When chemo treatments finished in February, which Valerie recalls as the toughest part of this battle, she began six weeks of radiation treatments. 

Now, she is cancer-free, and sees Dr. Tsiapali every six months.  The staff greets her warmly when she returns, happy to see her so healthy, and she is equally happy to see them, remembering every kindness, like her appointment around Mother’s Day, when they gave her a flower.

“I’m telling you, this journey has been awesome, because of the entire staff,” said Valerie.  “I’m just grateful.  I asked God to direct me to a doctor and a team that could take care of me and He did.  It’s such a blessing.”

Valerie’s story has a happy ending, like the majority of current breast cancer patients.  The diagnosis is no longer as scary as it was years ago, says Dr. Tsiapali, when treatments were, at times, overly aggressive when they didn’t need to be, and techniques had the potential to cause more problems.

“Today, we schedule needle biopsies, like we did with Valerie, instead of surgical procedures,” said Dr. Tsiapali.  “The needle biopsy is less invasive, so recovery is easier.  We also have made huge strides with techniques to save breasts and reshape them when tumors are removed.” 

Dr. Tsiapali is also able to refer patients to MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s genetic counselors, so breast cancer patients can undergo testing to see if they are carriers of cancer genes and determine whether patients who have breast tumors would benefit from chemotherapy, as Valerie did.

The trend, says Dr. Tsiapali, is to individualize treatment to each patient’s unique needs.  By taking this tailored approach, she has seen patients over the course of her career recover more quickly than patients did as recently as a decade ago.  Her reward for providing treatment, she says, is seeing patients like Valerie return to a happy life after a long, difficult journey through breast cancer treatments.

“Getting to know Valerie has been a pleasure,” says Dr. Tsiapali.  “She is easy-going and resilient and it has been wonderful to see her get back to being herself.”

To schedule a mammogram at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, call 301-877-5607.

Valerie Calhoun and Dr. Katerina Tsiapali at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital on July 26, 2016.
Valerie Calhoun with breast surgeon Ekaterini Tsiapali, MD

Special Care Nursery (NICU) Provides Specialized Care for our Littlest Patients

Special Care for Special Deliveries

Melanie Bush with daughter Brooklyn and son Brentley

It’s a scene that parents-to-be imagine hundreds of times: the day they welcome their little one into their family and meet their new baby face to face. Sometimes, however, reality is a bit more complicated. When a baby is born early or needs some extra support, the dedicated professionals at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s special care nursery are there to help.

Melanie Bush knows. After a difficult pregnancy, she began having contractions early – at only 34 weeks’ gestation – and labor was progressing rapidly. With one of her twins in breech position, she delivered by emergency cesarean section. Melanie and her husband Benny Bush Jr. welcomed their new son and daughter, Brentley and Brooklyn Bush, at 1:06 and 1:08 a.m. respectively on August 23, 2014. Brentley weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces at birth, and Brooklyn weighed just 4 pounds, 2 ounces.

Without the full 40 weeks to develop in their mothers’ bodies, babies born early can face a variety of challenges including low birth weight, breathing problems, infections, and vision or hearing loss. About one baby in ten is born prematurely in the United States, and rates have been rising, according to the March of Dimes.

A Special Place

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s special care nursery is a level II neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that cares for babies born at 32 weeks or later, or who weigh at least 1,500 grams (about 3.3 pounds). The special care nursery is led by a team of on-site neonatologists from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who bring their specialized expertise in helping the smallest babies thrive, and has a staff of experienced NICU nurses.

Having an experienced team of doctors and nurses at a location close to home means that new parents can spend more time with their babies while they are still in the hospital. The hospital’s special care nursery is known for maintaining a compassionate, welcoming atmosphere. “Highly specialized expertise, strong nursing skill, and warm, family-centered care is all wrapped up in one big, beautiful package here at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center,” said Mahoganey McCrae, BSN, RN, CPN assistant director of nursing for the special care nursery.

Always Welcome

The Bush twins had ups and downs during the 11 days they stayed in the special care nursery, particularly Brentley, who struggled with breathing and eating. The special care nursery team helped Brentley breathe using several treatments, including a breathing tube and ventilator, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, and supplemental oxygen through a nasal canula. On day 7, his lungs were able to tolerate regular air. 

Because he wasn’t able to eat for over a week, the team gave Brentley the nutrition and hydration he needed through an IV. Phototherapy was used to treat their jaundice. Warm, enclosed incubators called isolettes helped the little twins regulate their body temperatures.

Although there were scary moments, the special care nursing staff were there every step of the way. “Even though I have a healthcare background, I wasn’t thinking like a nurse while I was watching my babies struggle,” Melanie said. “The staff talked to both of us as parents. Everyone was very responsive, and no one rushed us or made us feel unwelcome.”

Encouraged by the special care nursing staff, Melanie and her husband Benny were active participants in caring for their babies, holding them, feeding them, changing their diapers and taking their temperatures.

Melanie also appreciated the neonatologists’ approach. “They were available to answer questions and did a lot of education” to help them care for their new son and daughter. “They were amazing.”

Brentley and Brooklyn are now a pair of active and happy 23-month-old toddlers. Although they don’t remember those first days, their grateful mom and dad will never forget.

Visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/Nursery to learn more about our special care nursery.