Providence Heights Alpha School: Celebrating 96 years of excellence in education

Founded and sponsored by the Sisters of Divine Providence, Providence Heights Alpha School has been dedicated to providing students from PreK to Eighth Grade with an advanced, rigorous, and relevant curriculum in a nurturing and caring environment since 1926.

The upcoming 2022-23 school year marks nearly a century of Providence Heights Alpha School working to fulfill and advance its mission to develop servant leaders and innovative thinkers by providing a distinguished Catholic education. Alpha School strives to model Christian values rooted in trust, fostering compassion, leadership, and social justice in a community that welcomes children of all faiths and cultures. Alpha School is an independent, private, Catholic school that works in collaboration with the Diocese of Pittsburgh. This collaboration enables Alpha School to offer a variety of competitive sports as well as sacramental preparation for their Catholic students.


Alpha School’s award-winning faculty strives to develop the whole child through relationships that are built on respect and trust. Their curriculum is designed to be student-centered, developmentally appropriate, and focused on social, emotional, spiritual, and academic growth. Students are encouraged to be creative by teachers who emphasize the skills of collaboration, communication, organization, and problem solving. Small class sizes afford teachers the opportunity to work one-on-one with students and differentiate lessons according to each child’s needs and strengths.
In 2016, to support their growing PreK and Kindergarten programs, Alpha School opened the Early Learning Center (ELC) at Ketteler Hall. This one-of-a-kind space is specifically designed for their youngest learners. The ELC houses five individual classrooms as well as a large communal gallery. The space allows students to safely explore their environment and provides endless opportunities to creatively engage with their peers.
At Alpha School, students are not limited to a single self-contained classroom. As early as first grade, students travel to subject specific classrooms. This lays the groundwork for the middle school model that starts in third grade. They utilize the school’s science, STEM, and computer labs and experience the benefits of cross-curricular activities such as the Talking Art Museum, a collaborative project where students research an artist and painting of historic significance. Students work in pairs to become the artist and the painting, and then present their work to the school community in a fun and interactive atmosphere.
Alpha School’s middle school teachers have a passion for teaching that motivates their students to challenge themselves to achieve their fullest potential. As students progress to middle school there is more emphasis placed on developing their independence by building stronger time-management, organizational, and study skills. Students in sixth through eighth grade serve as role models for the youngest members of the community. They are encouraged and expected to participate in leadership and service activities such as the Works of Mercy Program, Student Council, student ambassadors, and the buddy program. Middle school students also plan school-wide events including Trunk n Treat, Baby Jesus’ Birthday Party, Catholic Schools Week activities, and food drives that benefit area food banks.
Providence Heights Alpha School is proud to be located on the 40+ acre campus of the Sisters of Divine Providence in the heart of Allison Park. Faculty and students alike frequently take advantage of all the campus has to offer. They can be found gathering water samples from the pond to analyze in science class, reading or reflecting prayerfully on one of the benches in St. Anne Park, or playing on the soccer field and playground during recess.


Tradition
As a well established learning community, Providence Heights Alpha School incorporates the traditions of the Catholic faith in ways that promote spiritual and personal growth within all of their students. For example, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through eighth grade students practice their faith by leading the school in daily prayer, weekly mass and other liturgically significant celebrations as readers, song leaders, and altar servers. These activities not only help to develop a unique personal relationship with Christ, but they also provide students opportunities to become confident public speakers. Another time honored tradition at Alpha School is the buddy program. Pairing the youngest members of the school with middle school students reinforces a sense of community and responsibility for both the younger and older students to be a positive example for future generations.

Innovation
The science and STEM programs focus on not only researching, designing, and experimenting, but the importance of analyzing and evaluating as well. Whether they are designing solar powered ovens or rocket launchers, building bridges or ecosystems, or dissecting one of the six animals that are part of the curriculum, students learn to apply the scientific process and work collaboratively. The innovative curriculum and instruction does not stop with science and STEM. Alpha School’s art and music programs take full advantage of the school’s technology. Students use the computer or Mac labs to learn basic animation, music composition, and sound production. The combination of technology with fine arts provides students with a modern outlet for expressing their creativity.

Excellence
In 2020-21 Alpha School’s eighth graders averaged the highest possible overall score in all subjects tested as part of the Iowa Assessment – grade equivalent of 13.0. Many middle school students take part in regional competitions, such as the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science and the Pennsylvania Regional Engineering and Science Fair, where they typically win awards and special recognition for their outstanding projects. Outside of the classroom, students of all ages can participate in a number of enrichment activities including school plays, music lessons, sports, and academic clubs.


Did You Know?
• Alpha School has an 8:1 student-teacher ratio.
• The average class size at Alpha School is 11.
• 26% of enrolled students are of faiths other than Catholicism.
• 100% of Alpha Students score Advanced on the ACRES tests.
• Alpha School serves students from 12 different school districts in the Pittsburgh area.
• Busing is provided for students from most districts.
• Alpha Athletics Association offers students the opportunity to participate in competitive sports, including: soccer, basketball, volleyball, cross country and track.
• All students are encouraged to take part in school-wide charitable activities that benefit the local community.
• Alpha School has a partnership with Bridges to Burkina, a charitable organization helping to develop schools in rural Burkina, Africa.

Samantha’s Story: A High-Risk Pregnancy 

After trying for nearly two years to get pregnant on their own, Samantha and her husband, Stephen, turned to the UPMC Center for Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. 

There, she learned she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Her doctors prescribed medicine to help boost her ovulation. Within a few months, Samantha was pregnant. 

Prenatal Care in the North 

Samantha, 30, received prenatal care at UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services in Wexford, minutes from her home in Franklin Park. 
 “Since I wasn’t sure which provider would be there to deliver my baby at UPMC Magee, I was able meet and receive care from all of the doctors at the practice,” says Samantha, who works in the Human Resources Department at UPMC. “It was a great experience. Everyone was very friendly and I felt that I was in good hands.” 

At 35 weeks, Samantha was diagnosed with gestational hypertension, a mild form of high blood pressure. 

“One of the risks of gestational hypertension is that the mother can develop a condition called preeclampsia. This can be dangerous to both mother and baby,” says Katherine Bunge, MD, an ob-gyn at Magee-Womens Specialty Services. “Usually, patients develop it at the end of their pregnancy or sometimes right at the time of delivery.” 

To avoid the possibility of Samantha developing preeclampsia, Dr. Bunge decided it would be best to induce labor at 37 weeks. But soon after her gestational hypertension diagnosis, Samantha tested positive for COVID-19. 

Worried how the virus would affect both her and the delivery of her baby, Samantha went to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for monoclonal antibody treatment the next day. 

“Getting vaccinated at the beginning of my pregnancy helped to reduce my symptoms. But I still felt completely drained,” says Samantha. “Within a few days after receiving the antibodies, though, I started to feel much better.” 

Although she was placed in quarantine at UPMC Magee, Samantha was able to get the additional antenatal testing recommended for women diagnosed with gestational hypertension through the hospital’s triage unit. 

“We have the resources to care for pregnant patients with COVID-19,” says Dr. Bunge. “Thanks to the monoclonal antibodies that Samantha received, she was able to recover quickly. That allowed us to avoid postponing her delivery.” 

Dr. Bunge adds that the baby’s health was monitored while keeping other hospital patients safe from COVID-19. “We have designated areas to care for patients with COVID-19 and our staff is well trained in proper COVID-19 precautions.” 

An Uncomplicated Delivery 

Before Samantha knew it, it was time to have her baby. She was given medicine to start labor contractions. 

“When I started dilating, the process went very quickly,” says Samantha. “Within an hour or so, it was time to start the delivery. Then, 36 minutes later, our baby boy arrived.” 

Samantha and Stephen welcomed their first child, Weston, into the world on Sept. 26, 2021. 

A Rare Postpartum Condition, Treated Close to Home 

Samantha was enrolled in UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital’s blood pressure monitoring program, and once home from the hospital, she was instructed to take her blood pressure every day using a simple blood pressure cuff.  

A few days later, Samantha notified Dr. Bunge’s office that her blood pressure exceeded acceptable values. “Her blood pressure was very high, so I encouraged her to go back to the hospital,” says Dr. Bunge. “Samantha was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia, which is rather rare. For that reason, we readmitted her for observation and to get her blood pressure under control.” 

After her discharge home, Samantha continued to watch her blood pressure every day. 

“Due to the frequent fluctuation of my blood pressure, we decided it would be best to have my readings done in person,” says Samantha. “I went back to Magee-Womens Specialty Services in Wexford five days a week for the first six weeks after having the baby. It wasn’t inconvenient at all, though, since the office is so close to my home.” 

“Most women don’t develop postpartum preeclampsia,” says Dr. Bunge. “Plus, most people don’t need to come so frequently to our office, especially with a newborn at home. But Samantha needed close follow up, and that’s what we did.” 

Samantha says she is extremely thankful for the care she received throughout her pregnancy journey. 

“I’m so glad that Dr. Bunge is so accessible. I was able to reach out to her with questions or concerns, which was a lifesaver,” says Samantha. “I even had the direct number to triage so I would know exactly who I needed to contact. As a high-risk patient, it was very comforting to know that the right people were taking care of me. I was never left in the dark.” 

UPMC’s strong network of pediatric care north of the city and beyond means Samantha’s family continues to receive top-notch medical care, right in their neighborhood. Baby Weston now regularly sees Virginia Hofmann, CRNP, a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatrics at UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics – Pittsburgh Pediatrics, Wexford Office.  

Schedule your visit today with UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services at UPMCPassavant.com/Magee. 

The information in this article was provided by UPMC.  


It’s All Here: The Specialists You Need, Closer to Home 

UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services offers convenient access to expert medical care for patients in the northern communities of Allegheny, Beaver, and Butler counties. So, whether you need routine care or specialized expertise, you’ll find the services you need closer to home. 

Specialty Services 

  • Breast cancer risk assessment 
  • General obstetrics and gynecology 
  • Gynecologic oncology 
  • Lymphedema services 
  • Maternal fetal medicine 
  • Midlife health 
  • Midwifery 
  • Reproductive endocrinology and fertility 
  • Urogynecology 
  • Women’s imaging 
  • Surgery 
  • Advanced laparoscopic surgery 
  • Breast surgery 
  • Minimally invasive gynecologic surgery 

UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services locations in the north include: 

  • UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex 
  • UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services–Butler  
  • UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services–Wexford 
  • UPMC Outpatient Center in Hampton 
  • UPMC Passavant–Cranberry  
  • UPMC Passavant–McCandless 
  • UPMC Primary and Specialty Care 

A Glimmer of Hope Teams Up to Help Women With Breast Cancer 

By Janice Lane Palko 

Someone once said that “An individual can make a difference, but a team can make a miracle.” Diana Napper, the Founder and President of A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, is one individual who has mobilized a team to offer hope and miracles for women with a breast cancer diagnosis. A Glimmer of Hope’s mission is to fund innovative programs, treatments, technology and research in order to prevent breast cancer from advancing. 

In 1994, Diana became that individual making a difference by pledging to honor the wishes of her best friend, Carol Jo Weiss Friedman, who lost her battle with breast cancer four years prior. Diana, a wife and mother of four children, promised Carol Jo that she would pursue her dream as a jewelry designer and open a jewelry business that would fund a hospice in Carol Jo’s name. Diana fulfilled that promise and more.  

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Alan Faneca poses for a photo during the 2021 Alumni Weekend Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers)

 

As the years passed, Diana realized that her mission was to create a means to support those diagnosed with breast cancer, and A Glimmer of Hope Foundation was born. The nonprofit remains a grass-roots organization with a team of 50 volunteers committed to the fight against breast cancer through cancer research and programs, and most importantly, studies in premenopausal breast cancer, as breast cancer in younger women tends to be more aggressive. 

To do that work, requires funding and help. A Glimmer of Hope’s primary fundraiser, The Bid for Hope will be held on May 14, 2022, at Eddie Merlot’s, 4 Gateway Center, in downtown Pittsburgh from 7-11 p.m.  

This is the Bid for Hope’s 19th year, and it will be especially celebratory as this year’s event is dedicated to former Pittsburgh Steeler and Class of 2021 NFL Hall of Fame inductee, Alan Faneca. He will be honored for being such an outstanding athlete, and he, as well as wife, Julie, and family will be feted for being such tireless advocates for A Glimmer of Hope and for making such a difference in the fight against breast cancer. Attendees can mix, meet and mingle with the local celebrities and past players as well as bid on auction items and enjoy heavy hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails.  

“I joined A Glimmer of Hope because I realized that I was able to leverage being in the NFL for good,” said Faneca. “My wife, Julie, and I started discussing things we could do, and then we met Diana.”  

During the 19 years Faneca has been a supporter of A Glimmer of Hope, he’s been a jack-of-all-trades. “I guess that I have been a little bit of everything over the years. I’ve sold tickets, loaded trucks, cleaned up, shook hands, smiled for pictures, given autographs, and been a spokesperson. Julie and I have been hands-on in anything we have been a part of, and we’ve always been thinking and looking for ways to help out in different and new ways,” said Faneca. 

Currently, the head football coach at his daughter’s high school, Faneca marvels at how much A Glimmer of Hope has grown over the years. “It has been great to see how much Diana has been able to grow Glimmer and the wide reach it now has over Pittsburgh and really the entire breast cancer research community. The most gratifying is seeing all of the great things that Diana has been able to do and the people’s lives that she has affected and made better,” Faneca said. 

A Glimmer of Hope has raised more than $6 million in support of breast cancer research in Pittsburgh. And not only do the women diagnosed with breast cancer benefit from A Glimmer of Hope, but also our community, our medical community and our scientific community as well. 

“I cannot thank A Glimmer of Hope Foundation enough for their sustained seed funding,” said Vera S. Donnenberg, Ph.D., F.C.P., Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers Research, who recently received two large grants from the Department of Defense that aim to develop our understanding of how hormonally positive (HR+) and triple negative breast cancer metastasizes into the chest cavity/pleural space.  

“Once HR+ breast cancer metastasizes to the pleural space, it becomes more aggressive and resistant to therapy,” said Dr. Donnenberg. “We are hoping to find a way to block the interaction between tumor and the environment within the chest cavity, and we hope to find treatments that can be delivered directly into this environment to inhibit tumor growth while at the same time supporting local and systemic immune responses and decreasing systemic toxicities.” 

A Glimmer of Hope provided her with funds to conduct preliminary studies to generate convincing data for the grant applications that were submitted to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program in Breast Cancer (CDMRP BCRP). “The Glimmer of Hope supported studies acted as a springboard and allowed me to generate compelling applications that once completed will generate critical understanding on how breast cancer spreads into the chest cavity and will also provide much needed leads for less toxic and more effective therapeutic interventions,” said Dr. Donnenberg.  

Breast cancer surgeons are also a part of A Glimmer of Hope’s team, and Emilia J. Diego, M.D., Surgical Oncology Specialist, co-director of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital’s breast cancer program and section chief of breast surgery for Magee and the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, knows well how clinical studies, science and technology have revolutionized the treatment for breast cancer patients. “It used to be that a diagnosis of breast cancer meant an expected decreases in survival, but that is no longer the case,” said Dr. Diego, whose own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Today, women have many choices. No longer do we automatically do radical breast surgery or throw the kitchen sink at the cancer with large doses of radiation or intense chemotherapy.”  

One of the trends in breast cancer care Dr. Diego emphasized is toward a de-escalation of treatment. “Every patient is different and with the medical advances in treatment, specifically immunotherapy, we can tailor treatment for each individual, and in some case, we are discovering some breast cancers that are slow-growing and are managed with minimal care. We are pushing the envelope every day, and I think A Glimmer of Hope is aptly named because today, more than ever, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Every day we’re getting closer to a cure.” 

Also on the Glimmer of Hope team is Christie Hilton, D.O., who is the director of A Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH, and the breast cancer medical oncology lead physician for the AHN Cancer Institute. In October 2020, A Glimmer of Hope opened A Glimmer of Hope Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH. The center is dedicated to treating patients with metastatic breast cancer. Many patients with metastatic breast cancer can live years and even decades with new treatments for their disease; however, in 2022, metastatic breast cancer remains incurable. 

“The GOH Metastatic Breast Cancer Clinic at AGH is a comprehensive program that centralizes the care for metastatic breast cancer patients,” said Dr. Hilton. “One goal of the clinic is designed to decrease waiting room time by coordinating multiple physician appointments, radiology appointments and multidisciplinary appointments into one appointment, allowing these women to spend more time being wives, mothers, daughters, friends and employees and less time as patients in an office,” said Dr. Hilton.  

 “Another very important goal of the clinic is to expand awareness and complete early and ongoing screening for clinical trial eligibility for this fragile population. Many women living with metastatic breast cancer will exhaust all available standard of care treatment options during the course of their illness despite being fit enough for further treatment. Clinical trial enrollment earlier in the course of metastatic breast cancer has the potential to optimize outcomes and is an important part of the clinic,” said Dr. Hilton. 

 A Glimmer of Hope also provides integrative services such as acupuncture treatments and massage therapy, which are provided free-of-charge to patients which patients note can help with side effects of treatment. 

 “I always describe the Metastatic Breast Cancer Center as a fluid clinic,” said Dr. Hilton. “We are always trying new things and working to make the clinic better and more efficient. The feedback from patients who are a part of the clinic has been overwhelmingly positive. A Glimmer of Hope makes this clinic possible, and I am fortunate to witness the positive impact A Glimmer of Hope has made in patients’ lives,” said Dr. Hilton. 

At AHN, A Glimmer of Hope is also funding research toward understanding the immune response to metastatic breast cancer. Led by Patrick Wagner, M.D., Director of AHN Cancer Institute Division of Complex General Surgical Oncology, the research is aimed at eventually delivering less toxic therapeutic options and better outcomes for patients with metastatic breast cancer. 

Diana Napper credits all those on her team—from staff, to volunteers, to medical professionals for allowing A Glimmer of Hope to grow and help so many women. “When you start something as a passion and not a business, people sense that and want to help. We receive so much support because we are transparent about what we do, focus on making a difference right here at home, have no large staff and we put the money we receive to good work that makes a difference for breast cancer patients.” 

“Pittsburgh is a smaller city,” she continued, “but we have a big medical scene here. Our small-town mentality shows in how much support A Glimmer of Hope receives, and it allows our medical community to take ownership of the research and provide treatment from some of the finest medical professionals, who not only are remarkable caregivers but also truly care about people.” 

For more inform on A Glimmer of Hope or this year’s Bid for Hope, visit the website at: www.symbolofthecure.com.   

Honoring doctors who impact patients’ lives inside and outside the hospital

Left to right: UPMC Passavant physicians Kiran Rajasenan, MD; Kevin Garrett, MD, FACS; James Boyle, MD; Kiran Mehta, MD, FACRO, FACR; and Joann Kim, MD, FCCP

A man suffering from a sudden and severe illness arrived at UPMC Passavant and immediately was admitted for diagnosis and treatment. Adding to the stress of being sick, he also was distraught over the fact that his daughter’s wedding was just days away and it was becoming clear that he’d likely miss the ceremony due to his hospitalization. His daughter considered postponing the wedding, but his doctor, James Boyle, MD, had another idea.

Dr. Boyle asked the patient’s wife if he could have a word with her. They strolled down the hall, ending up in the hospital chapel downstairs. He asked her how she liked this venue for a wedding.

“The whole family was over the moon,” Dr. Boyle said. “We arranged for the daughter to get married in the chapel so her father could be present. We were able to get the cafeteria to provide a dinner and wedding cake for a manageable number of guests in less than 24 hours.”

The doctors at UPMC never waver in their efforts to treat every patient with dedication, compassion, and expertise. Going the extra mile is a hallmark of UPMC Passavant physicians like Dr. Boyle, who has specialized in geriatric and internal medicine for the past 35 years and has served as Chief Medical Officer for the past 15.

“Our doctors are among the nation’s best. Add to that the fact that many of them go above and beyond what’s expected,” said Anthony R. Savannah, president of Passavant Hospital Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports UPMC Passavant by advancing health and wellness through education, outreach, and grant-making. “They work tirelessly to care for the whole patient and their patients’ families, as well. Many spend their precious free time volunteering in the community and helping the Foundation bring more health programs and state-of-the-art medical equipment to the North Hills.”

Kevin Garrett, MD, FACS, is a general surgeon, chair of the Division of General Surgery at UPMC Passavant and a clinical professor of surgery, mentoring the next generation of doctors. He supports a variety of charitable organizations, including Light of Life Rescue Mission, which provides a home and food for Pittsburgh’s homeless. He contributes to Bidwell Training Center, which provides classes and career training to underprivileged kids. And he’s an avid supporter of Passavant Hospital Foundation and its vital mission.

“I’m somewhat of a cheerleader and whenever a patient I’ve been involved with passes away, I make a donation to the Foundation in that patient’s name,” he said.

During the pandemic, Dr. Garrett piloted a program with Passavant Hospital Foundation to provide free meals for members of the operating room staff, who were working long, grueling hours. “There were many heroic efforts during Covid,” he said.

Joann Kim, MD, FCCP, is a pulmonologist and president of the UPMC Passavant Medical Staff. She took Dr. Garrett’s idea of providing free meals for the operating department staff and expanded it to include everyone throughout the hospital. “The pandemic has taken its toll on doctors and medical staff everywhere,” she said. “Staffing is critically low right now. Nursing staffs are burning out. Doctors are retiring in large numbers. Medical personnel are getting sick. Morale is at an all-time low.”

To perk up co-workers, Dr. Kim collected donations from the doctors at UPMC Passavant in order to provide free meals for the nurses, support staff, pharmacy staff, lab personnel and security, all of whom were working extended hours at the hospital under extreme stress and anxiety. She raised $10,000, which was matched by both the Medical Staff treasury and Passavant Hospital Foundation. The free meals, catered by Giant Eagle, will be offered on designated days, and will be on-going. “We do it to show our appreciation, and we’ll continue to do it until the money runs out,” Dr. Kim said.

While Dr. Kim’s typical work day is 15 hours long and runs the gamut from seeing patients for routine office visits to treating critical and emergency cases in the ICU, she still finds time to serve on the Board of Directors for the Passavant Hospital Foundation and volunteer for other causes.

Some of her favorite projects involve pre-teenage youth. “A lot of philanthropies are geared toward adults or young kids, but helping teens and tweens means a lot to me because the way they’re treated now could affect their lives later on,” she said.

She sponsors two children at MHY Family Services (formerly known as the Mars Home for Youth) through her church and regularly donates new toys and personal hygiene items to the organization through Passavant Hospital Foundation. She also donates items to the McCandless Police Department’s toy drive.

Kiran Mehta, MD, FACRO, FACR, treats between 30 and 45 patients each and every day as a radiation oncologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Passavant. She typically reaches dozens more people through the free seminars and workshops she presents in partnership with Passavant Hospital Foundation. And, in another partnership with the Foundation, she volunteers at a Celebration of Survivorship event, which is held annually at the hospital and attended by up to 700 cancer patients and their families each year. It consists of dinner, live music, basket raffles, keynote speakers, breakout sessions and an opportunity for attendees to share their stories, tears, laughter, love and encouragement for one another.

“It takes a year to plan the event. The nurses and support staff run it. I get to do the fun stuff — meet and greet, serve food, play games. It means a lot to the patients to see their doctors outside the office. The whole event is very uplifting for them,” Dr. Mehta said.

A medical oncologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Passavant and chief of the Hematology-Oncology Division, Kiran Rajasenan, MD, is humble when it comes to discussing his philanthropic contributions to society. He and his wife have established multiple scholarships to help alleviate some of the financial burden for students pursuing careers in health sciences. Dr. Rajasenan also spent many holiday seasons — from the time he was in medical school until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 — poised in front of a Salvation Army kettle, ringing a bell and encouraging people to donate money to help feed, clothe, house, uplift, relieve and support those in need within the community.

Yet, he is quick to point out the good works being performed by Passavant Hospital Foundation’s Patient Assistance Fund and Cancer Care Fund, which provide patients with monetary assistance to help them pay for basic needs during treatment, such as medicine, housing and food. “These funds have really helped my patients, and all I have to do is ask the Foundation for it. That’s what makes it so easy for me to support them,” he said.

Dr. Rajasenan and his wife frequently participate in Foundation fundraisers. In fact, they once opened their home to host a charity poker game for 50 doctors and their spouses as a way to raise money for the Foundation. “We have a freakishly large garage and a nice backyard for hosting such events,” Dr. Rajasenan explained.

He encourages everyone to think about what organizations they support and consider adding Passavant Hospital Foundation to their list.

“The Foundation truly helps the people in our community in so many ways,” he said. “They help educate people on relevant health issues, they assist cancer survivors, they increased awareness for preventative screenings, they offer support groups and patient assistance in general. It’s a one-stop shop and impacts so many areas.”

One particularly timely way people can donate to Passavant Hospital Foundation is to recognize National Doctor’s Day on March 30 as a way to thank physicians for their tireless service to others.

“Showing appreciation to your doctor — or any physician — on National Doctor’s Day can be as simple as jotting a note of thanks or honoring them with a gift to Passavant Hospital Foundation that will help fund projects that can ultimately help physicians improve or enhance the patient experience at the hospital,” Anthony R. Savannah said.

“I feel people have lost a lot of respect for doctors over the course of the pandemic,” Dr. Kim said. “We had to tell people things they didn’t want to hear. Patients believed things that weren’t true, and we couldn’t reach them. Doctors were, and are, burning out at an accelerated rate. We’re exhausted. So having this recognition is helpful. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way.”

 


Andrew Whitco, 8, and his mother, Emily, presented North Hills Community Outreach Executive Director Tom Baker with a donation of $2,450.

Elementary-school project provides lesson in giving

When Andrew Whitco’s second-grade teacher at Scott Primary School in Shaler assigned students a project in entrepreneurship, Andrew had visions of starting a business and raising enough money to buy himself a dirt bike.

He set up a makeshift table at a busy intersection in his neighborhood and sold cups of hot chocolate and apple cider.

He purchased the cider at a discount from Soergel Orchards in Wexford, bought to-go cups and thermal sleeves from Amazon, crafted signage to advertise his product, and rented space at the edge of a neighbor’s yard directly in front of the stop sign (which he paid for with a free cup of cider). He priced the beverages at $1 per cup and planned to keep 90% of the profits for his dirt bike. He would donate the remaining 10% to the North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO) food bank. 

Within the first 90 minutes, Andrew’s sales reached $90.

“People were so generous,” said his mom, Emily Whitco, MSN, CRNA, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at UPMC Passavant. “So many people who were driving by or walking their dogs stopped to buy. They’d hand Andrew a $5 or $20 bill and tell him to keep the change.”

Andrew, 8, sold cider at the intersection once or twice a week for four weeks following Halloween. By the end of the month, he had raised $300. He set aside $30 of it to donate. Then it began to grow exponentially.

As friends and neighbors found out he was donating the money to NHCO, they matched it, raising his contribution to $225. Then, that $225 was separately matched by Tom Kramer, MD, of Greater Pittsburgh Orthopaedic Associates and two doctors at UPMC Passavant –– Wende Goncz, DO, MMM, and Christopher Hodge, MD.

Andrew’s family chipped in another $325 to increase his donation to $1,225. When Andrew’s story reached Passavant Hospital Foundation, the Foundation generously matched his donation, bringing his grand total to $2,450. “Andrew sparked a wave of goodwill among the community, and we were happy to be a part of it,” said Foundation President Anthony R. Savannah.

NHCO Executive Director Tom Baker agreed. “Andrew’s generosity led to changing the lives of our neighbors. His efforts show the incredible things that young people can do to be difference makers,” he said.

While Andrew was happy to raise all that money for a good cause, he, admittedly, was somewhat disappointed to fall short of raising enough to buy a dirt bike.

“No, no, all is good,” his mom says. “His hard work was noticed by Santa and it must have gotten him bumped up to Santa’s ‘Good List’ because he woke up to find a new dirt bike under the Christmas tree!” 

 


Purse & Tool Bash raised over $23,000 for Foundation

Nearly 200 participants virtually browsed through a variety of power tools and designer purses via Facebook Live and Microsoft Teams during Passavant Hospital Foundation’s 2nd Annual Purse & Tool Bash on Saturday, October 16, 2021.

UPMC Passavant physicians, hospital staff, and community members donated all the items, worth more than $8,000. Items included a Coach Prairie satchel, Kate Spade backpack, Furla Eve drawstring bag, Greenworks pressure washer, Craftsman reciprocating saw, Husqvarna chainsaw, DeWalt hammer drill, DeWalt miter saw, and more.

Over $20,000 was netted to benefit the Foundation’s Cancer Care Fund, which supports patients at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Passavant by helping them offset costs associated with medication, food, transportation, and end-of-life care.

The next Purse and Tool Bash will be held on Saturday, October 15, 2022, via Facebook Live and Microsoft Teams. For details, go to PassavantHospitalFoundation.org


Passavant Hospital Foundation to offer free health and wellness education programs for the public

Passavant Hospital Foundation is partnering with CCAC North Campus to provide a variety of health and wellness education programs for the public. Each features physicians, clinicians, researchers and other experts on the specific topic. All programs are free, but registration is required by calling 412-788-7546.

Save Your Shoulder: Surgical and Nonsurgical Treatments for Shoulder Pain

Tuesday, March 8, 2022 • 6:30 – 8:30 PM • CCAC North Campus
John M. Richmond, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers who was Fellowship-trained in Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery, will present the latest information on common shoulder conditions and injuries, non-surgical treatments and surgical advancements. There will also be an opportunity for questions and answers following the presentation.

Stop the Bleed

Tuesday, April 12, 2022 • 6:30 – 8:30 PM • CCAC North Campus
Join Megan Tomaino, PA-C, MPAS, UPMC Passavant Department of Anesthesia, PACU/APS, as she teaches basic bleeding control and tourniquet application to improve survival after trauma and prevent hemorrhagic death.


Passavant Hospital Auxiliary’s “Lights of Love” Tree captured the spirit of the season

In its 35th year, the “Lights of Love” Tree was displayed throughout December and lit on Friday, December 3, 2021 virtually on the Passavant Hospital Auxiliary Facebook page. Each light was designated in honor or in memory of someone, as was each dove ornament. Through donations of $5 per light or $10 per ornament, the Auxiliary was able to raise more than $2,200 for its mission and projects. Past donations have helped fund therapy equipment, valet parking for patients, and more.

Mark your calendars for these exciting upcoming events!

35th Annual Golf Outing — June 6, 2022
Enjoy a day of golf on Monday, June 6 at the pristine Treesdale Golf and Country Club course while helping the Foundation raise money for its mission!

4K & 8K Run/Walk — August 12, 2022
The 10th Annual 4K & 8K Run/Walk will be held in person on Friday, August 12 at the North Park Pool Loop and virtually throughout the entire month of August.

Legacy of Caring Gala — Sept. 22, 2022
This year’s celebration will be held on Thursday, September 22 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh–Cranberry.

Purse & Tool Bash — October 15, 2022
The Third Annual Purse & Tool Bash will be held virtually on Facebook Live and Microsoft Teams on Saturday, October 15. Be sure to join us to bid on a variety of power tools and designer purses, hand-bags and backpacks!

For more information on any of our upcoming events, call us at 412-748-6640.

Digestive Health Specialists, Closer to Home

UPMC’s broad range of regionally ranked gastrointestinal services in Pittsburgh’s northern communities offer local patients access to world-class care and top experts — without the need to travel into the city.  Healthy digestion is something we all take for granted — until something goes wrong.

Gastrointestinal (GI) woes can wreak havoc with your life, causing problems like heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.

At UPMC Passavant–McCandless, boardcertified gastroenterologists use the latest technology and procedures to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of digestive conditions — delivered in a special patient-centered suite designed for privacy and comfort.

Last year, more than 13,000 procedures were performed at the hospital’s GI Center — one of the busiest GI labs in western Pennsylvania. In 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked UPMC Passavant–McCandless second in the Pittsburgh region for gastroenterology and GI surgery. (The only area hospital ranking higher was UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.)

The UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center draws patients from throughout the tri-state region. With eight endoscopy and fluoroscopy procedure rooms, it is one of the largest GI labs in the Pittsburgh region. Designed for comfort and privacy, the center also features 26 private patient rooms for use pre-procedure and during recovery.

Gastroenterologists treat a wide range of digestive conditions, including colorectal cancer and disorders of the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, colon, pancreas, liver, and biliary tract.

Jan Ravi, MD, a gastroenterologist at UPMC Passavant and Gastroenterology Associates of Pittsburgh–UPMC, says it’s important not to ignore worrisome symptoms. For example, persistent heartburn can be a sign of Barrett’s esophagus — a condition that increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

“It’s essential to see a doctor for persistent symptoms to find out if the condition is harmless or serious. If it is serious, it’s best treated in the early stages when it is most treatable,” says Dr. Ravi.

Preventing Colon Cancer

One of the most powerful tools available for preventing cancer is the colonoscopy. It uses a small camera to examine the colon and is the most common GI procedure performed at UPMC Passavant–McCandless.

“When caught early, colon cancer is treatable,” says Michelle Victain, DO, a gastroenterologist at Associates in Gastroenterology– UPMC. “Screening enables us to remove polyps before they become cancerous.”

Colon cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. A colonoscopy detects polyps — abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. They are then removed during the procedure and tested. Some forms of colorectal cancer are slow growing, taking months to years to develop, she adds.

Dr. Victain recommends colonoscopy screening for everyone age 45 and older. Lowrisk patients should have a colonoscopy every 10 years and those who have polyps and other risk factors, like a family history of colon cancer, should have more frequent screenings.

Diagnosing Digestive Conditions and Disorders

As many as 70 million people in the United States have a digestive disorder. If your doctor suspects you have a digestive disorder, screenings and tests will ensure the most accurate diagnosis.

Meet Our GI Experts in Ross Township, Wexford, and Cranberry

Associates in Gastroenterology–UPMC – Michael L. Mlecko, MD James A. Pilla, DO Michelle S. Victain, DO Kayla Guntrum, CRNP Halie Banas, PA-C Nicole M. Bowan, PA-C – 5500 Brooktree Road, Suite 201, Wexford, PA 15090 724-933-1420
Gastroenterology Associates of Pittsburgh–UPMC – Frank J. Koziara, II, MD Andrew W. Thomas, MD Deepa Mani, PA-C Jan Ravi, MD Anna M. David, PA-C Kristen M. Zon, PA-C – 3285 Babcock Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15237 412-318-0075 1 St. Francis Way, Building 3, Suite 211 Cranberry Township, PA 16066 724-935-8452

Seven Reasons to See a GI Doctor

Everyone has heartburn or “tummy troubles” from time to time. But if your abnormal GI symptoms are becoming your new normal, it’s time to see a doctor. Some digestive problems can become chronic, while others may last only a short time. Seeing a professional can help minimize your condition and speed your recovery.

Here are seven signs of possible problems a GI doctor should evaluate:

1. A change in bowel habits

2. Abdominal pain

3. Acid reflux or heartburn

4. Difficulty swallowing

5. Nausea or vomiting

6. Persistent diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating

7. Unintentional weight loss

“No symptom should be ignored. Talk to your doctor first about your symptoms,” says Dr. Victain.

At UPMC Passavant–McCandless, gastroenterologists perform a full range of GI procedures. They include colonoscopies and endoscopies and more complex endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). These advanced procedures require special training.

Dr. Ravi uses ERCP, which combines x-ray and endoscopy, to examine and treat problems affecting the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts.

Dr. Victain is one of the few doctors in western Pennsylvania with advanced training in endoscopic ultrasound. This minimally invasive outpatient procedure allows her to diagnose GI tract malignancies and other pancreaticobiliary or GI disorders without major surgery. It combines endoscopy and ultrasound to create detailed images of the digestive tract and surrounding organs and tissues.

Other advanced diagnostic and treatment capabilities available at the GI Center include:

• BARRX procedure to destroy pre-cancerous cells in the esophagus with radio frequency ablation

GI Services at UPMC Passavant

A comprehensive range of screening, diagnostic testing, and treatment services are offered at UPMC Passavant’s GI Center, including:

• BARRX ® procedure

• Bravo TM esophageal pH test

• Breath tests

• Colonic stenting

• Colonoscopy

• Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

• Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

• Endoscopy

• Esophageal and colon dilation

• Esophageal manometry

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy

• Ileoscopy

• Peg tube placement

• Single balloon enteroscopy

• Bravo esophageal pH test to check for and treat acid reflux disease

• Single balloon enteroscopy to inspect the small bowel

A Collaborative Approach

Many GI conditions can be treated with medicine or a minimally invasive procedure. If patients do need surgery, UPMC Passavant–McCandless gastroenterologists work closely with the hospital’s colorectal and general surgeons. They also work with specialists at the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center to ensure patients receive the care they need.

“We work as a team — it’s all collaborative,” says Dr. Ravi. “We all work together to provide the best care for patients.”

Michael Mlecko, MD, a gastroenterologist at UPMC Passavant and Associates in Gastroenterology–UPMC, says they work closely with the hospital’s general surgeons when patients need surgery for gallbladder and pancreatic diseases. He adds that they even work closely with UPMC Passavant thoracic surgeons. “They help us with our patients who have intractable heartburn and esophageal tumors,” he says.

David Medich, MD, chief of UPMC colorectal surgery, says patients benefit from having exemplary GI doctors. He relies on the information they provide to plan and perform precise surgery.

David Medich, MD, chief of UPMC colorectal surgery

“Great patient care happens at UPMC Passavant–McCandless and the GI team is every bit a part of that,” says

Dr. Medich. “As someone who shares care for a lot of patients with them, I can honestly say I trust them. They are highly qualified, skilled, and compassionate doctors and I’m proud to work with them.” Learn more at UPMCPassavant.com/GI. 

The information in this article was provided by UPMC.

BARRX® is a trademark of Medtronic. Bravo™ is a trademark of BreviTest Technologies, LLC.

Beating Cancer with Surveillance Colonoscopies

Ken Senatore gets emotional when he talks about his team of doctors at UPMC Passavant–McCandless. He’s been a patient of Dr. Ravi since 1998. That’s when he was diagnosed at age 36 with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes irritation and ulcers in the large intestine.

Other than a couple of flareups, a low-dose maintenance drug kept Ken’s disease in check for the next two decades. Because patients with ulcerative colitis have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, Dr. Ravi recommended regular colonoscopies. Ken initially went to the UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center every three or four years for a colonoscopy. He began having annual colonoscopies once he hit the 15- year mark.

All were uneventful until December 2018. “Dr. Ravi found a suspicious lesion during a routine colonoscopy. A biopsy confirmed it was cancerous,” says Ken, now 59, who works as a risk manager.

Dr. Ravi referred the Franklin Park resident to Dr. Medich, a colorectal surgeon at UPMC, who specializes in the care of patients with rectal cancer and ulcerative colitis. Ken was relieved to learn Dr. Medich could remove the cancer without removing his entire colon, which would have required drastic lifestyle changes.

In mid-January 2019, Dr. Medich performed a right colectomy, removing about half of Ken’s colon during the surgery at UPMC Passavant–Mc- Candless. Ken also underwent a brief round of chemotherapy as an “insurance policy” to kill off any remaining cancer cells.

“It was an aggressive cancer that was successfully removed. I’m cancer-free after three years and doing fine,” says Ken. Following his doctors’ advice, he started exercising. Ken’s current routine includes walking at least two miles daily and running three to four days a week.

“My doctors were fantastic. I’m very fortunate that Dr. Ravi was so adamant about the need for regular colonoscopies to watch for and identify the cancer. And Dr. Medich was a godsend,” says Ken. “My life would be so different now without the care they gave me.”

Ken says he appreciates having the UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center so close to home and with ample parking. He also praises the staff for always making him feel so comfortable during his colonoscopies.

“I can’t say enough about the care I’ve received during my colonoscopies and my surgery. Everyone was phenomenal,” he says.