Emotional Support Animals: When Your Pet Is More Than Just a Pet 

Maura’s daughter Sloane and their dog Max

 Our pets are often considered part of our family; we take care of them, and, in turn, they provide us with unconditional love, affection and enjoyment. However, what many may not have considered is how much our pets can contribute to our overall mental wellbeing. While nearly everyone is familiar with service dogs and what they do for their owners, a new trend is emerging in recognizing the benefits of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).  

 An ESA, which is commonly a dog or cat, can be utilized in a few different environments. While a service animal can accompany their owner just about everywhere, ESAs are commonly beneficial in residential environments. Examples of this may include nursing/personal care facilities, rental homes/apartments and university housing. Due to property and facility owner’s rental agreements, an evaluation for an ESA is often needed to enable the individual to possess one. 

 How might I benefit from having an ESA? 

 Research has often shown that the presence of our pets—petting them, walking and/or playing with them—can cause a reduction in stress and anxiety levels. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or panic attacks, an ESA can be a beneficial addition to your overall wellness or treatment plan. Many individuals have reported a reduction in overall anxiety levels, as well as their ESAs reducing incidents and severity of panic episodes. The caring for a pet also encourages regular exercise/time outdoors, provides companionship and a sense of purpose in meeting their needs. However, many find it difficult to find rental housing that accepts pets, as well as leaving one behind to attend college. An evaluation and certification of the need for an ESA can make having one in these settings a possibility. 

 How can I obtain an evaluation for an ESA? 

 Contacting a licensed mental health care provider is going to be your first step. They will conduct a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, mental health history and evaluate how an ESA may assist in managing your condition(s). Once this is completed, they will determine your need for an ESA, and if approved, provide you with the documentation necessary for the requesting entity. Responsible pet ownership, respecting property and accommodating roommates is also often discussed. At Cranberry Psychological Center, we are able to conduct these evaluations and return them to you generally within one week of the evaluation. Evaluations can be done in person or virtually.  

In conclusion, considering how an ESA may complement your treatment or wellness plan is a discussion to have with your health care provider. It is not meant to replace other treatment methods that you may be doing, but rather to enhance your overall wellness. 

Maura L. Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker currently in practice at Cranberry Psychological Center. She is a certified perinatal mental health provider, as well as a contributing staff member with Postpartum Support International. While her primary focus is treating PMADs, she also treats a variety of conditions and clients of all ages. She resides in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Brendan, daughter, Sloane, and dog, Max. Questions or ideas for future articles? Email at mauralbrown@gmail.com


Health Care Guide

Pittsburgh is lucky to have amazing, top-rated, health care facilities and professionals in our back yard. Read more about them in this month’s Health Care Guide.  CLICK HERE to read NC’s Health Care Issue.

AHN Bariatric and Metabolic Institute Comes to Wexford Hospital

Obesity is a serious health problem, and until recently you had to travel to West Penn or Allegheny General Hospitals for treatment. Allegheny Health Network’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute is adding a new location to provide care closer to your home at AHN Wexford Hospital.

“Obesity is a complex disease, and it affects the health from head to toe,” said George M. Eid, MD and Chair of the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. “We are happy to offer our excellent medical and surgical treatments to help you lose weight and take control of your health now in the North Hills,” said Dr. Eid.

To properly treat obesity, a team of health professionals is needed and AHN’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute includes board-certified bariatric surgeons, who have many years of experience with complex procedures; endocrinologists; obesity medicine specialists; and dietitians, who specialize in helping people reach their weight and health goals, psychologists and other supportive care team members.

“At the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, we are helping more people each year to reach and maintain their weight-loss surgery goals. Our experience and our ongoing research in bariatric surgery, obesity research, internal medicine, behavioral science and related fields help us provide the very best care in bariatric surgery,” said Dr. Eid.

The institute’s research has shown that bariatric surgery has many benefits in addition to the weight loss—from resolving diabetes, migraines, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, GERD and mortality. In fact, 95% of bariatric patients say that the surgery has improved their quality of life. “Unfortunately, we also have learned that those who are obese face a greater risk when contracting COVID-19,” said Dr. Eid, “making that another reason for you to take control of your weight.”

The good news is that the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute has a nationally recognized reputation for delivering positive outcomes in bariatric surgery. Two types of surgery are offered at the Wexford Hospital: gastric bypass and gastric sleeve surgery.

Shaun Burke, AHN Bariatric Surgery Patient

During gastric bypass, a bariatric surgeon staples off part of the stomach, reducing its size to roughly 1 ounce and then divides the small intestine, attaching the bottom end of the small intestine to the newly created small stomach pouch and then connects the top portion of the divided small intestine to the small intestine further down, allowing for optimal digestion. Gastric bypass helps you lose weight in several ways: A smaller stomach helps you eat less in one sitting, translating to fewer calories consumed. Also, since part of the small intestine is bypassed, fewer calories are absorbed during digestion. Rerouting food also affects gut hormones in ways that help you to make you feel full longer and improve blood sugar control.

During gastric sleeve surgery, a bariatric surgeon staples off a large section of the stomach, creating a tube-like pouch that

resembles the shape of a banana. The surgeon then removes that portion of the stomach tissue (called the fundus) from the body.

Sleeve gastrectomy helps you lose weight in two main ways: A smaller stomach helps you eat less in one sitting, translating to fewer calories consumed. Research has shown that this procedure has a positive impact on gut hormones, helping you feel full longer and improving blood sugar control.

Both surgeries are done inpatient at the hospital and usually warrant only an overnight stay. “The surgeries are either performed laparoscopically or robotically,” said Dr. Eid. “And we employ an expedited care program that helps you to recover faster, and which supports you as you adjust and lose weight.”

You may qualify for bariatric surgery if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 and one or more weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea or type 2 diabetes or if your BMI alone is 40 or above.

To learn more about our services and to take our weight-loss surgery quiz, visit ahn.org/weightloss 

By: Janice Lane Palko

Pump Up Your Lungs

Get ready for the Cold and Flu Season…and COVID 

Since breathing just happens without thinking about it, we can take it for granted.  You may not realize the importance of lung health until you have experienced a hard time breathing or get conditions such as, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or lung cancer.  Your lungs provide you oxygen as you breathe in, and, just as important, remove carbon dioxide from your body as you breathe out.  This is called gas exchange and is essential to life.  Genetics, disease and the environment can have a negative impact on your lung function, leading to respiratory conditions and a shorter lifespan. 

With the continuous threat of COVID, and the upcoming cold and flu season, now is a good time to get your lungs in good shape.  Below are some guidelines, exercises and foods that can help you on this journey toward lung health. 

Healthy lung guidelines: 

  • Remember to breathe deeply as much as you can 
  • Avoid exposure to pollutants, inside and outside 
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Move and stay active 
  • Pay attention to your posture 
  • Simply laugh 
  • Prevent infection  
  • Stay hydrated 
  • Get flu and COVID vaccine 

Exercising your lungs: 

As you walk up the stairs and get to the top, you will feel your breath becoming shallow and rapid. You have to either slow down or stop to catch your breath. Improving your lung function by better breathing increases oxygen to your muscles, including your muscles used for breathing.  

  1. Patterned breathing exercise can help you coordinate your inhales and exhales, for example, a 2-2 pattern: Breathe in, then step left, right; Breathe out, then step left, right; Breathe in.  
  1. Standing or sitting straight:  Breathe in, with palms facing out and up, raise your arms out and up, so that your palms are facing each other. Breathe out, then lower your arms back down to your sides. 

If you have trouble walking or losing your balance, there are exercises that you can do lying on your back. 

Nutrient-rich foods for your lungs: 

The right combinations of nutrients can help you breathe easier. Oxygen and the food you eat or drink become fuel for your body, producing energy, which we need and use, and carbon dioxide, which is a waste product that we exhale.  Carbohydrates produce the most carbon dioxide and fat produces the least. For some people with COPD, eating a diet with fewer carbohydrates and more fat helps them breathe easier. 

Nutritional Guidelines 

  • Choose complex carbohydrates and limit simple carbohydrates. 
  • Eat 20 to 30 grams of fiber each day 
  • Eat a good source of protein at least twice a day to help maintain strong respiratory muscles. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids.  

Studies have shown that foods rich in flavonoids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, certain vitamins and minerals, fiber, Omega 3, promote lung health. Below are some nutrient-rich foods that may support lung health: 

Vegetables. Beets, Peppers, Pumpkin, Red cabbage, Swiss chard 

Fruits. Apples, Pears, Tomato/Tomato-based products, Blueberries  

Others. Yogurt, Brazil nuts, Sardines, Barley, Lentils , Olive oil, Green tea, Turmeric, Dark Chocolate 

Keeping your lungs healthy is essential to feeling your best.  Be mindful of your exposure to environmental toxins and inflammatory foods. Studies have shown that a nutritious diet and lifestyle modification can have a positive impact on your lung health, even if you suffer from lung conditions, such as, asthma, COPD, and lung cancer. 

Let’s all breathe better, and make our lungs stronger to fight these viruses that are creeping into our neighborhoods. Yes, it’s time to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID. 

Now, take a deep breath, relax, and smile… 

Medicines Can Be Powerful Lifesavers, But Can Lead to Danger for Children 

By: Belinda Burchick, RPH, BPharm

Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines (non-prescription) can relieve symptoms, manage your health condition and even save your life. On the flip side, medicines can be deadly if ingested by children, especially if given in too high of a dosage or if taken unintentionally. As a result, about 50,000 U.S. children end up in the Emergency Room each year. 

Many common medicines, such as ones used for pain, heart and diabetes can have toxic effects. Even over-the-counter medications, such as vitamins, can be fatal to the very young.   

Below are some medication safety tips for anyone who may have children around:  

  • Store all medications on a high shelf, in a locked cabinet. Consider a lockable container. 
  • It is important to use medicine containers with safety caps and keep them out of reach of children.  Out of sight, out of mind. 
  • After taking medicines, immediately put back in safe storage.  
  • If a medication spills, clean the area immediately. If you drop a pill, do everything you can to locate lost pill. Vacuum or sweep the area. It is best to take medicine over a bowl or sink. 
  • Remind visitors such as, grandparents, friends, and babysitters, to keep coats and bags with them or up and out of reach of the children as they may contain medication. 

 A larger percentage of the Emergency Room visits are from giving too much dosage of a medication to a child. The dosage can be different for every child.  Consider their weight and age, and other medications they are taking.  Measure dose accurately for a child to prevent overdosage, and use a dosage syringe or dosage spoon, not a regular kitchen spoon.  Ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider about the correct dose for your child. 

When buying an over-the-counter medicine, look for the ingredients on the label, usually in small print, to make sure you are not doubling up. Acetaminophen can be alone and included in other cold and sinus remedies.  Also, read label for dosage based on age and weight. If minimum age is listed, and child is below this minimum age, please do not give medicine and consult your pharmacist or health care provider. 

 As a general rule, avoid giving child unnecessary medicines, such as, symptom relief medicines, unless child needs it or it is prescribed by their healthcare provider. 

  If child is unconscious, not breathing, or having convulsions or seizures due to possible poison contact or ingestion, call 911 

 If a child has come in contact with a poison and has mild or no symptoms, call the Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222, open 24/7. Poison Control is a government-funded service staffed by nurses or pharmacists who are specially trained to assist callers who have been potentially poisoned.  They will ask you the following questions: age of the patient, your relationship to the patient, presence of symptoms, name and strength of the product (read the label for ingredients), container size, amount of exposure, and contact information such as name, phone number and zip code of the patient. The specialist will guide you on whether it is appropriate to call 911, go to the hospital, or if there is a way to counteract the poisoning with an antidote or prevent it from getting worse. Poison Control centers manage calls regarding snake and insect bites, food poisoning, sun poisoning and accidental ingestion of medicines and any contact with potential poisons. 

 Medicine can help, if in the right hands and taken at the right dose.  Take caution.