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I think this was the best choice for Kaylee. She just flourished under the care she received from Dr. Zhang and all the therapists and everyone who was part of her treatment.
— Risa Teate (Kaylee's Mother)
I feel like the people care at Broward Health, and that's what matters when you are facing a health challenge and don't know what's going to happen, just feeling like someone cares about you makes all the difference.
— Debbie Eldredge
I wanted to go into nursing so that when I was at work, I would think to myself, ‘I was in that bed,’ because I was a patient for so long, I knew I could relate to our patients and help make a difference.
— Dana Tabib
She’s our angel doctor, she's literally the reason why we have two healthy babies.
— Gabby West
Risa Teate calls her 25-year-old daughter Kaylee Gallegos her bestie.
The mother and daughter live together in Coconut Creek. Kaylee, who has Down syndrome, is a happy and loving companion who likes singing, dancing, reading, fashion, and arts and crafts. She also loves playing with reborn baby dolls and shopping.
In October of 2022, Risa became concerned about the impact her daughter’s weight was having on her health. Kaylee was overweight, borderline diabetic and had no energy. She even had trouble walking up the 16 steps to reach the family’s apartment.
Risa, who had bariatric surgery several years previously, wanted to see if Kaylee could experience the same benefits that she did.
While Down syndrome and mental delays are not by themselves restrictions for bariatric surgery when patients have the proper support system, several doctors declined to take Kaylee as a patient.
Then, after a friend recommended Broward Health Imperial Point, the duo met Chi Zhang, M.D., a bariatric surgeon with the Broward Health Physician Group. “Kaylee was a unique patient for our program,” said Dr. Zhang. “While prior programs viewed her Down syndrome as a barrier to bariatric surgery, we did not feel that should exclude her from the health benefits of bariatric surgery. Kaylee underwent psychosocial evaluation and demonstrated high functional understanding of bariatric surgery, and her family support was capable of meeting her post-operative needs. She has done fantastic after her surgery and we look forward to her continued improvement in health.”
Kaylee and her mom went through the hospital’s standard bariatric surgery program with some additional requirements before Kaylee was cleared for surgery. Dr. Zhang performed a successful robotic gastric sleeve surgery on Kaylee at Broward Health Imperial Point in March 2023.
“Broward Health has been amazing. Dr. Zhang and the whole staff were just amazing, they met us with open arms,” said Risa. “They walked us through everything there. It's been outrageously wonderful.”
Since her surgery, Kaylee has been compliant with the program, going to the gym regularly and watching what she eats, enabling her to lose 60 pounds in nine months. Risa says since the surgery, her daughter looks good, feels good and has more energy than she ever had.
“Kaylee loves the gym. She'd stay there all day. We usually go for about two hours every day or every other day, and she works out well. She does all her reps on her weights and she knows her machines,” said Risa. “She hasn't had any kind of a problem.”
“I think this was the best choice for Kaylee. She just flourished under the care she received from Dr. Zhang and all the therapists and everyone who was part of her treatment,” said Risa. “Her dietician Emilio Pena has been there for us to answer any questions all along the way. I feel very blessed to be able to have gone through this journey with her.”
When asked about her experience with Dr. Zhang, Kaylee says, “I love Dr. Zhang. He changed my whole life.”Learn More About Bariatric Surgery
Broward Health employee Debbie Eldredge is known for her positive energy.
The picture of good health, you might never guess that in recent years she’s overcome not one major health challenge but two. The first was a weight loss journey that began in 2015, in which she lost more than half her body weight, going from 300 to 118 pounds just from exercising and eating healthy.
Living a healthy lifestyle became a passion of hers, but in 2020, she wasn’t exercising as much and her weight shot up. She went to see her primary care doctor, Avinash Persad, D.O. with the Broward Health Physician Group, who became an accountability coach for her.
Over the next couple of years, Debbie got back down to her goal weight range and was feeling good when she experienced a sudden weight gain and loss. She went to see Dr. Persad, who noticed her bloodwork was off. That led to an ultrasound, then a biopsy, and finally, a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.
The thyroid is a gland located in the throat that produces hormones and regulates metabolism. Thyroid cancer is curable and has a high survival rate when caught early before it has spread to other parts of the body.
“When I got the diagnosis, I was shocked because I thought I was back at my top health,” said Debbie. “And I was scared because other than a C-section, I had never had surgery or been in a hospital. But I had a wonderful team working together and advocating for me.”
Her team of doctors included Dr. Persad, her surgeon, Ryan Sobel, M.D., the Director of Head and Neck Cancer Surgery at Broward Health Medical Center, and her endocrinologist Elys Perez, M.D., who are also both with Broward Health Physician Group. They determined surgery was the best option for her.
“Thyroid cancer is extremely common in our community, and, as in Debbie’s case, the diagnosis can be unexpected and traumatic for patients,” said Dr. Sobel. “Thyroid cancer is very treatable, but it does require surgery to remove the thyroid gland and sometimes lymph nodes in the area.”
“Discussing treatment for any cancer should be a detailed conversation, addressing all patient concerns so they feel comfortable and understand each aspect of their care,” added Dr. Sobel. “In that way, we can function like partners. Debbie’s surgery and her recovery went very smoothly.”
In addition to her medical team, Debbie is grateful for the support she received from her adult children, who helped her stay positive and strong. Her daughter put her busy life on hold for 10 days to be with her before, during and after surgery, and she was in constant contact with her son, who lives in England.
After her successful surgery at Broward Health Medical Center, it was difficult for Eldredge not to be able to exercise every day because her mental and physical fitness were so important to her happiness. After Dr. Sobel was able to take her drain out, she was doing so well and so eager to return to activities that he let her go back to work and she slowly started exercising again.
“As I recovered, I got my energy back and I felt amazing,” said Debbie. “I feel like I went through the hardest time that I could have possibly gone through and now I’m so much stronger.”
Debbie says she felt blessed because she had a team that cared about her, and she would not have wanted to be anywhere else.
“I feel like the people care at Broward Health, and that's what matters when you are facing a health challenge and don't know what's going to happen, just feeling like someone cares about you makes all the difference,” said Debbie.
“I hope my story encourages people who have already overcome a health challenge to continue getting regular checkups and to be aware of their bodies,” said Debbie. “I also want people to know that overcoming a diagnosis like cancer and returning to an amazing state of health is possible.”Learn More About Cancer Care
A Childhood Cancer Survivor Finds Her Calling in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nursing
Although Dana Tabib's cancer diagnosis at age seven drastically altered her childhood and challenged her family, it has made her a more compassionate and insightful nurse - and a walking reminder of the resilience and hope of survivorship.
As a nurse manager in pediatric hematology-oncology at Broward Health Medical Center, Dana has devoted her nursing career to helping children facing cancer and other blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia. “I wanted to go into nursing so that when I was at work, I would think to myself, ‘I was in that bed,’” Dana said. “Because I was a patient for so long, I knew I could relate to our patients and help make a difference.” Dana was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the deadliest blood cancers according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, in April 1979. After undergoing initial treatment near her home in Indianapolis, Dana got a grim prognosis and learned a bone marrow transplant was her only option.
“Doctors told my mom that there were no other treatments available, and if we stayed in Indianapolis, I would pass away,” said Dana, adding that there were no clinical trials. “Even with the bone marrow transplant, they told us that I had only a 13 percent chance of survival.” At that time, there were only four hospitals in the United States doing pediatric bone marrow transplants, so her family traveled across the county to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.
A bone marrow transplant replaces unhealthy blood-forming cells (blood stem cells) with healthy ones from a donor. The donor’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA), a protein found on most cells in the body, must match or closely match that of the patient. The body’s immune system uses HLA to determine which cells belong in the body and which do not, which explains why the HLA must match to prevent the body from fighting off the donated cells.
Dana, who is the youngest in a large family, was fortunate to have two siblings who were a match to donate bone marrow. Her 14-year-old sister was her bone marrow donor, her 16-year-old brother was her platelet donor, and her mom was her white blood cell donor.
September 17th marks 44 years since Dana underwent the bone marrow transplant that saved her life. “I don’t often talk about it because I want the focus to be on our patients,” Dana said. However, her childhood experience has shaped her career in many ways.
Paying it forward
Dana initially thought she wanted to be a teacher because of the influence of a cousin who tutored her after she missed all of second grade and nearly all of third grade due to her cancer treatment. She studied education and planned for a teaching career, but when she had the unexpected blessing of becoming a mom, she decided to stay home with her children, who are now 29, 26 and 19 years old. Doctors had told Dana she would never be able to get pregnant due to her many rigorous medical treatments.
When her youngest child went to preschool, she was determined to start a new career. “My mom was always talking about how I needed to pay it forward after having had cancer,” said Dana, whose mom recently turned 80. “Whenever there was a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society event, she ‘voluntold’ me to participate.” Those words stuck with Dana, and she felt called to nursing. She went back to school, and she landed a job as a staff nurse in the pediatric hematology-oncology department at Broward Health Medical Center. She eventually got promoted to be an assistant nurse manager and then a nurse manager.
Dana has been at Broward Health Medical Center for 13 years and loves her job. “I try to embrace servant leadership in nursing, so I can’t ask my team to do something that I am not willing to do myself,” said Dana, adding that they have an amazing team of nurses. “It keeps me grounded.” She also lives and works with the perspective of a cancer survivor. Of the experimental group of 20 children who received a bone marrow transplant during her time in Seattle, there are only two who survived. Dana keeps in touch with her fellow survivor.
“We were quite isolated from the rest of the world, and we formed some special bonds,” Dana said. She has also stayed in contact with her favorite nurse (who still works at the same hospital in Seattle) and her pediatric oncologist, Dr. Thomas Coates, who now works at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.
Caring for the whole child and the whole family
In her role at Broward Health Medical Center, Dana also works with the hospital’s palliative care team and childlife specialists to help children and their families cope with cancer. “It’s not just one physician or one nurse who helps a child – it’s the whole team,” she said. “A child may benefit tremendously from childlife specialists, art, dance, music or a therapy dog.” During her cancer treatment in the late 1970s, there wasn’t a defined role for childlife specialists, but there was a memorable nurse named Pam, who spent time with Dana and the other children. “She would bring in dolls and use them to explain how the procedures worked,” Dana said. “She had such a special ability to communicate with us as kids.”
Dana also vividly remembers that she wasn’t an easy-going cancer patient. “I really was not a nice patient,” Dana admitted. “I wasn’t friendly, and when I didn’t feel well and didn’t want to be woken up, I took it out on my nurses.” Decades later, Dana finds herself very drawn to pediatric patients with that demeanor. “Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them and let them release their anger and frustration,” Dana said. “The majority of our patients feel like they have to be strong for their parents, and that is such a heavy burden for a child to carry.”
Dana is also aware of the weight on parents’ shoulders. “My mom was a single mom with a big family,” Dana said. “I was extremely lucky that she was incredibly strong, but she was also very honest with me about how hard it was when I was sick.” Her mom worked as an insurance agent in Indiana when Dana was first diagnosed, but she had to stop working when they traveled to Seattle to spend four months there for Dana’s bone marrow transplant. She found a creative way to help support her family while they were living in the hospital’s apartment. “My mom brought her sewing machine, and she started doing seamstress work for the nurses at the hospital,” Dana recalls. “She made some beautiful wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses.”
Dana helped create a program to support parents at Broward Health Medical Center after seeing a mom who was so exhausted from always being at her child’s bedside, that she was losing her hair and her health was suffering. “Cup of Comfort” is held once a week to provide support and connection for parents who have children with cancer. She also pays attention to a sick child’s siblings, as she remembers her brothers and sisters coming to visit and taking turns sleeping on a cot beside her. “I love our patients so much, but I also have a real soft spot for their siblings,” she said. “It’s not only traumatic for the child who is diagnosed but also for their siblings.”
Sharing her perspective with nurses
Broward Health Medical Center is a teaching hospital, and on a recent Tuesday morning, Dana was fielding questions from students during rounds. She works to guide them academically and professionally. “You need to have that passion to be a nurse, and you need to have an extra passion to be a pediatric hem-onc nurse,” she said. “We meet our patients and families when they are raw from just being told they have cancer or sickle cell disease and their lives are turned upside down, and we are there for them.”
Some pediatric hem-onc nurses struggle emotionally at first, but Dana says they usually come to an understanding.
“Something just sort of clicks, and you realize, ‘I have my 12-hour shifts to make a difference in this child’s life,’ and that’s a profound moment,” said Dana, adding that their work puts their own lives into perspective. Reflecting on her unusual path, Dana’s heart is full, but she says there is a lot that she wishes the world knew about childhood cancer. “Even though they are our most vulnerable patients, they are absolute warriors, and they have the capacity to persevere through things we can’t even imagine,” Dana said. “They have a strength and a spirit that is truly unknown.”Learn More about Cancer Care
Managing A High-Risk Pregnancy With Broward Health
Getting pregnant after age 35 may be more challenging, especially if you have a preexisting condition like Gaby West, who has Type 1 diabetes. This means she is insulin-dependent, as her pancreas does not produce insulin. Like many women nowadays, West also wanted to ensure she was well-established in her career before starting a family.
West knew that uncontrolled blood sugar levels could be detrimental to a baby, so when she wanted to expand her family, she did her research to identify a doctor to provide personalized perinatal care and monitor her high-risk pregnancy. She found Sasha Davidson, M.D., who is double board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Maternal Fetal Medicine and is affiliated with Broward Health Medical Center, who managed her pregnancies and delivered both of her babies.
“She’s our angel doctor, she's literally the reason why we have two healthy babies,” West said.
According to Dr. Davidsion, it is crucial to carefully manage the blood sugar levels of a diabetic pregnant mom. If an expectant mother’s blood sugar is poorly controlled, it may lead to complications in the pregnancy such as large birth weight or poor lung development which can lead to breathing difficulties in the newborn.
“It’s also more common for diabetic women to deliver their babies pre-term or even experience a stillbirth,” Dr. Davidson said. “My goal was to reduce Gaby’s risk and ensure a good outcome.”
West was 35 weeks pregnant with her second child when she felt something wasn’t right. “It was 2:00 a.m. and the baby stopped moving,” West recalls.
She contacted Dr. Davidson right away and by the time Gaby arrived at the hospital Dr. Davidson was ready with a plan. Her operating room included a team from the NICU, respiratory therapists, among other specialists. West gave birth to her baby boy, Charles Xavier, who weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces at Broward Health’s flagship hospital, which operates a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. West is well acquainted with the hospital, as she serves as the Vice President of Broward Health International.
Chavi, as his family calls him, had a series of complications that prompted the doctors to admit him to the NICU.
“His lungs didn’t finish developing, so he had trouble breathing,” said Johny Tryzmel, medical director of the NICU at Broward Health Medical Center. “We also had Chavi under Light Therapy (Phototherapy) to help lower his bilirubin levels.”
According to Dr. Tryzmel, such complicatios are not uncommon in babies admitted to the NICU. “We have evidence-based protocols to control every intervention to help ensure the best care for the baby.”
“I remember the first time I saw Dr. Tryzmel walk into the room, I just started crying,” West recalls. “I had worked with the NICU team for over a decade, but becoming their patient was one of the most humbling experiences.”
Chavi also had a feeding tube as he had trouble eating and swallowing. “My baby spent 20 long days in the NICU, it was rough, but the staff was magical,” West said.
While the NICU has 70 private rooms that offer parents the opportunity to stay overnight with their newborns, Chavi's parents were unable to do so because they had a 2-year-old daughter at home who needed their care and attention.
Chavi’s parents would often watch him through the innovative camera system placed above his bed at the hospital. This technology allowed them to see their baby live.
“When I would come in the mornings, I felt like everybody was rooting for us and that is just beautiful,” West said. “The staff at Broward Health are a gift to our community.”
Chavi and his family created such a special bond with the hospital staff, that he came back to the hospital for a special reunion after he turned one. The nurses and staff were delighted to see how much he had grown.
West looks back on her experience and wonders, “As a woman in today’s world, can you have it all? Can you have a career and have a healthy family, even with a preexisting condition that heightens the risk of complications?” The answer she says is “A resounding yes! With the team at Broward Health Medical Center and a talented physician such as Dr. Davidson, one can certainly have it all!”Learn More about Maternity Care