Introducing Dr. Joseph R. Murphy at UM Community Medical Group – Gastroenterology

Photo of Dr. Joseph R. Murphy, Gastroenterologist

Gastroenterologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders of the digestive system. While many of these doctors can be found in Washington, D.C., University of Maryland (UM) Community Medical Group is proud to provide exceptional gastrointestinal care right here in Charles County.

Joining in this mission to ensure Southern Maryland always has access to high-quality health care services is Joseph R. Murphy, MD, who’s now serving our community at UM Community Medical Group – Gastroenterology in La Plata and Waldorf.

Treatments and Specialties

Dr. Murphy provides a wide variety of medical, surgical, and diagnostic services for all disorders and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. His specialties include:

  • Colon, pancreatic, and stomach cancers
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Barrett’s Esophagus
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Scheduling an Appointment

New patients are currently being accepted in both Waldorf and La Plata at the following locations:

11340 Pembrooke Square, Suite 203
Mondays and Fridays | 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

La Plata
100 North Oak Avenue
Tuesdays | 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

If you want to learn more or schedule an appointment, please call (301) 609-4276 or visit today. 

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Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Opioid Epidemic Prescription Graphic

For many people, addiction begins in the doctor’s office. University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) Opioid Stewardship Task Force was established in 2017 with this in mind. One of the task force’s top priorities is to educate physicians on how to responsibly prescribe opiates.

“We produce a monthly report that shows providers what medications they’re prescribing,” Christopher J. Welsh, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) and medical director of Outpatient Addiction Treatment Services said. ”If someone utilizes opiates more than their colleagues, we address their prescribing practices and work to cut down on their opiate prescribing.”

The task force has also created processes within the emergency department (ED) at both campuses to address opioid abuse.

“We screen all ED patients for their risk of opioid abuse disorder,” Janine L. Good, MD, associate professor of neurology at the UM SOM and chief medical officer at UMMC Midtown Campus, who established the task force, said. “If they come into the ED with an opioid overdose, we engage a trained ‘peer recovery coach’ to intervene and guide them to treatment. These are people in recovery themselves who engage with patients in the ED and, based on the patient’s risk, encourage them to enter a treatment program.”

The peer recovery program has seen great success. By December, UMMC’s campuses had referred 4,480 patients to treatment.

The pipeline from the ED to treatment engages patients when they need help the most. Unlike many other U.S. hospitals, UMMC’s doctors can prescribe buprenorphine in the ED. The task force also makes an effort to influence state policy.

“We are at the table advocating on behalf of the complex pain patients we treat at our hospitals and on behalf of our doctors caring for patients,” Dr. Good said.

Additionally, the task force collaborated with the Baltimore City Health Department’s formation of a ranking system to measure each hospital’s capability and resources to combat the opioid epidemic.  UMMC’s campuses are the only two hospitals in the city that were awarded top ranking.

“We are leaders in the state for dealing with opioids,” Dr. Welsh said.

A Medical Approach to Addiction

Maryland has one of the five highest opioid-related death rates in the United States. Despite this, the stigma surrounding addiction continues to be an obstacle to treatment.

“People are ashamed,” Eric Weintraub, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the division of addiction research and treatment at the UM SOM, said. “Sometimes they refuse evidence-based treatments because they are pressured by people in their lives to avoid taking medications that can help.”

Dr. Weintraub and Dr. Welsh PhotoPhoto: Dr. Weintraub and Dr. Welsh

To combat this stigma, UMMC offers addiction treatment centers that take a medical approach. A combination of counseling, detoxing or taking medications that curb opioid cravings helps patients recover.

“The medical model that we follow affords more respect for our patients’ medical issues and diminishes the stigma,” Marian Currens, CRNP, director of UM CAM, said.

Each clinic works to treat the entire patient, not just the addiction. Aside from counseling services, some clinics offer additional health services. One clinic partners with the Institute of Human Virology to treat infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, which are more common among people with an addiction disorder. They have recently expanded the practice to offer primary care services. They also established a drop-in center that provides a safe place for clients to relax with snacks and games.

Another UMMC clinic focuses on female patients and pregnant women with opioid use disorders.

“The clinic has a play center where women can leave their children while they’re in counseling. It removes a barrier to treatment,” Dr. Welsh said.

Fostering Awareness

Public awareness is essential for fighting the opioid epidemic. UMMC’s Community Health Improvement Team fulfills this need by circulating information about opioids at community events throughout West Baltimore.

“We have a handout that helps the general community understand the types of drugs that are out there, how they can identify if their loved one has an addiction problem and where they can go for help,” Anne D. Williams, DNP, director of community health improvement, said. “One of the main things people can do to get drugs off the street is to remove old medications from their homes and dispose of them appropriately.”

To facilitate this, the team provides information about drug take-back locations across Maryland. UMMC pharmacies have their own drug take-back bins.

“This problem has so many facets, and the community should take this seriously,” Williams said. “They should try to get themselves or their loved ones help. Dispose of your medications properly, and if you’re actively using pain medications, make sure they are locked up.”

“This is a deadly epidemic. It cuts across all segments of society,” Dr. Weintraub said.
We all need to pull together to combat this disease.”

UM Charles Regional Medical Center’s Response

Ever since Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act into law in 2017, University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center (UM CRMC) and the Charles County Department of Health have been partnering to reduce the opioid epidemic.

When patients experiencing an opioid overdose go to the emergency room, they have the opportunity to talk with a peer recovery specialist — someone who has been in their shoes but conquered their addiction.

“It’s very useful to have somebody that understands the issue of opiate addiction spend time with these patients after they go through an overdose. It’s a critical time to intervene,” Richard Ferraro, MD, chief of medical sta at UM CRMC and chairman and medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine, said.

Patients also receive a prescription for the opiate-reversing drug naloxone and instructions for using it. In addition, UM CRMC has focused on improving its approach to pain management and reducing prescriptions for opiates.

“Our providers follow strict opiate prescribing guidelines and explore alternatives to opiates when appropriate,” Debbie Shuck-Reynolds, MSN, nurse manager of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UM CRMC said. “Pain is real and we want to manage it, but we want to do it safely.”

These efforts are paying off. Opiate-related deaths in Charles County dropped from 36 in 2016 to 13 in 2018.

“There’s been a tremendous effort in combating this, and we’ve seen a drop in the number of overdoses,” Sara Haina, director of substance abuse services for Charles County, said.

If you or a family member is struggling with addiction, reach out, Shuck-Reynolds advised.

“We can get you the help you need,” she said.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one has an opioid addiction, please call:

  • UM Center for Addiction Medicine: 410-225-8240
  • UMMC’s Outpatient Addiction Treatment Services: 410-328-6600
  • UMMC’s Women’s Mental Health Program: 410-328-6091.

This story first appeared in the spring issue of Maryland’s Health Matters, the quarterly magazine of the University of Maryland Medical System and University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. To read the full story — and explore other regional editions — by visiting our website.

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What You Need to Know About COPD

COPD: What You Need to Know

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is something that affects millions of Americans — whether they know it or not. It’s one of the leading causes of death in our country, and it’s a serious condition that, without treatment, only gets worse over time.

Beyond the long-term health effects of COPD, this chronic condition can make it difficult for those who have it to live normal lives. That’s why it’s so important to get informed and learn more about this common yet preventable disease.

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic condition where the lungs are damaged and unable to function properly, which makes it difficult to breathe. There are actually two separate conditions that make up the disease known as COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Who Gets COPD?

It’s estimated that there are over 15 million people in the United States who have been diagnosed with COPD — but there are millions more who are living with undiagnosed COPD. And while anyone can develop this disease, the following statistics from the Chest Foundation highlight who is at higher risk to develop COPD:

  • Women are 37% more likely to develop COPD than men
  • Non-Hispanic white adults are at greatest risk
  • Chronic bronchitis and emphysema affects the 45-64 age group more than any other age group

What Are the Causes of COPD?

COPD occurs when a person’s lungs and/or airways become damaged, which makes it more difficult to breathe. The following are the most common causes of COPD:

Smoking – According to the American Lung Association, 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. This is because the chemicals and toxins in cigarettes weaken your lungs, narrow air passages, and cause air tubes to swell — all of which can lead to the development of COPD.

Environment – A person’s home, work, or everyday environment can be a major factor in whether or not they develop COPD. Air pollution, second-hand smoke, dust, etc., can all contribute to this.

Alpha-1 Deficiencies – Alpha-1 is a protein that is normally produced by a person’s body, but those with specific genetic conditions may be deficient in it. This protein plays an essential role in protecting the lungs, so these people are at a higher risk of developing a rare form of COPD.

If you’re worried that you may be on track to developing COPD, visit to learn more about how you can reduce your risk.

How is COPD Diagnosed and Treated?

Shortness of breath, frequent cough, frequent colds, fatigue, blue lips, and blue fingernails are all common COPD symptoms, and this disease is diagnosed with what is called a spirometry test. This involves blowing into a machine known as a spirometer, which calculates the amount of air you are able to blow out, to determine how well your lungs are working. You can learn more about spirometry tests at

Once diagnosed, there are a variety of treatment options available, depending on a person’s circumstances and the recommendations of their doctor. While there is no cure for COPD, treatment does exist to help those with COPD live more complete, fulfilling lives. Treatment options include:

If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, you probably have a lot of questions about your next steps. Watch this video from the team at University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center (UM CRMC), then talk with your doctor to determine the best treatment options for you.

Where Can You Get COPD Support and Treatment?

UM CRMC is proud to serve patients in Southern Maryland with its robust Cardiopulmonary Department. This specialized department is dedicated to actively treating and caring for patients with breathing disorders, including those with COPD.

In addition, we regularly host meetings of the Better Breathers Club — a patient-focused, community-based support group for members of the community who are dealing with COPD and other breathing disorders. Visit our Facebook page or call (301) 609-4391 today to learn more about the Better Breathers Club at UM CRMC.

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Get to Know Endocrinologist Juan Joanna Yu, MD

Dr. Yu Photo

Growing up in mainland China, Juan Joanna Yu, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Maryland Community Medical Group (UM CMG) – Diabetes and Endocrinology, always knew she would be a doctor. After attending medical school there, she came to the U.S. to study neuroscience.

But Dr. Yu’s plans took a turn when she was introduced to the field of endocrinology, which includes treating diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

“I felt like there was much more I could do for diabetes patients in terms of prevention and treatment,” Dr. Yu said. “Now, endocrinology is my passion.”

Before joining UM CMG (a partner of UM Charles Regional Medical Center), Dr. Yu received endocrinology training at the National Institutes of Health. She has also been recognized by the Consumers’ Research Council of America as one of America’s Top Physicians.

Dr. Yu is just as dedicated to interests outside of her practice, reserving evenings and weekends for other passions and activities, including photography classes and a book club. She also manages to squeeze in quality time with her husband, an allergist, and her daughter, an emergency room nurse.

“It all keeps me busy,” she said. “But it allows me to come back to work energized.”

Q&A with Dr. Yu

Her First Job:

“I spent three years working as a neurologist and helped stroke patients with rehab.”

What Inspired Her to Become a Doctor:

“My uncle was a physician, and it just seemed natural for me to become one, too.”

To Unwind After a Long Day:

“I try to practice what I preach. I play and teach tennis, take tai chi classes, and I run regularly. I also organize activities for the Centennial Park Slow Runners Club, a group of women cancer survivors who exercise together. These are women who didn’t exercise before cancer treatment, but they do now because it changed their lives.”

What She’s Reading:

“Right now, my book club is focusing on Chinese history books.”

If She Could Add an Eighth Day of the Week:

“I would spend more time on photography. I take a class every other week from a professional photographer, but I don’t have a lot of time to take pictures for the assignments.”

Best Health Tip for Patients:

“I don’t just tell patients to eat well and exercise — I tell them why it’s important. I will ask my patients to test their blood sugar before and after exercising to see how much lower it is. Seeing an immediate change in the number makes a big impression on them.”

Favorite Part of Her Job:

“Helping patients understand how medications and lifestyle changes can improve their diabetes. Patients will tell me, ‘I’ve seen so many doctors, but no one has talked to me about why I need this medication or why I need to exercise.’ It’s very rewarding when they come back and they feel better, they’ve lost weight, their blood sugar is better — they’re just happier.”

Want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Yu? Call UM Community Medical Group – Diabetes and Endocrinology in Waldorf, MD, at (301) 870-4100 today.

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Should You See a Gastroenterologist? If You See These Signs, Yes.

Digestive System Graphic

Digestion is one of the most important bodily functions in every animal on the planet. Without your stomach, colon, pancreas, or liver in tip-top shape, it’s hard to eat, drink, and live how you like. That’s why maintaining a healthy digestive tract is of the utmost importance. But how do you know when to ask for expert help? Keep a lookout for these signs, and you’ll know when to make your appointment.


While our weight fluctuates from time to time, there may be a more sinister reason for why your pants aren’t zipping than a few too many slices of cheesecake. “If you experience sudden bloating that occurs for no obvious reason and is accompanied by symptoms like pain or blood in the stool, there may be something more complicated at play,” said Dr. Joseph R. Murphy, a gastroenterologist with University of Maryland – Community Medical Group. “It could be anything from a dairy digestion problem to gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome, which require a different treatment.”

Sudden Weight Loss

Conversely, if your clothes are starting to fit more loosely than normal, it could also be a sign of a serious GI problem. While shedding a few pounds with no effort may sound like a dream come true, leaving it unchecked could mean opening yourself up to the painful symptoms of a condition like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease further down the line.

Difficulty Swallowing

“If drinking water is painful,” Dr. Murphy said. “That can be a sign of a GI problem.” It’s a good idea to get examined, especially if it means earlier detection of potentially serious problems like esophageal cancer. Make sure to note if you’re also experiencing coughing, hoarseness, hiccupping, or feeling full after only a few bites of food, as these are all signs that something potentially harmful at work in your GI tract.

Blood in Your Stool

Bright red or black stool can be a clear indication that there is a problem somewhere in your GI tract. While there are other potential causes for bloody stool, if it’s persistent or recurring, or you are experiencing other, aforementioned symptoms, you should be evaluated by a GI professional.

Excessive Gas

Everyone experiences gas, but it can be a warning sign when combined with other symptoms or if it’s especially foul-smelling.

Your 50th Birthday

Even if you have always had excellent GI health, the CDC recommends that regular screenings for colorectal cancer begin at age 50. Staying on top of these screenings can mean earlier detection, which means that, if needed, you can start treatment when programs work best.

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Adult Vaccines: What They Are and Who Should Get Them

Adult Vaccination Photos

Children aren’t the only ones who need to roll up their sleeves. In fact, adults require vaccines throughout their lives to protect themselves and others from serious illnesses. There are a variety of immunizations that adults should consider receiving, especially if they’re traveling abroad, but here are four of the most important:


It’s no secret that we — along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — are major supporters of the seasonal flu vaccine.

The flu shot is just as much about keeping yourself safe as it is about protecting those whose bodies may be compromised by another health condition or simply because of their age. And it’s difficult to know whether or not the influenza season will be severe, so the best way to protect yourself and others around you is to get vaccinated yearly.

“Everyone should have a flu shot every year,” Nurse Practitioner Kelli Goldsborough said. “Vaccination is particularly important for people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and adults 65 and older.”

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis

Often referred to as the “Tdap,” this vaccine protects adults from serious illnesses, including:

Tetanus – a bacterial infection that produces a toxin, or poison, that causes muscles to become tight, which is very painful
Diphtheria – a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system
Pertussis – also known as whooping cough, this is an extremely contagious bacterial infection that causes a bad cough

Adults should get the Tdap vaccine first if they didn’t get it as an adolescent to protect against whooping cough, and then a Td booster shot every 10 years to protect against tetanus and diphtheria. Women should get the Tdap vaccine between the 27th and 36th weeks of pregnancy, regardless of when they last had the shot.


Adults 65 and older — and adults younger than 65 with health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and HIV — should get the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumonia, infections in the bloodstream, and meningitis (an infection of the brain and spinal cord).


Adults 50 and older should receive the new Shingrix vaccine. This shot protects against the re-emergence of herpes zoster, the virus responsible for chickenpox, which can cause a painful rash later in life (known as shingles).

“You should get this shot even if you have already received the old vaccine, Zostavax,” Goldsborough said.

Where to Get Vaccinated in Southern Maryland

Fortunately, for adults who live in the area, staying up to date with a vaccination schedule is easy and convenient. If you have any questions about which vaccines you should receive or are ready to get immunized, make an appointment with UM Community Medical Group – Primary Care providers Dr. Childress or Kelli Goldsborough by calling (301) 609-5044.

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Celebrating 80 Years: The Second Decade (1949-1959)

Celebrating 80 Years: The Second Decade

By 1949, Physicians Memorial Hospital had already undergone significant development since its opening, just 10 years earlier. But as the 1950s rolled in, it became clear that the institution was outgrowing its original space.

Here’s what was said about Physicians Memorial Hospital at the time in a report developed by a special Charles County-appointed committee:

“There is a small general hospital performing medically with the fullest accreditation and remarkable efficiency in a facility seriously, almost critically, overcrowded.”

Thus began the next chapter of growth and change for the hospital.

The Hospital Grows

Between the years of 1951 and 1953, an annex building was constructed to expand upon the existing hospital facilities. Yet, even then, it would be difficult to accommodate everyone needing medical assistance across a growing Charles County.

Many hospital employees worked tirelessly, spending long hours at the hospital for little pay. Eleanor Parrott, the hospital’s first administrative employee, worked for less than $400 a month until the hospital’s board of trustees voted to raise her salary in 1952.

By February 1957, the board decided that a new site within the corporate limits of La Plata would be needed if Physicians Memorial Hospital was going to continue to provide exceptional care to its patrons.

This new site would lay the foundations for the hospital we know today. It provided a blueprint that would allow the hospital to expand with increasing demand and set the stage for it to provide effective, convenient care to the entire region.

Stay tuned to our blog for upcoming stories about our hospital over the decades. And be sure to follow us on Facebook — we’ll be sharing facts and photos from over the past eight decades throughout 2019.

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5 Common Reasons to See a Physical Therapist

UM Charles Regional Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Photo

Sometimes it’s easy to know when you should visit a physical therapist for treatment, but you might be surprised at just how many different conditions physical therapy is designed to treat. Here are five of the most common reasons why people ultimately choose to visit a physical therapist:

Chronic Pain

Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, hip bursitis, osteoarthritis, or sciatica, can often cause consistent, long-term pain known as chronic pain. Fortunately, physical therapy can usually help you manage, reduce, or totally eliminate chronic pain.

Best of all, physical therapy and rehabilitation can provide a safer alternative to medication for pain management, so it’s one of the best avenues to consider if you’re dealing with chronic pain.

Surgery Recovery

Some people will require the help of medical professionals to regain flexibility, strength, or balance in affected parts of their body after undergoing extensive surgical procedures. In these cases, the primary goal is to help patients return to or improve their lifestyle.

Sports Injuries

Whether you’re an athlete or just take part in occasional pick-up games or workouts, sports injuries can happen to anyone. These injuries can range from frustrating to crippling, depending on the cause and the severity of the injury — as well as how soon they’re treated.

Some of the most common sports injuries that physical therapists help treat are:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Dislocations
  • Knee pain and injuries
  • Tennis elbow

Neck and Back Pain

Pain in the neck or back is something that can affect everyone. From those who are required to sit in an office chair all day to those who do heavy lifting regularly, people who experience this form of pain know how challenging it can be to maintain day-to-day activities. Fortunately, it can be treated with physical therapy in many cases.

Mobility Improvement

If you find it difficult to move around because of pain or balance issues, or you’re working on improving your mobility after a knee replacement, physical therapy may be able to help. Over time, consistent physical therapy can help your joints become more flexible, stronger, and more comfortable.

Want to See a Physical Therapist in Southern Maryland?

University of Maryland (UM) Charles Regional Rehabilitation offers personalized, one-on-one outpatient physical therapy at the UM Charles Regional Medical Pavilion in La Plata. Here are just some of the services offered and ailments treated there:

  • Joint replacements
  • Sports injuries
  • Manual therapy
  • Fractures, sprains, and strains
  • Neck and back pain
  • Pelvic floor health
  • Post-surgical rehabilitation
  • Shoulder and rotator cuff injuries

Inpatient rehabilitation is also offered at UM Charles Regional Medical Center. Our inpatient rehab program includes treatment for:

  • Arthritis, including energy conservation and joint protection
  • Feeding and swallowing
  • Orthopedics
  • Post-surgical deconditioning and weakness
  • Therapy for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, brain injuries, and neurological conditions

As always, before deciding whether or not you should see a physical therapist, be sure to consult with your primary care provider.

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5 Ways High Blood Pressure Can Affect Your Body

High Blood Pressure Measurement Photo

Did you know that one out of three adults in America has high blood pressure? And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that only about half of those nearly 75 million people have their blood pressure under control?

It’s true — high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) has become a serious medical problem in our country. And if you have high blood pressure, it’s far more serious than you might think.

While the most immediate, short-term damage done by high blood pressure might not be instantly apparent, this condition is one of the leading contributors to serious long-term health problems among Americans.

Your blood pressure is the force at which blood is being pushed against the walls of your arteries. Here are just a few ways your blood pressure can affect your body when it’s at a higher level than it should be:

It Can Damage Your Heart

The CDC notes that your heart often bears the brunt of the damage caused by high blood pressure. This is because, over time, high blood pressure can harden your arteries, which makes it more difficult for your body to get blood and oxygen to and from the heart. When that happens, these are just some of the potential outcomes:

It Can Increase Your Risk of Stroke

As we’ve previously discussed on our blog, stroke is a serious medical condition and one of the leading causes of death and long-term disability in Americans. Unfortunately, the reason why it’s so common in our country is because high blood pressure is, too.

The simple truth is this: Hypertension is the primary cause of stroke.

It Could Eventually Cause an Aneurysm

An aneurysm happens when a section of an artery’s walls are weakened and bulges. If the bulging gets too extreme, the artery can rupture and cause internal bleeding — a serious, life-threatening situation.

Though the exact causes of aneurysms are far from certain, high blood pressure has been linked to an increased risk of developing an aneurysm because of the long-term damage it can do to arteries.

It Can Lead to Kidney Failure

Sustained high blood pressure can lead to damaged blood vessels in the kidneys. Once damaged, the filtering process that occurs inside your kidneys, which helps your body rid itself of waste and toxins, becomes more difficult and less effective. Over time, this can lead to kidney disease and even kidney failure.

It Can Damage Your Eyes

One little known fact about high blood pressure is that it can have a significant impact on your eyes, specifically your retina.

The retina is found at the back of your eye, and high blood pressure can affect how well this tissue is able to function. This is because abnormal blood pressure can cause damage to the vessels in the retina — leading to double vision, dim vision, headaches, or even total vision loss.

Usually, this damage is done over time, but there are instances where very high blood pressure spikes can cause symptoms to appear suddenly. These situations are medical emergencies and should be treated as such if they ever happen to you or someone you know.

Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine website to learn more about how blood pressure levels can affect your eyesight.

High blood pressure is a dangerous condition that affects millions of Americans young and old. Unfortunately, many people with high blood pressure don’t know that they have it. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure levels checked regularly and get your blood pressure in check by practicing healthy living habits. Talk to your primary care provider to learn more about your blood pressure and how you can get on track to preventing high blood pressure.

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How UM Charles Regional’s Emergency Department Cares for the Region’s Most Vulnerable Patients

CRMC Emergency Department Photo

In January 2018, a typical afternoon took a frightening turn for the Bean family of Waldorf, Maryland. Chris, a police officer, had picked up the couple’s older son, Jake, 13, from school. And Kimberly, a real estate agent was driving their 7-year-old son, Xavier, home.

Kimberly glanced at Xavier in the rearview mirror and saw his eyes blinking.

“I thought he was smiling at first,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I turned my whole head around and looked at him, and I could see that he was having a seizure. It scared the heck out of me.”

Kimberly pulled the car over, rushed to the back seat and called her husband, who requested an ambulance through the police dispatch.

Within minutes, Xavier and his parents were at the Emergency Department (ED) of UM Charles Regional Medical Center (UM CRMC).

“They took him in, and it was like something out of a movie or TV, where all the doctors and nurses just swarm in and they’re taking turns at checking on things,” Kimberly remembers. “But with Xavier, it was super challenging.”

Xavier is autistic and nonverbal; he is also intellectually disabled and developmentally delayed.

Xavier needed a CT scan to look for abnormal growths, blood and urine tests, and a spinal tap to rule out meningitis, encephalitis, and bleeding in the brain, as doctors tried to get to the root of his seizure. After several hours, the family left the ED with a referral to a neurologist — and nothing but gratitude for UM CRMC’s doctors, nurses and staff.

“It was an exhausting day, but we were pleased they went through the whole gamut of tests,” Kimberly said. “They accomplished so much and did so with incredible patience and compassion.”

A Commitment to Care

Providing such service is an everyday occurrence at UM CRMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

“Coming out of a seizure is very confusing for any patient,” Richard Ferraro, MD, chief of medical staff at UM CRMC, and chairman and medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine, said. “That’s a time where patients can be combative, extremely emotional, and very confused. It’s really important to show patience and perseverance because you really do need to get the work-up done and to not give up because the patient isn’t able to understand everything. It takes a special type of disposition to do that.”

Dr. Ferraro Photo

The emergency medicine team is well-equipped for these situations. Doctors and physician assistants train with children of all ages and see them on a daily basis. In fact, children represent 15 to 20 percent of the patients who come through the doors of the ED, Dr. Ferraro noted. The department also relies on a team of nurses with extra training with pediatric patients whom they can call on when a child with special needs comes to the hospital.

“Your mindset changes when you are dealing with a child, especially one with a seizure or cognitive impairment,” Melissa Sager, RN, one of the emergency medicine nurses on duty the day Xavier was taken to the hospital, said. “These children are so sensitive to everything around them. If you show that you’re scared or nervous, they can really feel those emotions from you. We try to stay calm and confident and work with the parents to make sure they understand everything we’re doing.”

“Our ED is focused on our community members and committed to providing the best care,” Debbie Shuck-Reynolds, MSN, nurse manager of the Department of Emergency Medicine, said. “The one aspect about our team that I find endearing is the concept that we care for each of our patients as if they were our own family member. Everyone is entitled to the best care, and that is what we strive for every shift.”

A Second Scare

Unfortunately, the Beans’ ED visit was not the end of the story. At another medical facility, Xavier underwent an electroencephalogram, or EEG — a test to detect abnormalities in a patient’s brain waves.

But before they heard back from the neurologist there, Xavier experienced another seizure, and once again, the Beans headed to UM CRMC. It happened on the drive home from school in virtually the same location. The Beans think this may have had to do with the pattern of light through the trees creating a strobe effect. Strobe lighting is associated with triggering epileptic seizures in some patients.

“I wasn’t as frantic that time,” Kimberly said. “But I wanted answers. We were anxiously awaiting test results when Xavier’s second seizure occurred.”

While Xavier was under observation, UM CRMC doctors called his pediatrician to get insights into his medical history, asked his parents more about his health and behavior, and tracked down the neurologist who evaluated him.

The tests revealed abnormal brain activity that pointed to epilepsy.

“We were so impressed with the doctors at UM Charles Regional,” Kimberly said. “They realized that we weren’t trying to be difficult. We were just very concerned and felt like we weren’t getting answers. They were on a mission to help us.”

“For all patients, our job is to do good detective work reviewing records, talking to other physicians involved in their care, doing a medical history and physical while the patient is there, and then synthesizing all that data and trying to make the right plan,” Dr. Ferraro said. “In the meantime, you’re treating whatever acute condition they have and stabilizing them.”

Kimberly and Chris Bean Photo

Adjusting to a New Diagnosis

Thanks to the persistence of the ED staff, the Beans finally got a diagnosis and Xavier was started on anti-seizure medication. He has done well on the medicine, but last fall he had several small “breakthrough” seizures, which doctors attributed to growth spurts.

“The dose of his medicine had to be changed,” Chris Bean said. “He is now at the maximum dose allowed for his height and weight.”

Now the Beans are breathing a little easier and things are back to normal in their household, particularly the joy that Xavier brings to it.

“He’s a loving boy,” Chris said. “He doesn’t exhibit classic autism in the sense that he doesn’t want to be touched or he’s antisocial. He’s very engaging, and he loves physical touch like wrestling and being tickled.”

Like many people with autism, Xavier craves routine, especially in his nighttime ritual. After dinner, he takes his mom and dad by the hand and goes upstairs.

“We have about a 40-minute snuggle session where we get to watch his shows together up in our

bed,” Kimberly said. “It’s the same every single night, so he loves that. He doesn’t speak, but you can see this little grin on his face when he’s happy. When we are all together, it seems like the world is right to him.”

While Xavier’s newest diagnosis is distressing, the Beans are taking it in stride.

“We were told he has to go to the ED if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if he falls and has trauma to his head, or if he has two separate seizures within five minutes,” Chris said. “Luckily, he’s been seizure-free for several months.”

Chris and Kimberly are comforted that UM CRMC’s Emergency Department has their back if problems occur.

“I can’t say enough about UM Charles Regional,” Chris said. “The level of care and professionalism are just top-notch. You can just tell that these people are dedicated to making a difference.”

“It’s important for parents to know we did everything we could for their child,” Melissa Sager said. “Their child is their life. To know we had a positive impact on the Beans is really wonderful.”

This story originally appeared in the spring issue of Maryland’s Health Matters, the official magazine of the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center. For more stories from this issue, visit our website. And stay connected with your local hospital by following UM Charles Regional on Facebook.

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