R5 Special Treatment

With gorgeous parks, world-renowned golf courses, Olympic-sized pools, and tricked-out gyms—not to mention a hefty selection of farmers’ markets—Westchester is a great place to be (and stay) healthy. But when medical problems do arise, it’s good to know that our county boasts some of the best medical-specialty centers in the region and state. Whether you snore incessantly, can’t seem to lose those extra pounds, or need a brand-new heart, there’s a top-notch expert here who can help. The key is knowing where to go.


People often assume we’re for people with substance-abuse problems,” says Dr. Mary Beth Walsh, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital’s executive medical director and CEO. “But our kind of rehab focuses on restoring a patient’s functional abilities.” For someone who’s had a spinal cord injury, that may mean getting comfortable using a wheelchair. A stroke patient might need to re-learn basic chores. Whatever the condition, the goal is the same: “To get the person ready for the most independent living arrangement possible,” Dr. Walsh says.

Burke is the County’s only hospital dedicated to inpatient rehab, and it also offers outpatient treatment at four sites—three in Westchester, one in the Bronx—to those requiring ongoing therapy. In-house, a senior fitness center (“for those who’d be intimidated exercising among gorgeous-looking children wearing Spandex,” Dr. Walsh says) is available to both patients and nearby neighbors. Founded in 1915, Burke is certified by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and the Commisssion on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

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For this big job, Burke, with 150 beds on 60 lush acres in White Plains, has a staff of more than 500. The hospital has witnessed large shifts during its 100-year existence. “We used to have fifteen beds for people with severe rheumatoid arthritis, but these days, joint replacements often help them tremendously,” Dr. Walsh says. “On the other hand, we now have rehab for cancer patients. As formerly fatal diseases become chronic, new types of patients need us.”


Blythedale, one of just 19 kids’ rehab hospitals in the nation, is about to take a quantum leap, opening a brand-new addition in late 2011, with 86 private and semi-private rooms. “It will be state-of-the-art,” President Larry Levine declares.

The range of rehab services Blythedale provides is, by most measures, impressive. Among its inpatient services is a ventilator-weaning program, with one of the country’s highest success rates. The hospital is renowned for pre- and post-operative care of children needing organ transplants, cardiac surgery, or who have burns or other major injuries. Blythedale also offers comprehensive general rehab for children who’ve had neurologic or orthopedic surgery, or suffer from brain disorders.

“We’re blessed with one of the largest pediatric therapy programs in the state, with seventy pediatric therapists in speech, physical, and occupational therapy, and we have psychologists and psychiatrists as well,” Levine says.

Not every patient needs care 24/7, so the hospital offers a full-day program for children ages five to 19. “Kids can come in during the day and get all their medical, occupational, and speech-therapy services, as well as get their education through the Mount Pleasant Blythedale School, which is attached to the hospital,” Levine says. “It’s a fantastic package, and the children still get to sleep at home.” One of its newest offerings is an early-intervention service for kids up to age three for a variety of medical and developmental delays, including autism.

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“Extraordinary results happen here every day,” Levine says. “We give children back their lives.”


Four Winds offers mental-health treatment for patients of all ages and is the largest provider of psychiatric treatment for kids in the Northeast.

Situated on 55 beautiful acres, the hospital eschews the institutional feel of many similar facilities. (A sister property is located upstate in Saratoga). Patients are housed in cottages, each with its own doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and alternative therapists offering music and art sessions. There’s been steady growth under the private owners, who purchased the hospital in 1978. “At the time, we handled about thirty-five patients,” says Janet Segal, executive vice president. “Now we’re a one-hundred-seventy-five-bed facility. We’ve grown because the demand has been so great.”

She adds, “We want to give our patients whatever they need,” says Segal. “And then we want to give them even more.”


Although you may assume that cancer patients journey to special hospitals, such as Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering or The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to get treatment, in reality, 80 percent of cancer cases are treated locally—making The Dickstein Cancer Treatment Center a vital asset to Westchester.

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About two decades ago, White Plains Hospital realized a need for a more intensive program for cancer treatment, since cancer had become its number-one diagnosis. “In 1993, we started our cancer registry, tracking our outcomes and reporting them to New York State,” Administrative Director Kathy Duffy reports. That same year, the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer accredited the hospital, noting its superior standards of cancer care.

In 1999, the Dickstein Center opened, the only freestanding Center in the County exclusively focused on cancer treatment. It oversees the registry, offers testing and consultation with a cancer genetics counselor, and features a state-of-the-art radiation facility.

In 2006, the Center was accredited once more by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer, this time with commendation and an outstanding achievement award—an honor only 8 percent of hospitals surveyed annually receive. In March, the Center won the award once again.


The Ashikari Breast Cancer Center is the County’s only specially trained oncology group practice. Operating since 2001, the Center was founded by one of the country’s leading surgical oncologists, Dr. Roy Ashikari, formerly an attending surgeon and chief of breast services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, along with his son, Dr. Andrew Ashikari. Dr. Pond Keleman, an associate professor of surgery at New York Medical College, is the third of the Center’s breast surgeons.

Part of the beauty of the Center’s relatively small size is the speed with which it can address people’s concerns. “We try to see new patients within forty-eight hours, and do their diagnostic tests during their initial visit,” Dr. Andrew Ashikari says. Often, the Center can provide a diagnosis within two days. “And no patient with a breast problem or cancer is turned away,” Dr. Keleman says.

The Center isn’t just for those with breast cancer—it also treats benign breast conditions, such as cysts, and screens at-risk patients. Those with an elevated chance of breast cancer may wish to reduce their odds by having preventive surgery. For them, a one-step, nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction is offered. So renowned is the Center for this procedure that it’s attracted patients from as far away as Greece and Hawaii.

The Center has received full accreditation from the Amercian College of Surgeons as a National Accredited Program for Breast Cancer, one of just four such accredited centers in the state and the only one in
the County.


The Hudson Valley’s only transplant center for kids is located in Westchester—and it has a sterling reputation. It’s news that’s definitely
getting out. “For years, people went to Manhattan or Boston,” says Dr. Manuel Rodriguez, head of the Center’s pediatric program. “Now they’re learning that we’re a great resource closer to home, with results as good or better than any other transplant center.” The pediatric transplant program has had a 100-percent survival rate.

The Center averages more than 30 procedures a year. And it doesn’t only work only with cadaver organs; it also performs complex living donor transplants. “A parent, grandparent, or other relative may donate part of his or her liver, which can regenerate in about two month, or one of their kidneys,” Dr. Rodriguez explains, avoiding having to wait for someone else to die.


Many of Westchester’s most laudable specialty centers have been around for decades, but some are very new or about to open. Case in point: the Orthopedic and Spine Institute, launched earlier this year. Its co-directors are Drs. Evan Karas and Victor Khabie. The Institute’s more than 20 orthopedic surgeons hail from the highly regarded Somers Orthopaedics, Mount Kisco Medical Group, Brain & Spine Surgeons of New York, and Westchester Health. Between them, they perform three categories of surgery: spine and neurological procedures; hip-, knee-, or shoulder-replacement surgery; and sports-medicine surgery, most of it arthroscopic (a minimally invasive procedure, assisted by high-definition fiber-optic cameras).

“We’re seeing more and more patients staying locally, and there’s something to be said for it,” Dr. Khabie says. “My children go to school with the kids of a lot of my patients. You have to believe that when I see them out at dinner, I want to know they had a great experience here.”


Since 1997, Phelps’s Sleep Disorders Center has been helping clients hit the hay more peacefully.

“Although I’m a pulmonologist by training, I got involved as the hospital began the program because a lot of sleep disorders have to do with breathing disorders that occur during rest,” says Dr. Gary Lehrman, the Center’s medical director. “It was clear there were a lot of people out there who were undertreated.”

The Center conducts an average of 100 sleep studies a month on patients referred by a primary physician. “Many come to us because their spouse is complaining that they snore,” says Dr. Michael Bergstein, the Center’s surgical director and an assistant clinical professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “One guy was getting married and his buddies threw him what was supposed to be a four-day bachelor party on a boat. They ended up bringing him back to shore after one night because he snored so loudly, no one else could sleep.”

“The most common disorder we see is sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing temporarily, so you wake up at brief intervals, causing a very poor night’s rest,” says Dr. Lehrman. If it’s severe enough, it could lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. And, of course, sufferers are continually exhausted and apt to nod off at inappropriate times. “More car accidents are caused by people who fell asleep at the wheel than by drunk driving,” Dr. Bergstein notes.

More rarely, a patient is found to have a parasomnia, a category of disorders including sleepwalking and sleep terrors. Other conditions the Center treats include insomnia, seizures during sleep, narcolepsy—a condition in which a person falls asleep without warning—and restless leg syndrome, which causes intense, uncomfortable sensations throughout the legs while they remain still during sleep.

“We have an abundance of board-certified experts to help spot all these sleep problems,” says Dr. Lehrman.


For people at the extreme end of the obesity scale, there’s help and hope on the eighth floor of Sound Shore Medical Center, where its surgical weight-loss center, designated a Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, is located. Since its founding in 2002, the Center has been attracting an ever-growing patient base. “We’ve had
people from as far away as Virginia,” says Dr. Madu Rangraj, its director.

Several procedures are performed at the Center, including gastric bypass surgery, in which the stomach is reduced and the intestines bypassed; laparoscopic band surgery, in which a silicone ring is placed around the upper stomach and gradually tightened over a series of weeks; and a gastric-sleeve operation, in which the outer two-thirds of the stomach is removed, shrinking it from football to banana-size. “We’ve been doing these for a while,” says Dr. Rangraj. “Long-term, you see fewer post-op complications than with a bypass.”

About 120 people pass through the Center’s doors each year—and leave with a new lease on life. (The Center has a remarkably low mortality rate of just 2 in the past 800 cases, well below the national average of .2 percent.) “Many patients have something called metabolic syndrome, where they suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, says Dr. Rangraj. “But after a bypass, this syndrome can improve significantly, often enough that they can eventually go off medication.”


All right, so maybe Greenwich isn’t technically in Westchester, but it’s so close by, it’s practically family. Which is why it’s worth the short drive to Greenwich Hospital if you’re interested in holistic medicine that’s safe and effective.

Launched in June of 2007, The Center for Integrative Medicine was an outgrowth of a hospital program offering “healing touch,” massage, acupuncture, and stress management to its patients. “People were interested but didn’t know what to believe or what was most appropriate for them,” says Dr. Henri Roca, the Center’s medical director. Through community gifts and support, the Center was founded, offering both inpatient and outpatient services.

People staying at the hospital have free access to “healing touch” and can request massage therapy. The Center’s music therapists conduct a public music therapy session every week. Other offerings include ongoing meditation and stress-management classes.

What people appreciate about the Center, says Dr. Roca, is that “we look at the patient as a whole person—mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.” If a patient comes in with asthma, for example, the Center won’t just prescribe medication (though it can). Instead, it’ll search for reasons behind the problem and may blend everything from herbs to acupressure and homeopathy with conventional treatment.


When it comes to treating heart problems, experience counts. Westchester Medical Center’s Cardiac Center, which offers procedures and tests offered nowhere else in the County, is a beat ahead.

Here, patients can receive care from one of four board-certified cardiac surgeons or 16 cardiologists (six of whom are interventional cardiologists, trained to perform coronary angioplasty and insert stents to open coronary arteries) and 75 nurses. With so many experts on hand, the volume of surgeries performed is tremendous, from approximately 900 pacemaker insertions to more than 600 bypass surgeries annually. Even the most major operations are feasible: “We’re the only hospital in the Hudson Valley to perform heart transplants—we did thirteen last year,” says Dr. Melvin Weiss, chief of cardiology.

The facility houses the largest cardiac catheterization lab in the Hudson Valley, handling more than 5,000 of these procedures annually—catheters are inserted into a vein to measure pressures in the heart, assess its valves, and look for arterial blockage. The lab, staffed by 20 nurses, is also the only full-service facility in Westchester, performing all cardiac procedures such as cardiac catheterization. Says Dr. Weiss, “We have the sickest patients in the region with heart failure.”

Some of the Center’s sickest patients become its biggest success stories. “One man, who was just forty-two, came in in shock—he’d had an episode of sudden death after having a very irregular heartbeat and had to be brought back to life by chest compressions,” Dr. Weiss reports. “We put a heart-assist device called a tandem heart in him—it works like an extra heart pump.” After a monthlong stay, the patient had recovered so well, he soon returned to his job. “This happened three years ago, and I just saw him in the office last week—with his three-month-old daughter.”


Lawrence Hospital has always had a radiology center, but two years ago, “we wanted it to be the premier facility of its kind in Westchester,” says Steven Schoener, vice president of outpatient services. Since then, the hospital has poured more than $5 million into a makeover and upgrade. And it shows.

“The first thing that we did was to put in a new women’s imaging center, with digital mammography, stereotactic needle biopsy, and an ultrasound suite,” says Administrative Director Raymond Farquharson. A new MRI machine with breast-imaging capabilities gives the radiologists the ability to do breast MRIs, as well. The machine, which can be used to look at everything from the brain to bones, has remarkable clarity: “It’s like going from regular television to HDTV,” Farquharson says. And their new MRI features a much wider tunnel, making it more comfortable for claustrophobic patients and larger patients who might otherwise be forced to use an open MRI, which yields comparatively weaker images.

There are also two brand new CT machines being installed, which are much faster and more powerful than their predecessors and use a lower dose of radiation. “We’re the only one with this capability in Westchester and lower Connecticut,” Farquharson says.

That’s not the end of the new toys. “Soon we’ll be getting a new gamma camera that will allow us to image different body parts and then scan them to look for pathologies like cancers and infections,” says Farquharson. The camera can also be used for cardiac stress tests.

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