University of Miami doctors targeting HIV in women

For Miami Herald.

South Florida is an epicenter for HIV in the United States. In the past, the HIV population was predominantly drug users and gay males. Today, HIV is increasingly seen in the straight population, many of them women 18 to 30.

Florida has one of the highest rates in the United States for HIV-infected women, especially new cases.

With World AIDS Day on Monday and health officials eager to combat the trend, University of Miami doctors have planted themselves in the middle of Miami-Dade communities to get people tested, promote healthy planning and conduct research on the long-term effects of the virus and what makes women more at risk of infection.

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Local, Uncategorized

Gobbling up bargains: Holiday shopping kicks into high gear in South Florida

For Miami Herald.


Hector Perez camped out for more than 29 hours at Best Buy, to be first in line to snag a 50-inch Panasonic TV for $199, speakers and a tablet.

“Between all that, I’ll save 500 bucks,” said Perez, 32, of Westchester, who arrived at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday to await the store’s 5 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving. “So it’s worth it.”

Nearby, Natalie Leon and her fiancé Leonardo Gonzalez had gotten in line at 6 a.m. on Thursday to get the same doorbuster TV and a GoPro camera.

“We’re getting married in June, so it’s the first TV for our new apartment, and the GoPro camera is for our honeymoon” — a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean, said Leon, 23, of Westchester.

Across South Florida, the holiday shopping season kicked into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, as many stores paraded their wares in a flurry of doorbusters, deals and discounts. At some stores, lines snaked around buildings hundreds-thick, as shoppers salivated — for deals.

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Weight-loss surgery can help obese people get back on track with their diabetes

For Miami Herald.

Linda Fairchild, 62, tried many diets — Atkins, Weight Watchers, liquid shakes —but she couldn’t lose a single pound.

Diagnosed with pancreatitis in 2001 and showing symptoms of both Type 1 and 2 diabetes in 2003, Fairchild found herself taking an increasing amount of insulin every year, while gaining more weight than her 5-foot-3 body could handle.

At one point, she was taking two types of insulin into her body every day, Lantus for 120 units and NovoLog for 25 units, four times a day.

“It just kind of snowballed,” said Fairchild, who weighed 160 pounds when she was diagnosed with diabetes and gained about 63 pounds.

“You get to a point where you get so disgusted when you try to do physical activity. You’re so heavy that your body can’t do it.”

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Local, Profile

Surfside gets new veterinary clinic

For Miami Herald.

Residents of Surfside who walk down Harding Avenue may notice a new business that opened earlier last month.

The Veterinary Wellness Center of Surfside is the first of it’s kind in the neighborhood.

“It’s exciting to start something new,” said Dr. David Carmona, 38, who went through various obstacles while pursuing his dream of opening a pet clinic in the town where he’s spent the majority of his life.

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Events, Fitness, Health

Run, have fun and support a worthy cause

For Miami Herald.

Alexandra Benitez, 25, used to observe people running races for causes like HIV and cancer, but she never really thought much about it.

Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and large B-cell lymphoma on Nov. 27, 2012 and cleared the same day the following year, Benitez now had a new outlook on life and running.

“I’ve lost a couple friends to cancer,” said Benitez, who is training for her first half-marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training group. She will be running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Jan. 7.

“When I’m running, I have these people in my mind and I’m thinking they didn’t make it and I need to find a cure,” she said. “I need to help. It’s my way of giving back.”

Many people in South Florida can relate to Benitez, because they also use fitness as a way to help causes they feel passionate about.

For more information on The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, visit

Here are some other organizations in South Florida that give back through fitness.

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Events, Fitness, Health, Profile

Coral Gables man will do Ironman triathlon despite injury

Finishing the last stretch of a five-hour bike ride to and from Everglades National Park, Humberto Speziani was feeling great.

“I was doing awesome,” said Speziani, 51, a Coral Gables resident and father of three. “Other people were complaining about the wind but I was cutting through like a knife.”

Riding at about 20 miles per hour and approaching Black Point Marina in south Miami-Dade, he was about five minutes ahead of his riding group as cars and boats passed him on the road. In a flash, Speziani looked up and saw cars piling up on the road as a boat trailer had gone past the guardrail shoulder, leaving Speziani little space.

“I just really wedged myself through,” said Speziani, who bounced against the boat, lost control and tumbled off the bike, flying shoulder first into the guardrail, damaging his collarbone.

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Moms learn about climate change

Moderator Dominique Browning and panelists from left to right: Vanessa Hauc, Dr. Susan Pacheco, Nicole Hernandez Hammer and Angela Barranco during the discussion: “Kids in a Changing Climate: What Parents Need to Know,” at Hibiscus Room at Pinecrest Gardens on Sunday, Oct. 5. MATIAS OCNER/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For Miami Herald.

Is climate change too complicated to control? Can we do something about it — and if so, what? Can we protect the environment for our children and their children and their children’s children?

These were the questions considered Sunday by about 60 people, some holding crying babies, others pushing strollers in the Hibiscus Room at Pinecrest Gardens during a panel discussion: Kids in a Changing Climate: What Parents Need to Know.

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Doral karate school hosts anti-bullying workshop

Diego Ordonez, 9, practicing his martial arts during the Annual Back to School Bash on Sept. 5 at Anta’s Fitness and Self Defense in Doral. Matias Ocner / South Florida News Service

For South Florida News Service.

When Aura Ordonez heard a commotion during a birthday party that her son, Diego, 9, was attending, she wondered what was going on.

As she approached the site of the noise, many parents told her, “You have a wonderful son.”

Diego, a 5-year-student at Anta’s Fitness and Self Defense karate school in Doral, stopped another child from bullying his younger cousin with one of the lessons he learned from the school’s anti-bullying campaigns.

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Surfside advertising for new town manager

Surfside town manager Michael Crotty and Vice-Mayor Eli Tourgeman before a town meeting on Sept. 23 at the commission chambers. MATIAS OCNER/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For Miami Herald.

Surfside commissioners — advertising for a new town manager — will move ahead with a local search firm despite “grave concerns” raised by the vice mayor during a meeting on Monday.

The commission hired Colin Baenziger & Associates to find candidates after Michael Crotty, who became town manager in March 2013, resigned in June.

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Building a breakfast habit

Nutrition manager Erin Corrigan shares healthy snacks with children at Miami Children's Hospital Child Care Center.
Nutrition manager Erin Corrigan shares healthy snacks with children at Miami Children’s Hospital Child Care Center.

It has often been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but is it really?

Some articles have recently stated that perhaps it isn’t, but for kids it could play a critical role in their cognitive skills and basic nutritional needs.

“Breakfast is underrated in kids,” said Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. “A lot of research has shown positive outcomes, especially in school, when kids eat.”

Children tend to remember things better, react quicker, have better math skills and fewer behavioral issues.

“If kids don’t have breakfast, they are not going to be able to concentrate at school and perform to their optimal ability,” said Erin Corrigan, clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children’s Hospital. “They are going to be agitated.”

Breakfast is also a good way to fill nutritional needs for kids. People tend to get the most important nutrients in their breakfast, including calcium, iron, protein, vitamin A and C.

“Skipping breakfast leads to essentially fewer and larger meals,” said Dr. Patricia Feito, a family practice physician at Baptist Health Medical Group. “It also tends to increase weight gain and body fat throughout the day.”

According to the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report, the meal that kids skip the most frequently is breakfast. It can be considered the worst meal to skip because after a night’s sleep, energy levels in the body are low.

The report notes that 59 percent of African American children and 42 percent of Anglo and Hispanic children never eat breakfast. Some cite low income, but many of these students would be eligible for free or reduced rate school breakfast programs.

Others blame it on time. With kids being more and more active, breakfast becomes less and less important. Parents, however, need to make it a priority.

“I get that everyday life and this society is difficult,” Feito said. “There are time constraints for everything, but if you miss the most important things in life, you’re going to eventually suffer in the long run.”

Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated. A little preparation could be the key.

“Were not talking about a super fancy brunch,” said Chaparro, who suggests planning breakfast the night before.

Dr. Wenliang Geng, pediatric chief resident at Miami Children’s Hospital, suggests educating children and parents to incorporate healthy family habits.

“We can educate children to a certain extent,” he said. “But really the change where the most amount of effect is going to be seen is by educating parents.”

“Encourage breakfast, as hard as it is and as obvious as it seems,” he said.


Need some good ideas for breakfast? Nutritional experts from Baptist Hospital, Miami Children’s Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital recommend these healthy options.

Be balanced

Aim for three food groups. “You want to make sure you have a well-balanced meal. That way you feel satisfied,” said Erin Corrigan, clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children’s Hospital. “If it’s only carbohydrates, you’re going to be hungry again in an hour, so you want something that has fat and protein so it lasts all the way through lunch time.”

Example: Healthy cereal or yogurt with fruits and nuts


“Protein is not only going to help our kids grow,” said Marina Chaparro, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, “but its going to help them feel good throughout the day.”

Example: Eggs, low-fat cheese, peanut butter, salmon


Eggs contain a lot of protein and have a lot of variety. You can boil them, scramble or make an omelet. If you don’t have time in the morning, you can make ahead and put it in the fridge and just heat up in the morning.

Example: Omelet with vegetables

Whole grains

Whole grains are full of fiber that will keep you full and help your digestion system.

Example: Cereal with high fiber content and not too much sugar; whole grain breads, oatmeal

Skip the juice; eat fresh fruit

“You’ve already started your day right with some fruit,” said Chapparo. Limit juices, which have high sugar content, and eat whole fruits. They have more fiber, nutrients and vitamins.

Example: Blueberries, strawberries, bananas, oranges

On the go

For those with a busy lifestyle pack a breakfast bar, dried fruit or plain yogurt with fruits and nuts.

Example: Granola bar, yogurt

Don’t like breakfast food?

Eat something else. Leftovers with a side of fruit, for example. “It can be whatever you want to eat. As long as you don’t skip,” Corrigan said. “If you skip completely you go all night without eating. You’re going on 14 hours without eating. That’s not good.”

Uncategorized, Video

Get Engaged at FIU on the 1st National News Engagement Day on Oct. 7, 2014.

Raul Reis, dean of journalism and mass communication at Florida International University, discusses ways his school is adapting to the incorporation of technology on storytelling. Matias Ocner / South Florida News Service

For South Florida News Service. 

By Kathleen Devaney and Crystal Chew

Media Metamorphosis: The impact of technology on journalism today.

Students and professionals in the journalism and education fields discuss the ever-evolving nature of mass communications as technology changes the platform. Technology is playing a pivotal role in the way that journalists are reporting the news. As the Internet transforms mass media, the involvement of citizen journalists weighing in on stories through blogs and other social media is becoming more prevalent.

If one wants to succeed in this field, they have to constantly adapt and have a visual mindset when telling a story. Journalists today must be creative and evolve their stories to incorporate both a print and multimedia component that is interactive and engages the viewer.


Dance, yoga, art — all help Parkinson’s patients keep moving


Yank’l Garcia leads a music therapy class for people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease on Aug. 13, 2014, at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Glenvar Heights. CRYSTAL CHEW /MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For Miami Herald.

When Ralph Polster, 73, sits down, he often shakes his leg.

His wife of 46 years, Barbara, never thought much about it until one day nine years ago when he began rotating his hand. Ralph’s primary care doctor told him there was nothing to be worried about, but his wife was not convinced.

“The doctor is wrong,” she said. “You have Parkinson’s disease.”

She took him to a neurologist and after doing an MRI, her suspicions were confirmed.

“It’s very difficult to watch a vibrant, productive individual deteriorate,” said Barbara of her husband, who gets tired and has lost his confidence to travel.

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Fitness, Health

Get a smart start to the school year with these fitness programs

For Miami Herald.


Making sure kids eat the right foods and exercise during the school year is a tough task for most parents. But, for one 12-year-old, maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become part of her daily routine.

Aisha Chebbi, a seventh-grader at George Washington Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove, started by giving up soda.

“Sprite was my favorite soda,” Aisha said. “Some people don’t know that they are really bad for you, they can cause heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.”

The next step came when she joined a before-school, hour-long exercise program. She arrived at school at 7:45 a.m. to fit the class into her school day, which began at 9 a.m. “This is where I came up with a lot of ideas about how to make kids healthier.”

Aisha wrote a letter to first lady Michelle Obama, telling her of two initiatives she wanted to develop for students throughout the county: “8 before 8” and “No Sugar for Breakfast.”

In 8 before 8, Aisha wants to emphasize that kids should drink eight glasses of water a day. Aisha carries a water bottle to school so she can hydrate throughout the day. The No Sugar for Breakfast program would make parents and students aware of healthier options for breakfast other than sugary cereals.

“If kids have sugar for breakfast, they are prone to have more sugar and fats in their diet,” said Aisha, who switched from sugary cereals to eating oatmeal or eggs, fresh fruit and drinking milk or water.

After school, she began swimming and playing tennis at a local park.

Obama responded to Aisha’s letter, encouraging her to join her Let’s Move! initiative. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation recently selected Aisha to serve as a Youth Ambassador on the 2014-15 Youth Advisory Board, which focuses on reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.

“When you’re more active and eat better, you feel better and you do better in school,” she said. “You’re more confident.”

Here are places and programs in Miami-Dade County for kids to get on a healthier track.

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Eye experts say standard school screenings are not enough to ensure students see well

For Miami Herald.

Not too long ago, kids who wore glasses were made fun of with names like “Poindexter” or “four-eyes.” But thanks to celebrities like Johnny Depp, Tina Fey and LeBron James, glasses have become hip and even considered a fashion statement.

“Some kids actually make up not seeing well to get glasses when they are actually seeing perfect,” said Dr. James Hagen, an optometrist in Kendall. “The old stigma is not true anymore.”

This may come as a form of relief for parents with kids who don’t see well and need glasses to do well in school, as their numbers are increasing.

According to the American Optometric Association, nearly 25 percent of school-age children have vision problems and are not receiving adequate professional eye and vision care. Only about one-third of all children have an eye examination or vision screening prior to entering school.

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Education, Events

Museum brings art to Miami-Dade summer-camp kids

For Miami Herald.

Starting with a pile of colorful twist-ties — those flat, wired ribbons that keep your bread in the bag — two dozen Miami-Dade kids made frogs, spiders and hats.

The kids, ages 5 to 14, then attached their creations to the ceiling of a community center at Juan Pablo Duarte Park in Allapattah, creating a larger work of art.

The art-making exercise was part of the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s outreach program, “PAMM in the Neighborhood,” in which the museum traveled to more than 70 camps and community centers throughout Miami-Dade County, from North Miami Beach down to Richmond Heights. The project reached more than 8,000 budding artists.

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Organization works to empower young people against bullying, violence, suicide

For Miami Herald.

Waking up at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Dominic Quarles hopped on the Tri-Rail in Fort Lauderdale and took two buses to Florida International University’s Modesto Maidique Campus for an experience that changed his life forever.

Quarles, 17, was among 100 other students who attended the National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment’s (NVEEE) inaugural peace ambassador leadership conference which took place July 17-20.

“It was really emotional,” said the aspiring fashion designer, who spoke about his identity struggles with his sexual orientation and being born HIV positive.

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A day of smiles at Baptist for children who need their faces fixed

For Miami Herald.

When Romana Akhter was just a couple days old, she developed a hemangioma, a build-up of blood vessels in the skin. It quickly spread, leaving disfigurements on her face, particularly her right side.

Now 19 and in her first year of college at Miami Dade College, Akhter is on her way to a new look, thanks to Baptist Children’s Hospital’s 13th Annual Day of Smiles. Four surgeons, with the assistance of nurses, planned to perform corrective facial surgeries on six children Saturday at the hospital, which donates its facilities for the procedures.

“I never used to talk to anyone,” said Akhter, “I thought I would have to deal with this for the rest of my life.”

Because of her family’s financial strains, Akhter didn’t think her family could afford to pay for the corrective surgery. Saturday’s surgery is free.

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Miami Beach names first female firefighter to rank of division chief

For Miami Herald. 

Sitting at the Miami Beach City Commission meeting on a recent Wednesday, Lt. Digna Abello waited alongside colleagues to be recognized for their recent promotions.

Abello, who was announced last, was promoted to the chief of training and support services for the Miami Beach Fire Department. She is the first female firefighter to reach the rank of division chief in the city’s history.

“Today is a special day because women have to work twice as hard,” Commissioner Deede Weithorn said.

Abello, 32, who has been with the department for more than nine years, does not see it that way.

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Coral Gables police department and disability group create ID cards for people with autism

What happens when lawyers, an academic institution and the police department get together?

The creation of wallet cards, a communication tool used to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder in situations where they would be in contact with law enforcement.

“This card is going to be an aid,” said Lt. Bart Barta of the Coral Gables Police Department, who has a son in elementary school with autism. “We don’t want police officers or first responders to misinterpret the behaviors and the actions that individuals with autism might be having.”

The group behind the wallets cards, Disability Independence Group (DIG), University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and the Coral Gables Police Department recently won $5,000 in the Philanthropy Miami Shark Tank, a competition launched by Leave a Legacy of Miami-Dade.

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Local, Technology

New phone apps let drivers find and pay for parking in Miami Beach

Miami Beach residents and visitors have a new way to find and pay for parking. Rather than having to insert credit cards or carrying a pocket full of change, they can now pay through an app on their phones.

The city of Miami Beach introduced two new mobile apps this month, Parkmobile and ParkMe-Miami Beach. These apps help locate parking facilities as well as provide turn-by-turn direction to vacant parking spots in the area.

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Education, Video

Dance movement therapy is incorporated into preschool curriculum

For South Florida News Service.

By Crystal Chew and Matias J. Ocner

At Play and Learn Preschool, 10 children gather around a blue and red foam square matt during their afternoon creative movement class. They sit with their legs “criss-cross-applesauce” and are asked how they are feeling today.

“Don’t tell me with your words, tell me with your body,” said Jennifer Puig, 30, the creative movement teacher and certified dance movement therapist at the preschool.

Jack, 5, who is one of Puig’s students, starts to jump up and down with a bright smile and a fruitful laugh.

Puig hopes her class will teach children like Jack how to have a strong connection with their own self and body.

“If there is one thing that all students should take away from this [class], it’s the importance and value of body movement communication,” said Puig.

The director and teachers at Play and Learn agree that Puig’s class has aided students socially.

“Jennifer does a great job at helping the kids develop their awareness of where they are in space, where they are related to the other kids and where they should be in order to respect other people’s spaces,” said Rosa Fernandez, director at Play and Learn Preschool.

Puig who moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2008 to pursue studies in Dance Movement Therapy – the use of choreographed or improvised movement as a way of treating social, emotional, cognitive and physical problems – moved back to Miami in 2011 and decided to teach what she had learned.

“She helps me, the teachers and the families,” said Fernandez. “She’s always there for you and we are very lucky to have her.”


Events, Technology

All things tech will be the focus of festival at Coconut Grove science museum

By Matias J. Ocner and Crystal Chew

Read in Miami Herald or South Florida News Service.

When Gillian Thomas drives down Biscayne Boulevard, she looks past AmericanAirlines Arena and checks on the progress of the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, set to open in 2015.

“You can see it growing day by day, getting higher and higher,” said Thomas, the museum’s president and chief executive. “We are nearly up to the roof on one of the four buildings.”

The $275 million project will transform the museum into a state-of-the art facility, complete with a planetarium, aquarium and a center dedicated to scientific innovation, including engineering and technology.

To reflect the future, the museum and the Ryder Charitable Foundation are hosting a festival called NEXT: From Nano to Macro, Innovation at Every Scale, taking place next weekend at the science museum’s Coconut Grove location, near Vizcaya. Visitors will learn how technology is rapidly adapting to accommodate society’s demand for the next big thing — from the epic to the tiny nanoscale.

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