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Penn State Health St. Joseph Receives Items from Collection Representing Its Namesake

When Susan Sullivan began her position as Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Vice President of Mission and Ministry in January, she noticed something that she thought seemed odd.

“I had noticed that there were very few items in the hospital that pertain to St. Joseph,” she said. “There just was not much at all that represented him.”

When Sullivan mentioned this to her longtime friend, Julie Magri, a retired physician who lives in Decatur, Georgia, a light bulb came on in Magri’s head.

It just so happened that Magri’s father, Leo R. Magri, who died in 2014, was a devoted follower of St. Joseph and had collected many statues and other items representing him.

In fact, when Magri’s parents relocated from their home in Holyoke, Massachusetts to live with her in Georgia, Magri set aside a room in her home where her father could store his religious papers, books and other items, many of which depicted St. Joseph.

Sullivan was delighted when Magri offered to share some of her father’s collection, and Magri shared her delight.

“I’m thrilled to find such a fitting home for these things that were so important to my father,” Magri said. “I think it’s providence, actually.

The items, including a framed print and several statues, the largest of which is displayed in the hospital’s chapel, were given to the hospital in honor of Leo Magri, who Julie Magri characterized as “a man of great faith, and a great man.”

Leo, a second generation grocer in Holyoke, so admired St. Joseph that for 33 years he arranged and led pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada, sometimes filling several buses with people who wanted to participate.

Leo Magri with daughter, Julie, at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.

He also had a statue built in the likeness of St. Joseph, replicating one displayed at the Oratory. The statue was placed on a 25-foot-high pole and erected on a narrow strip of land that Leo owned, towering over traffic moving along a major highway and overlooking the town of Holyoke.

When asked the reason for her father’s great devotion to St. Joseph, Magri said that, while she was very close to her father and knew a lot about his life, she wasn’t exactly sure what precipitated Leo’s love for the saint.

“I didn’t question it, just like I don’t question the air that I breathe,” Magri said. “My father’s love for St. Joseph predated the time when he became a father, and it was just something that his children grew up with. It was a natural as the air that we breathe.”

With Penn State Health St. Joseph now in possession of some of Leo Magri’s collection, Sullivan is hopeful that hospital employees and patients will become more aware of the saint, who is known as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary.

While not much about Joseph is found in the Bible, he is regarded as the patron saint of workers, and was declared by Pope Pius IX to be the patron and protector of the Catholic Church. He also is patron of the sick and patron of a happy death, presumably because he was in the presence of Mary and Jesus at the time of his own death.

A stained glass window depicting the death of St. Joseph is among Penn State Health St. Joseph’s collection of framed windows from its original chapel, located throughout the hospital. The one depicting the death of St. Joseph can be found on the Garden level, near the cafeteria.

St. Joseph is an important figure in the hospital’s Catholic identity, Sullivan said, and important in reminding staff members that their work is blessed.

“We’re about continuing the healing ministry of Jesus,” Sullivan said. “We know that everything that happens here requires teamwork. So, we have the teamwork of the people in the hospital, but also that of a heavenly presence.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence must extend to every aspect of hospital life.
“The idea of the coming and going of life is a daily reality here,” Sullivan said. “And, we must always keep in mind the idea of accompanying people where they are, and of being present in a very compassionate, healing way.”

Magri hopes that the St. Joseph items she donated to the hospital will provide spiritual strength to patients and staff.

“I just hope that they bring some spiritual nourishment to those who see them,” Magri said. “That would be important to my father.”

Penn State Berks Students Create Videos for St. Joseph

Penn State Health St. Joseph and Penn State Berks celebrates another successful collaborative partnership. Under the instruction of Dr. Kesha Morant Williams, Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences, the students partnered with Penn State Health St. Joseph Marketing and Medical Group Administration to complete their service learning and community based research project that captures – through video – what Penn State Health St. Joseph is all about.

The students wrote, designed, and directed three “ready to go-live” videos focusing on what makes Penn State Health St. Joseph unique – its services, architecture, innovation, and people. We encourage you to grab some popcorn and take it all in.

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Innovative Care showcases what makes Penn State Health St. Joseph unique and special including the design of the building and its innovative services.

A Glimpse into Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Culture is a warm portrayal of the people and culture at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

WE ARE Penn State Health St. Joseph highlights what Penn State Health St. Joseph is all about.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Physician, Residents Treat Patients in Haiti

A recent trip to Haiti left a trio of Penn State Health St. Joseph physicians humbled to have been able to help many patients, but also frustrated by what they were unable to accomplish.

Jeffrey A Zlotnick, MD Family and Sports Medicine PSH-St Joseph’s Family Medicine Residency Program Faculty, works with new patients during the mission trip.

Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, a Family Practice Specialist, traveled with Dr. Riley Manion and Dr. Elizabeth Herrman, both residents in St. Joseph’s Family Medicine Residency Program, to the impoverished nation late last year on a week-long medical mission trip in partnership with St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church.

They treated hundreds of patients, some of whom traveled for days to visit the free clinic. The doctors shared some of their insights about the island nation and the people they met there.

Devastation Remains

Hit by a massive earthquake in 2010 and again by the devastating Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the island has yet to recover.

“The place looked like a bomb hit it,” Dr. Zlotnick observed.

Dr. Manion and Dr. Herrman also were surprised by the extent of the remaining damage, although Dr. Manion noted that work is underway to restore conditions.

“It’s shocking that the island is still so damaged, but there is construction being done, which is promising,” she said.

Scope of Medical Need among Residents

Dr. Zlotnick estimated that the medical team treated about 850 patients over the course of the visit. He cited diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and untreated hypertension as the most common complaints. Other common conditions included skin infections, allergies, asthma, malnutrition and worm infestations, and doctors also treated patients affected by stroke, polio, spinal bifida and other conditions.

“I had never done anything like this before, and it was difficult because you wanted to be able to do more,” Dr. Zlotnick said. “To see people at the level of need these people were is just like, wow.”

Drs. Jeffrey Zlotnick (middle row far right), Elizabeth Herrman (top left), and Riley Manion (2nd in, top left) pose with the group participating in the medical mission trip to Haiti in partnership with St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church.

Dr. Manion said that, while they were able to help a lot of people and provide quality patient care, it was frustrating to see patients who they could not help.

It is those types of cases, she said, that she cannot forget.

“In particular, I saw a two-year-old boy with a spinal cord defect that could have been fixed at birth if he had been seen, but instead, I saw a two-year-old who will never be able to walk,” she said. “Cases like that, where our hands were tied or it was too late to intervene, are what will stay with me the most.”

The Haitian People

All three doctors were impressed with the kindness and sincerity of the patients they treated during the trip. Nearly everyone they treated thanked them profusely, even though, by U.S. medical standards, the doctors had little to offer to patients.

Some people who visited the clinic walked for days to get there, and many people dressed in their best clothing for their visit with American doctors. Dr. Herrman said she especially enjoyed treating the children who visited and learning about the culture of Haiti.

Riley Manion, DO Family Medicine Resident from Penn State Health St Joseph’s Family Medicine Residency Program meets with patients during the mission trip.

“We have so much available to us here in the U.S., and to see how appreciative the population was with the little we had to offer was humbling,” she said. “But, mostly, I really enjoyed just talking to patients and learning about their experiences.”

Dr. Manion agreed that the kindness of the people they treated was exceptional.

“The people of Haiti were so appreciative and welcoming,” she said. “They were constantly thanking us for coming, and praying for us to have a safe trip back home.”

A Sad Takeaway

All the doctors expressed mixed emotions about the trip and what they were able to accomplish or not accomplish due to limited resources. Dr. Herrman recalled a sad visit on their last day of the trip that has stayed with her since her return from Haiti.

“We visited a Mother Teresa orphanage on our last day, and while we were unable to treat any patients, we were able to interact with some of the babies and children,” she explained. “There was one child who clung so tightly on to me. It was clear he was seeking human contact, love and affection. When I put him down, he instantly began to cry. It was the hardest thing I had to do all week.”

Parents Receive Perfect Christmas Gift

A baby boy, born two weeks before his due date on Dec. 25, seems like a Christmas miracle for parents Dominic and Tabitha DeLillo and their five-year-old daughter, Annalise.

Photo Credit: Brianna DeLillo

Jaxon Sonny DeLillo was born Christmas afternoon at 4:13 in Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Breidegam Family Birthing Center, and is now at home with his parents and sister in Windsor Township.

“It’s the same day that Jesus was born,” Dominic marveled a week and a half after Jaxon’s birth. “He just seems like a Christmas miracle.”

Tabitha, who after being admitted to Penn State Health St. Joseph early Christmas morning had other things to think about than the date of the birth, was equally pleased that Jaxon arrived when he did.

Tabitha had learned several weeks prior to delivering that doctors did not expect she would carry the baby until its due date, as her cervix had already begun to dilate. Still, she was surprised when, very early on Christmas morning, there were indicators that Jaxon might be on his way.

“She woke me up around 4 o’clock,” Dominic said. “I looked at her and said, ‘you’re kidding, right?’ because I’d just gone to bed two hours before that. I was up getting the gifts ready and making sauce for my lasagna the next day.”

Tabitha, however, was not kidding, and, in a light snow, they arrived at the hospital at about 6 a.m.

Once Tabitha was settled and comfortable, Dominic returned home to open some presents with Annalise and to prepare two pans of lasagna. One was for his father, and the other was for doctors and nurses on duty at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

“Tabitha worked in the nursing field and had to work on holidays, so she knew what it would be like being at the hospital on Christmas,” Dominic explained. “So I put together a full tray, and I think that everybody appreciated it.”

Dominic returned to the birthing center with plenty of time to spare, and waited with Tabitha until the baby was born.

“At one point we weren’t sure he was going to be born that day,” Tabitha recalled. “The midwife wasn’t sure if my water had broken, and the contractions I was having weren’t that strong.”

Once the contraction started in earnest, however, it was a very short time until Jaxon was born.

“It went really fast at the end,” Tabitha said. “Once I really started dilating, it was only about 20 minutes until he was born.”

In addition to the timing of Jaxon’s birth, his parents discovered some other bits of information that made them smile. When they got home and compared the information cards staff members had recorded for Annalise and Jaxon, they realized that both babies had been born at nearly the exact same time in the same room.

And, during the earliest hours of each child’s lives, they received care from the same physician, Dr. Mary Ann Mancano, a pediatric hospitalist.
“That was really neat to find out,” Dominic said. “It seemed a little bit like we had come full circle.”

Sew Cool! Family and Friends Work Together for Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Patients

About 25 family members and friends gathered recently at the Blandon home of Janet and Kraig Leiby to sew stuffed animals and bibs for pediatric patients at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

Kraig is employed as a physical therapist at St. Joe’s.

With sewers coming from as far as northern New Jersey, they spent Friday evening and most of the day Saturday cutting, stuffing, stitching and ironing – all for a good cause.

Janet Leiby takes a break from making a bib

“It’s just a nice way for us to give back,” Janet explained. “I learned to sew at a very early age and many members of my family enjoy sewing, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get together and do something that benefits others.”

The weekend holiday sewing event, which has been held for about eight years, is not all business, of course. There was plenty of food and conversation to go around, along with a lot of joking and laughing.

To many of those gathered, the event is a hallmark of the Christmas season.

“This is my second year of helping, and I was really looking forward to it,” said Marian Simmons, who lives next door to the Leibys. “Doing something that helps someone else is a good way to celebrate Christmas.”

Steven Bush, 11, who on Saturday was the youngest member of the sewing group – not to mention the only male – was busy stitching squares for blankets on a sewing machine in the back of his Aunt Janet’s basement.

Steven had arrived at Janet’s house the previous night with his sister, Kristen; his mother, Linda; and his grandmother, Leona Baum, all of whom reside in northern New Jersey.

“I like coming here,” he said while operating the sewing machine. “It’s always fun, and I like to be with other people who like to sew.”
Sewing, according to Steven, is not only fun, but an enviable skill.

Kristen Bush cuts the cloth for stuffed animals

“Sewing is actually something that you’d want to learn,” he advised. “I think you can get a pretty good job with it.”

His sister, Kristen, 15, was busy that afternoon with a non-sewing project. She was tying and braiding fabric to make small octopus toys for children.

“This is a project for people who don’t know how to sew, but I’ve actually been sewing since I was three or four,” Kristen said. “I come from a sewing family.”

Janet, who in addition to sewing has made many quilts, also started sewing as a young child. When she was in seventh grade she made a dress that she still has which included ruffles, pleats, covered buttons and other complicated features.

“Yeah, it probably wasn’t the best project to start on, but I learned a lot from making it,” she said.

Teamwork results in a pile of bibs for babies!

An appreciation for the work that Penn State Health St. Joseph provides in the community motivates her to continue donating to the hospital, Janet explained. She said she enjoys working with Barb Moyer, volunteer coordinator, who helps her come up with a different project each year.

Last year Janet’s group made lap robes that could be given to patients in the emergency department. Another year, they made wipeable pillow covers for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“My family has always given when people needed things,” Janet said. “Being able to get together with friends and neighbors and family to create items that we know will be appreciated by others is as much a gift for us as for anyone else.”

St. Joseph Pharmacist Has a Cherished Connection to WE ARE

For former Penn State football player Wally Triplett, WE ARE, is more than the university’s now famous chant. It’s a proclamation that was collectively voiced by Triplett’s white Penn State teammates 70 years ago as they all voted to cancel a regular-season game at the University of Miami, rather than honor segregated Miami’s request to not bring their African American players to the game.

Triplett’s story, well told in the link below that was recently featured on ESPN, is also well known to St. Joseph’s pharmacist Darryle Tillman, Triplett’s cousin.

Darryle reports that Triplett still lives in the village of Lamott, Pa, a neighborhood in Cheltenham Township near Philadelphia that was founded as a way station on the underground railroad.

Tillman says that Triplett was one of the first African-Americans to be drafted by and play for a National Football League team. He was a member of the Detroit Lions in the 50s and was on a team that won a championship game, before it was known as the Super Bowl.

To learn about the ‘true’ significance of WE ARE, please click on the video below.

Navigating Her Own Cancer Diagnosis

Maria Jimenez was born and raised in Puerto Rico and arrived in Reading in 1984.

She worked at many jobs as she raised 2 children. She had a “good life” but wanted to improve herself.

So, at age 53, Maria began college with the dream of working in healthcare.

In 2015, she graduated from Alvernia University with a BS in Healthcare Science. During her senior year, Maria “shadowed” St. Joseph’s Oncology Social Worker and Breast Care Patient Navigator and, after that experience, decided that becoming a Navigator would be a perfect career for her!

And her timing was perfect, too!

The year she graduated, St. Joe’s was the recipient of a Grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The grant was to hire a full-time Bilingual Navigator, known in the Latino community as a Promotora. After being hired, Maria attended the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute in New York City for the specialized training needed for her new role.

In the ensuing 18 months, she found her life’s calling. She was devoted to assisting women, especially Reading’s large Latino community, to learn about the importance of breast health and mammograms.

She was immersed in her new job and life was good to her.

Then, in April 2017, she found a lump in one of her own breasts.

A mammogram and ultrasound was followed by a biopsy; the news was not good: She was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer.

Maria needed chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy; she lost her hair and took a leave from the job she loved. She was quite sick from the side effects of treatment, but yearned to return to the work she felt so passionate about.

Finally, just this October 2, Maria was back, with the realization that, more than ever, she was uniquely qualified to be a Promotora. While she still needs infusions and radiation therapy, she believes “the worst is over.” And, as if her professional mission needed clarity, she recognizes that her personal experience will be invaluable as she helps patients to deal with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Inspired by St. Joseph Community Benefit Report, Penn State Berks Professor Writes Book from a Patient Perspective

What started as a project for a health communication class at Penn State Berks became the inspiration for a book that gives voice to women suffering from illnesses that cannot be seen.

It was the fall semester of 2015, and Dr. Kesha Morant Williams, associate professor of communication arts and science, was looking for a service learning project for an introductory level class she was teaching.

Dr. Kesha Morant Williams

The class, which was linked to Penn State’s Center for Service Learning and Community Based Research, was tasked with working with a local organization to fill a need, while fulfilling the requirements of the class curriculum.

Working with Julia Nickey, director of patient and organizational engagement at Penn State Health St. Joseph, Williams arranged to have her students write stories for the hospital’s 2015 Community Benefit Report.

The report highlights programs and activities aimed at promoting community health that the hospital sponsors or supports.

“We were trying to figure out what would be a good link to the service learning center, course objectives and the community. After talking with Julia this seemed like a great fit,” Williams said.

The project gave students opportunities to interview people who had benefitted from St. Joseph’s programs or services, and to write their stories. Instead of writing the stories from a medical viewpoint, however, Williams charged students with employing patient-centered communication.

“I told them that their job is to let the voice of the person they interviewed come through,” said Williams, a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in health issues. “I like to hear the other side of the story. Very rarely do we hear the patient’s perspective.”

Students completed their interviews and wrote their stories, meeting not only patients, but community members from a number of organizations. The Community Benefit Report was deemed a success and distributed throughout Berks County, but it remained in the forefront of William’s mind.

The professor had long thought about writing a book about illnesses that are real, but cannot be seen. She wanted to tell the stories of people suffering from conditions such as ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

While working with her students on St. Joseph’s Community Benefit Report, it became clear to her that the book should be written in the voices of the people it chronicled.

“It made me think how I could create a text that gave women a voice and readers a viewpoint they may not have had,” explained Williams. The result is a book expected to be published later this year by Maryland-based Lexington Books. It includes the stories of 11 women who suffer from serious illnesses that are not visible to others, but are the source of pain, distress and, often, shame. “Some of these women really struggle with guilt and shame as a result of their illness,” Williams said. “Being able to tell their stories in their own voice can be empowering to them.”

Writing from a bio-medical perspective is fine and often necessary, but tends to focus only on physical health, Williams asserted. “It’s a way to address the medical issue, but it doesn’t address the lived experiences of the patient,” she said. “It doesn’t account for mental or emotional or spiritual health.”

Writing from the perspective a patient can help readers understand underlying conditions and circumstances that may be easy to misinterpret. For instance, Williams said, a mother may decide not to take her medicine one day because it causes dizziness and nausea. While it may be clinically unacceptable for her not to take her medicine as directed by her doctor, it is necessary to the woman because her son is pitching in a championship baseball game that she desperately wants to attend.

Women with unseen diseases often are viewed as lazy, or as whiners, while they actually are simply trying their best to cope.

Participants in Williams’ book include nurses, professors, a physician, a research fellow and a graduate student. They are mothers, wives, daughters and friends – all looking for someone to hear their voice. They tell their stories, as edited by Williams, or she writes their stories in their voices.

The result, she said, is powerful. “Hearing the stories of these women moves assumptions and humanizes these conditions,” Williams said. “It lets their voices be heard.”

Interested in reading the students’ inspiring stories in the Community Benefit Report? Check it out here

Eagle Scout project benefits cancer patients

Ryan Dunlap, son of staff member Jason Dunlap, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2015, and spent a lot of time cooped up in the hospital. He is in remission and is leading a very busy high school life.

In planning his Eagle Scout project for Troop 161 in Muhlenberg, he knew he wanted to give something back, so he met with Karen Wagner, Director of Oncology. While a patient at Penn State Hershey, he was given a bag that had lots of items to help him pass the time, and he wanted to do something similar for our adult cancer patients. His goal was to stuff 30 bags with items for the patients.

Ryan drew from his own experience, and asked other cancer survivors for their advice. Together, they drew up a list of requested items, and placed collection boxes in several staff areas in the hospital and at his church.

Dunlap, along with some fellow scouts, family, and friends, filled the goodie bags on Tuesday morning, far surpassing his original 30 bag goal. Thanks to his willing heart, and the donations of many, they were able to fill 146 bags with lots of snacks, adult coloring books, word search books, pens, tablets, gum, hard candies, toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, and a myriad of other items.

The patients were thrilled to receive the bags, and were even more touched when they heard Ryan’s story. A note accompanied each one that ended, “I send my best wishes to you, and remember, never ever give up!”

Four scouts from Boy Scout Troop 161 gave out goodie bags to outpatients in the chemo room Tuesday morning. The project was part of Ryan Dunlap’s Eagle Scout project. Left to right: Ryan Dunlap, scout and cancer survivor; Tom Manno, cancer survivor; Christian Dunlap, Betty Manno, Tom’s wife; Brian Koenig, and Christopher Kachel.
Ryan Dunlap and his fellow scouts are surrounded by Cancer Center staff Tuesday morning, after creating 146 goodie bags for cancer patients.

Penn State St. Joseph Pediatrician Returns from Second Trip to Ghana

Dr. Haley Spagnola, a Penn State Health St. Joseph pediatric hospitalist, returned from her second trip to Ghana in March with an increased appreciation for its people and the hardships they face on a daily basis.

Malnutrition is common in the West Africa nation, with many children suffering from its effects. “There definitely are food scarcity issues, and because of that the children experience a variety of problems,” Spagnola said.

Included in those problems are developmental delay; organ damage; stunted growth; and rickets, scurvy and blindness – results of vitamin deficiencies.

In spite of their problems, the people of Ghana are warm and welcoming, and deeply appreciative of the efforts of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey’s Global Health program, which sponsored the trip.

“They’re really thankful that we give up our time to come and help them,” Spagnola said. “They love sharing their culture and their food. They are a very lovely people.”

Children, many of whom had never seen a white person before, were particularly fascinated by those visiting. “They touch you a lot,” recalled Spagnola, who is petite and very blonde. “They liked to touch my hair, because it was so different than theirs.” Spagnola, 31, also traveled to Ghana last year while in residency at Hershey Medical Center. This year, she accompanied Hershey residents as a chaperone.

Hershey’s Global Health program partners with Mountcrest University College and the Eastern Regional Hospital in Ghana, and is helping the College to establish a medical school in the village of Larteh. The medical school, set to open in the fall, is the first in rural Ghana. Penn State students and doctors also worked in Eastern Regional Hospital during their trip, treating both inpatients and outpatients.

“In the morning we would round in the inpatient ward, and then we’d go to the outpatient clinic in the afternoon,” Spagnola said. They also interacted with medical staff, working to bring evidenced-based practices to the hospital.

“One of the big things we’re looking at is a large longitudinal project to help improve practices,” Spagnola said.

Ghana has a national health system, but coverage is limited. While the national system covers basic services, patients may have to pay for prescriptions or tests. If financial resources are not available, services may be denied. Some Ghanaians have private insurance, but many rely on the national system.

Making the most of available resources is extremely important, Spagnola explained, and those resources often are very limited. Experiencing those limited resources while working at Eastern Regional Hospital deepened Spagnola’s appreciation of the availability of supplies and services in the United States.

“It makes you appreciate more the resources that we have, and inspires you to try to use those resources more wisely,” she said. “Despite some of the problems we have with our healthcare, we still are very fortunate for what we have.”

Spagnola hopes to return to Ghana next year, perhaps with some of St. Joseph’s family physicians.

“The program is growing quickly, and there are plans for more and more trips,” she said.

Staff members from Eastern Regional Hospital also have visited Hershey Medical Center. The partnership, Spagnola said, is beneficial to everyone.

“Learning about a different healthcare system is really important, and experiencing it hands on is a great opportunity,” she said. “As this partnership continues to grow, more and more residents and doctors will be able to benefit from that.”

Haley C. Spagnola, DO is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Penn State Health St. Joseph, delivering high-quality medical care for infants, children, and adolescents during their in-patient hospital stay.