Epigenetics: Empowering You to Make Positive Lifestyle Changes

A new concept in the medical community known as “epigenetics” suggests that you may have more control over your genetic legacy than you think.

By: Dr. Gretchen Diem, Healthy Psychology

Did you know that your genes may not fully determine your health destiny? A new concept in the medical community known as “epigenetics” suggests that you may have more control over your genetic legacy than you think. Until recently it was believed you were stuck with the genes you were born with and that much of what went on in terms of health, susceptibility to diseases, and longevity were hard-wired into your genetic code.

It’s now known, however, that your genes can get turned on and off, and that they can be expressed to greater or lesser degrees, as a result of your lifestyle habits. In other words, what you put on your plate, how much you move your body, whether you smoke, what and how much you drink, the degree of stress in your life and your attitude can actually change the instructions held in your DNA. So, even if your genes indicate a history of family illness (i.e., heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, etc.) you can make lifestyle choices and health-related behavior changes that can keep a gene from being turned on and expressed as a disease.

Take cancer as an example, healthy lifestyle habits positively affect genes that help fight cancer, while others help turn off genes that promote cancer development, according to a study, which is in the June 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Another study conducted here at the University of Wisconsin, published in the Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the human genome as well. “Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” said Dr. Richard Davidson one of the lead researchers. These findings are very encouraging. They counter the doomsday thinking we so often hear people saying; “It’s all in my genes, there’s nothing I can do.”

The advice to quit smoking, eat more fruits and vegetables, move your body more, get restorative sleep, and cultivate a more positive outlook is not new or novel. We have known for a long time that it can reduce the chance of declining health. It’s just that now the concept of epigenetics tells us that your lifestyle changes can change the expression of hundreds of your genes, and not just your genes but also the genes of several future generations.

So what will you do to minimize your risk of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or other illnesses that may be part of your family history and genetic predisposition? Pause for a moment to think about what you want for your body and your mind. Each and every day, you make hundreds of decisions and choices that can determine your health in the months and years ahead. The potential health benefits are endless.

We at Meriter understand that changing health habits is not always easy. If you would like to help with learning new tools for making sustainable behavior changes, consider joining one of our lifestyle intervention programs so that you can lead a long and healthy life.

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Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Heart Month is the perfect time to find new ways to show your heart some love.  If you’re looking for a heart-healthy lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet might be right for you. Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, as well as numerous other diseases.

A traditional Mediterranean diet promotes enjoying lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil, coupled with daily physical activity—among other components of the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Many people who switch to this style of eating say they’ll never eat any other way.

The Basics of the Mediterranean Diet

Eat Your Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains – Every meal should be based around a variety of plant foods—fresh and whole are best. 

Switch the Type of Meat Your Eat – Lean protein, like fish and poultry, should be a part of your meals at least twice a week. Limit your consumption of red meats and pork to no more than a few times each month. Particularly try to avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat, high-salt, processed meats.

Choose Low-Fat Dairy – Pick up skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese. Limit your consumption of ice cream and high-fat coffee creamers.

Go Nuts when Snacking – Great for a quick snack, nuts and seeds provide fiber, protein and healthy fats. Beware: although nuts are packed full of vitamins and nutrients, they are also high in calories!

Pass the Butter – Replace butter and margarine with healthy fats, like olive or canola oil.

Pass the Salt – Add flavor to your foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.

Limit Sugar – Be conscious of the amount of sugar your may unintentionally be consuming every day; juices, sodas, sweet snacks and desserts—even savory foods like pasta sauces, chicken nuggets and french fries—are full of sugar.

Lifestyle Changes – The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the importance of being physically active and enjoying meals with family and friends.

By following the recommendations outlined in the pyramid, you and your loved ones can take daily action to live heart healthy!

Learn more about Meriter’s nationally recognized Heart & Vascular center.

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Heart Healthy Tips for Kids

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease. Kids should have a diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts.

By: Dr. Kathryn Cahill, Pediatrician

As a child, February was one of my favorite months. After coming down from Christmas, the month of January was cold and dragged on. I eagerly anticipated February and all its heart-themed activities. As a mom, I’ve seen the same excitement in my children as they craft intricate mailboxes for Valentine cards, cut paper hearts, and make heart-shaped sugar cookies. This excitement sets the stage for our children to be a captive audience in learning more about their hearts. As parents, the month of February is the perfect opportunity to help our kiddos learn more about their bodies and show their hearts a little love.

Not coincidentally, the month of February is also American Heart month. Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. It is also one of the biggest reasons for disability, keeping parents from working and enjoying family activities. During this month, we encourage parents to “know their numbers” (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and weight) and look for opportunities to improve their family’s heart health.

The Basics of Heart Health
Heart disease is complicated, but the basics of it are simple – we’re worried about arteriosclerosis (hardening of the walls of the blood vessels). At rest and with sleep, blood circulates slowly through the body carrying oxygen and nutrients. With exercise or activity, the heart pumps harder to carry blood more quickly through the body. Because of this, blood vessel walls need to be strong and stretchy to accommodate the different amounts of blood flowing through them. If the blood vessels aren’t pliable, it makes everything else work harder and disease develops.

One cause of arteriosclerosis is called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is caused by the development of plaques in the blood vessels. These plaques (like the gunk that clogs pipes) thicken the walls of the vessels and make them stiffer, resulting in blood flowing less easily through the vessel. Research has shown that development of these plaques starts at a very young age. So, while we focus a lot in adults on modifying their risk factors for heart disease, the problem actually started when we were all kids. The good news is that we can do something now to help our kids have healthier hearts when they are our age.

Keeping Kids Healthy
So, what can you do to modify your kids’ risks for heart disease? Start early! A healthy diet and exercise are the best way to prevent heart disease. Kids should have a diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts. Limit juice to less than 4 ounces daily. Avoid too much red meat and cut out sugar-sweetened beverages. Limiting processed foods (stuff that comes in packages) also helps cut back on foods that increase the risk for heart disease. All kids should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Limit screen time to less than 2 hours daily – this includes TV, video games, and tablet time. Match every minute of screen time with a minute of healthy, vigorous activity. Avoid smoke exposure for your kids. Finally, know your family’s history – genetics play a big role in heart disease. Talk with your kids’ pediatrician about their risk factors and come up with a plan to change them.

February is a great month for families to reflect on their health goals. As pediatricians and parents, our goal is to be the ultimate preventive cardiologists. We need to help each other recognize risk factors for developing heart disease, not just in the parents, but also in our kids. By encouraging families to live heart-healthy lives from an early age, we hope to spread the love and prevent children from developing heart disease.

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Get the App, Save a Life

The PulsePoint mobile app directs bystanders to a medical event in their immediate area so they can begin CPR in the lifesaving minutes before paramedics arrive.

Meriter – UnityPoint Health, City of Madison Fire and Dane County EMS are proud to introduce the community to PulsePoint, a mobile app to help keep your heart beating in an emergency.

“Effective CPR given right after sudden cardiac arrest can significantly increase a victim’s chance of survival,” said Dr. Joseph Bellissimo, Cardiologist at Meriter – UnityPoint Health, which is funding PulsePoint through the Meriter Foundation. “We are thrilled that we are part of the team that’s bringing PulsePoint to our community.”

“PulsePoint is the result of the hard work and collaboration of a number of organizations in Dane County,” said Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive. “We know that people in our community are willing to help and this program connects them directly to those who need it most.”

Connected with the Dane County 911 Center, the PulsePoint app alerts CPR-trained bystanders when a sudden cardiac arrest occurs in a safe public place within their immediate vicinity. Users will be able to quickly find the victim and begin CPR immediately rather than idly waiting for EMS to arrive. The app also gives detailed instructions and locations of nearby automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).

“We know that PulsePoint has saved lives elsewhere, and I am confident it will be successful here, too.  The City is pleased to collaborate with Meriter-UnityPoint Health, Dane County EMS and the 911 Center in this project. This is a great success for the public we serve,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.

“When it comes to cardiac arrest, every second counts. Every minute a person waits for help, their chances of survival decrease by as much as 10 percent,” said Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis. “We are always looking for new and innovative means to improve survival from cardiac arrest, and we are all looking forward to the potential success of this technology.”

PulsePoint is not limited to emergency responders or those with official CPR certification. It can be used by anyone who has been trained in CPR. Those looking for a CPR training course or more information on PulsePoint should visit meriter.com/pulsepoint

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Foods for a Heart Healthy Diet

February is Heart Month! Use these guidelines to make heart-healthier choices to prevent heart disease.

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Do You Know the Risk Factors of Heart Failure?

A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of developing heart failure. Join a group exercise class or meet one-on-one with a personal trainer to help you incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine.

By: Katie Diaz, Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner

Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops over time, and it is estimated to affect over 5 million people in the United States alone. Heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has quit working all together. Instead, the heart muscle is weakened, and this usually occurs because the muscle has been damaged somehow. There are a number of conditions that can weaken and damage the heart including long-standing high blood pressure, heart attack (blockage in the heart arteries), heart valve problems, disorders of the heart muscle, and diabetes. When the heart is damaged, it has to work harder to pump blood through the body. When the heart is struggling to keep up with the demand, your body does a number of things to adapt early on. However, these adjustments are not permanent solutions, and they eventually fall short as well. The symptoms of heart failure that people typically experience include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feel more tired (fatigued)
  • Feel unable to complete their usual activities (activity intolerance)
  • Trouble breathing when lying down (need more pillows to sleep comfortably)
  • Swelling in legs (edema)
  • Weight gain
  • General feeling of tiredness or weakness

Risk Factors and Actions to Take to Reduce Risk
There are various factors that increase a person’s risk of developing heart failure. These include tobacco use, being sedentary (little or no physical activity), a diet that is high in fat, cholesterol, and/or salt (sodium), being overweight or obese, and having diabetes. While several of these factors can be difficult to change or improve, there are many resources and programs available to assist people to quit smoking, improve their diet, become more physically active, and improve the management of diabetes. Meeting with a nutritionist or dietician can not only help you identify the foods to include in your diet and which ones to avoid, but they are a valuable resource when it comes to managing diabetes. Joining a group exercise class or meeting one-on-one with a personal trainer or exercise physiologist can help you take the first steps toward incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine.

Managing Heart Failure
Although hearing the words “heart failure” can be a scary experience for patients and their loved ones, there are many steps someone with heart failure can take to manage their symptoms and continue living a fulfilling life. It is important to work closely with your provider in order to reduce and effectively manage your symptoms. While there is no cure for heart failure, there have been advancements in the management of heart failure which have helped people live for years after being diagnosed. The treatment goals are to minimize the symptoms a patient experiences, reduce the number of ER visits and hospital admissions, improve the quality of life and help ensure that patients are able to live a satisfying life. Research has identified certain classes of medications that have been shown to support the weakened heart, help reduce symptoms, and in some cases, help strengthen the heart. Along with medications, heart failure management focuses on educating patients about the importance of diet, exercise, monitoring symptoms daily, and working closely with their provider. These are steps that you can take to actively manage your heart failure:

  • Take medications as instructed by your provider
  • Weigh yourself every day under the same conditions (ex. first thing in the morning while wearing similar clothing)
  • Call your provider if your weight goes up (2-3 pounds in 24 hours or 5 pounds in one week)
  • Call your provider if you develop any new or worsening symptoms such as increased shortness of breath, decreased activity tolerance, or swelling
  • Watch your salt intake and limit it to 2 grams (2,000 mg) per day
  • Try to live a more active lifestyle

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart failure, contact us today. Our Heart Failure clinic strives to work collaboratively with patients and their families in an effort to successfully manage heart failure symptoms while supporting and empowering patients.

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#MadisonGoesRed for Women

On Friday, February 6, in honor of Heart Month, wear red to bring awareness to America’s #1 killer of women: heart disease. Typically thought of as a man’s disease, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. The first step in finding a solution to this health crisis is education and awareness. Meriter’s doctors, nurses and staff will unite for the cause by showing up to work in red apparel.

In 2003, the American Heart Association faced a challenge; cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year, yet women were not paying attention. In fact, many even dismissed it as an “older man’s disease.” To dispel these myths, the American Heart Association, along with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute created National Wear Red Day® to raise awareness of this critical issue. Each year, on the first Friday in February, millions of men and women come together to wear red, take action and commit to fighting this deadly disease.

Share you pictures using #GoRed and #MadisonGoesRed.

To make a donation toward life-saving research, education, and community programs to help women live longer, heart-healthy lives, visit Go Red for Women or support the Cardiovascular Services fund at Meriter by donating through Meriter Foundation.

Click Here to learn more about Meriter’s nationally recognized Heart & Vascular program.

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When to Call the Doctor: Vomiting

It can be challenging to determine when to call the doctor. Here are several things to know about all things on vomit.

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Sign up for our Running Clinic

Hopefully spring is just around the corner, and with that the start of a new season of running, training, and racing!  If you are still dealing with an injury from last fall, developing a new ache or pain, or just want to refine your running form, now is the time to address it and start this season off right.  

Sign up today for an appointment at the Meriter–UnityPoint Health Sports Medicine Running clinic. You will meet one on one with one of our sports medicine therapists who will screen your flexibility, strength and running mechanics and help you with some tips on how to improve any limitations.  We will have access to our video analysis system to help identify problem areas within your running mechanics.

Date and Time: March 5, 2015 from 6:00, 6:30 or 7:00 PM
Location: Middleton Therapy Clinic
Cost: $35
Attire: Wear running clothes and have running shoes with you

Register today

Only 3 spots are left!

Additional running clinics are tentatively scheduled for May 7, July 9, and September 10.

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Healthy Habits for the New Year

The first step toward healthy living starts with choosing something that poses a health risk. It can start with committing to eat one healthy meal each day.

By: Dr. Luke Fortney, Family Medicine at Meriter McKee

The Holy Grail of medicine has been and continues to be healthy lifestyle change. Basically this means 1) identifying something in our daily routine that adds significant risk to our ability to live a long and happy life (e.g. smoking, eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, not getting enough exercise, too much stress, etc.); 2) weighing the pros and cons associated with doing x, y, or z on a regular basis, and; 3) committing to the idea that it is possible to be well and feel good. Just by entertaining the possibility that something different is possible, we open ourselves to more opportunities and likelihood for success.

There are 3 main pillars to health: 1) how we move—or don’t move—the body, 2) what we put into the body, and 3) how we address stress and the mind-body connection. What each of us does specifically in each of these three main areas may be different from one person to the next.

No matter the person, every human being is dealing with, working through, and experiencing some kind of health issue. For example, even seemingly perfect healthy people will catch a cold from time to time or occasionally experience some kind of ache or pain. What’s more, no matter our background or station in life, everybody knows what it is like to have a restless night of sleep due to stress or feel fatigued from being pulled in a million different directions.

The point is we’re all working on some aspect of our health, ultimately toward the same general goal: I want to live more fully and feel well over a long lifespan. Nonetheless, the basic blueprint will always be the same: move more, eat better, stress less.

Two Basic Aspects to Lifestyle Changes

The first step toward healthy happy living is easier than we think, and should give us encouragement: pick something—anything—that we know with certainty poses a health risk. Gandhi once said that, “it doesn’t matter where you start, because all steps toward self-improvement lead to the same place.” These proverbial “first steps” are crucial toward making positive change because they set the stage and become the focus for the next crucial stage of behavior change: to keep going!

No matter where we start, or what our goal is, it is important to remain patient and persistent in our daily efforts. For example, it might be something simple like, drinking a full glass of water before each meal, or committing to eating at least one healthy meal a day. Other simple ideas might be doing some kind of physical activity over lunch breaks when possible, or beginning to think about quitting smoking everyday. It might even mean getting out of a stressful or bad situation. There are literally millions of options that can be available to us if we step back and consider our lives from the perspective of long-standing wellbeing.

Be Inquisitive and Have an Open Mind

Try new kinds of physical activity or recipes. Just like investments and the stock market, think long term. Be resilient and flexible when challenges present. And if there is any secret to healthy living, it’s simply this: it actually feels really good to be healthy and can help avoid future disasters. There are a lot of beautiful places to go, people to meet, experiences to have with a body and mind that allow these opportunities to actually happen. Just ask a patient who, after a knee replacement, lost weight, became stronger and more agile, and got to experience the awe and wonderment of a sunrise on a hiking trip through Yellowstone National Park. Or another who—plagued by acid reflux, sleep apnea, and daily fatigue started to feel more energetic and alert after cutting out soda from his diet. Another found a way to minimize her Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression by getting outdoors in show shoes and capturing breathtaking wilderness scenes with her new camera.

Why make change?

This is the best question. Why consider any of this? It shouldn’t be a leap of faith to simply believe that healthier lifestyle habits—in addition to improving risk of death and injury significantly—can also make us feel great. Over my years of clinical practice, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be present and witness the exciting process of healthy lifestyle change. Real change happening in people who say yes to this process is the most inspiring and rewarding aspect of my job, hands down. Even though every person’s way of doing this may be different and unique, the general theme has and always will be the same: keen awareness of one’s situation, paying attention and considering all possibilities, and being patient and persistent with the process. Perhaps most importantly, we too often forget to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves as we progress through the process of change.

With this in mind we encourage you to take these points into consideration:

  1. Pick something, anything
  2. Think about it a little bit everyday
  3. Commit to a healthy habit no matter how big or small
  4. Seek information and get help if you get stuck
  5. Be open, honest, patient, and persistent with the process
  6. Be flexible and adapt as you go along
  7. Relax, do what you can, and keep going
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Recipe: How to Pack the Perfect Salad In a Jar

Mason Jar salads are a convenient way to pack a healthy salad for your work lunch.

Mason Jar salads are a convenient way to pack a healthy salad for your work lunch.

By: Susie Brueggemann, Clinical Dietitian

Makes 1 salad
1-2 tablespoons salad dressing
Mix of raw and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, cheese, and other salad ingredients
Salad greens


Wide-mouth canning jars with tight-fitting lids:
Pint jars for side salads, quart jars for individual meal-sized salads, 2-quart jars (or larger) for multiple servings
Large bowl, to serve


  1. Salad Dressing: Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of your favorite salad dressing in the bottom of the jar. Adjust the amount of dressing depending on the size of the salad you are making and your personal preference.
  2. Hard Vegetables: Next, add any hard chopped vegetables you’re including in your salad, like carrots, cucumbers, red and green peppers, cooked beets, and fennel.
  3. Beans, Grains, and Pasta: Next, add any beans, grains, and/or pasta, like chickpeas, black beans, cooked barley, cooked rice, and pasta corkscrews.
  4. Cheese and Proteins (optional): If you’ll be eating the salad within the day, add a layer of diced or crumbled cheese and proteins like tuna fish, diced (cooked) chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or cubed tofu. If you’re making salads ahead to eat throughout the week, wait to add these ingredients until the day you’re planning to eat the salad and add them on top of the jar.
  5. Softer Vegetables and Fruits (optional): Next, add any soft vegetables or fruits, like avocados, tomatoes, diced strawberries, or dried apricots. If you’re making salads ahead to eat throughout the week, wait to add these ingredients until the day you’re planning to eat the salad and add them to the top of the jar.
  6. Nuts, Seeds, and Lighter Grains: Next, add any nuts or seeds, like almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. If you’re making a salad with lighter, more absorbent grains like quinoa or millet, add them in this layer instead of with the beans.
  7. Salad Greens: Last but not least, fill the rest of the jar with salad greens. Use your hands to tear them into bite-sized pieces. It’s fine to pack them into the jar fairly compactly.
  8. Storing the salad: Screw the lid on the jar and refrigerate for up to 5 days. If you’re including any cheese, proteins, or soft fruits and vegetables, add these to the top of the jar the morning you plan to eat your salad.
  9. Tossing and eating the salad: When ready to eat, unscrew the lid and shake the salad into the bowl. The action of shaking the salad into the bowl is usually enough to mix the salad with the dressing. If not, toss gently with a fork until coated.

Try these recipes for a spin on your usual salad! Layer all ingredients as follows in a wide mouth Mason Jar.

Recipe #1: Asian Salad in a Jar
2Tbsp. Light Sesame Ginger Dressing
1 Tbsp. Peapods
2 Tbsp. Carrot/Cabbage Shreds
1 Tbsp. Water Chestnuts
1 Tbsp. Edamame
1 Tbsp. Quinoa
1 Tbsp. Slivered Almonds
Lettuce/Fresh Spinach

Recipe #2: Classic Salad Bar in a Jar
2 Tbsp. of favorite dressing
1 Tbsp. Broccoli/Cauliflower or Zucchini/Squash
1 Tbsp. Carrot/Celery
4-5 Grape Tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Chopped peppers/cucumbers
1-2 Tbsp. corn, pas or legumes of choices
1-2 Tbsp. nuts or seeds of choice
Lettuce/Fresh Spinach of choice

Recipe #3: Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Pasta, Basil & Spinach
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar dressing
4-5 grape tomatoes
1 oz. or 5-6 fresh mozzarella pearls
1/3 – ½ cup whole grain pasta, cooked
Fresh Basil and Spinach

Recipe #4: Chopped Black Bean & Corn Salad
5 wide mouth quart size mason jars
1 ¼ cup salsa
6 oz. container plain Greek Yogurt
1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, chopped
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
12 oz. package frozen corn
2 avocados peeled and chopped
5 ounce block pepper jack cheese, cut into small cubes
4-5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
¼ cup or more chopped cilantro (optional)

Instructions: In each of the Mason Jars, pour ¼ cup of salsa. Then divide the Greek yogurt evenly among the jars. This will equal about 1.5 Tbsp. of Greek yogurt per jar. Next divide and layer the rest of the ingredients evenly between the 5 mason jars starting with tomatoes then following with onions, black beans, corn, avocado, cheese, and ending with Romaine and Cilantro. When ready to eat pour into a brown, mix together and enjoy! This can be made up to 5 days ahead of time.

Recipe #5: Mason Jar Greek Salad- Serves 5
5 Quart size wide mouth Mason jars
10 Tbsp. Newman’s Own Olive Oil & Vinegar Dressing
1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
5 mini cucumbers, sliced
1 cup pitted Greek olives, sliced or chopped
¾ c. crumbled Feta Cheese
2 c. chopped or shredded Rotisserie Chicken
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce

Instructions: Divide and layer all ingredients into Mason Jars. Start with salad dressing, then tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, chicken and end with lettuce. Put Mason jar top on and store in refrigerator.

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Meriter-UnityPoint Health & UW Health to Expand Partnership


New agreement allows for more coordinated care

UW Health and Meriter-UnityPoint Health have signed a joint operating agreement for obstetrics and neonatal services.

The new agreement, recently approved by the members’ respective boards, went into effect Jan. 1, 2015, strengthening a long tradition of partnership around women’s health.

The joint operating agreement will cover “mother-baby services” with a plan to operate as if a single entity, offering both patients and referring physicians unified access to care and a more seamless experience.

“We value the opportunity to join with Meriter-UnityPoint Health and combine the strengths of UW Health’s academic medicine and patient- and family-centered care within a community hospital and a nationally ranked children’s hospital,” said Jeff Poltawsky, senior vice president of American Family Children’s Hospital. “This will allow us to achieve a future vision for coordinated care of women and infants. In addition to better care, this arrangement helps avoid duplication of services in the community—an important goal as we enhance quality, service and access while becoming more efficient in the delivery of care.”

The partnership will be governed by a 10-member board with equal representation from UW Health and Meriter and includes representation of both independent and UW Health physicians. While each party will maintain complete ownership of its current assets, the new board will monitor quality and service performance, review and approve annual budgets, strategic plans and policies and procedures.

“Under this agreement, Meriter-UnityPoint Health will strengthen maternal and newborn care and also build upon our tradition of partnering with the community to coordinate care around the needs of our patients, truly putting them at the center of all we do,” said Meriter Chief Nursing Officer Pat Grunwald.  “Families will benefit from peace of mind in knowing that they will receive the most technically advanced obstetrical, prenatal and newborn care through the collaborative sharing of top-notch resources in both Meriter and UW’s facilities.”

Meriter has the busiest birthing center in the state and a Level III neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) that can provide life support to extremely high-risk newborns.  UW Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital opened a 14-bed Level IV NICU in May; it offers a full range of pediatric medical and surgical specialists and can provide care for infants with highly complex conditions.

Meriter and UW Health already partner in providing care in the Meriter Birthing Center and NICU, Center for Perinatal Care, OB/GYN care in Meriter clinics and Generations Fertility Care.

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Preventing Post-Surgical Infections – Steps to a Successful Procedure

Walking or exercising daily before your surgery can help improve your lung function and avoid post-surgical infections.

By: Diane Dohm, Infection Prevention Program

A surgical site infection occurs after surgery in the part of the body where surgery took place. Most patients who have surgery do not develop an infection. However, infections develop in about 1-3 of every 100 persons who have surgery.

What can you do to help prevent surgical infections?
Before your surgery, discuss your medical conditions with your doctor. Health problems such as diabetes, allergies and obesity can affect your outcome:

  • If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking increases your risk of infection as well as pneumonia after surgery.
  • Walk or exercise daily if possible to improve your lung function.
  • Do not shave the area near the surgical site the night before surgery or the morning of surgery. This may also include your legs and under your arms. Shaving can cause skin irritation and small nicks in your skin which may make it easier to develop an infection.
  • Your doctor may test you for Staph, a kind of germ, by swabbing your nose.
  • The night before surgery or the morning of surgery, clean your body and the site of surgery with a special product (soap or wipes) to reduce the number of germs on your body. Your doctor will instruct you on what to use and how to use it. Once you arrive at the hospital, your healthcare providers will clean your skin again.
  • After using the soap or wipes, put on clean, freshly laundered clothing. If possible, place clean sheets on your bed.

After your surgery, there are also things you can do to help prevent infections:

  • All health care providers, family and friends should clean their hands with alcohol gel or soap and water before and after visiting you. If you do not see them do this, it is ok to ask them to clean their hands.
  • Avoid touching your wound. Always clean your hands before and after caring for your wound and changing dressings as instructed by your doctor.
  • Your doctor will provide guidelines for your activity. Deep breathing and increasing your activity as allowed will decrease risk for pneumonia and blood clots.

After discharge from the hospital, follow the instructions given to you by your doctor. If you develop any signs of an infection, such as redness and pain at the surgical site, drainage, or fever, call your doctor.

Your doctor, nurses, and other healthcare professionals also do many things to prevent infections after surgery. Some of the things they do include:

  • Cleansing their hands and arms with special soaps just prior to surgery.
  • Wearing special hair covers, masks, gowns and gloves during surgery to keep the surgery area clean.
  • Cleansing the skin at the site of surgery with special antiseptics.
  • Antibiotics may be given prior, during, or after surgery as needed.

Working together as a team will help insure a successful recovery.

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Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions

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Visitor Guidelines During the Flu Season

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What You Should Know About Botox and Juvéderm

Before beginning a cosmetic medical treatment, be as specific as you can regarding your own personal goals.

By: Dr. Jeffrey Larson, Plastic Surgery

Botox and Juvéderm are cosmetic medical treatments referred to as “injectables” because both treatments are injected with a needle and syringe in an office setting. Botox works by paralyzing muscles in the face that cause wrinkles, while Juvéderm is a biologic chemical that restores volume to areas of the face that have been affected by aging.

Although these treatments have been demonstrated to be extremely safe when performed by an experienced practitioner, they can have disadvantages, especially when they are used excessively or improperly. With Botox, one of the problems that can be seen on patients who are overtreated is described as a “frozen face.” Because Botox works by paralyzing muscles, if it is overused, it may cause an unnatural, expressionless appearance. Juvéderm works by restoring volume to areas of the face that have lost volume. Overinjection of Juvéderm can lead to an overcorrected appearance and unnatural contours.

The best way to avoid these complications is to prevent them. It is essential to make sure your provider is experienced with the injectable he or she is using. Your provider should be well-trained in cosmetic medicine; these practitioners include plastic surgeons, facial plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and nurses who have specialized training in these areas. Before beginning your treatment, be as specific as you can regarding your own personal goals. Clear communication is key to obtaining the result you are seeking.

If you do have a result that is unsatisfactory, start by contacting the practitioner who performed the service. They will be able to counsel you regarding recovery or improvement. If you are not comfortable with the response, seek an opinion from a different, experienced provider. In some cases, additional injections may be able to correct the problem you are having. In any event, with both Botox and Juvéderm, the effects are temporary and will gradually improve with time. The goal with any injectable treatment is a result that is natural, refreshed, and meets the expectations you have for improvement.

To learn about the non-surgical treatment options offered at Meriter, visit meriter.com/cosmetic.

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Join us at Polar Dash – Jan. 24

It may be cold outside, but winter doesn’t mean healthy living needs to hibernate. We want kids to stay active and healthy all year round. 

Join us for a fun-filled morning at Polar Dash!
• Race around an outdoor course pulling a stuffed bear in a sled
• Enjoy outdoor hula hooping and bean bag toss
• Warm up inside with treats
• Visit the Bear Clinic: Bring your favorite bear (or stuffed animal) from home for a head-to-toe check-up by Meriter doctors.
• Compete in fun games inside!

Polar Dash is free and open to the public. Bring a friend!

Recommended for Kids 12 and under. All are welcome.

Date: Saturday, January 24
Time: 10 am to noon
Location: Meriter Monona, 6408 Copps Avenue
Cost: FREE

Print off the form for a quick and easy registration.

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10 Top Baby Names of 2014

Are you wondering what the top baby names were for 2014 in the Madison area? As the busiest birthing center in the state of Wisconsin, we compiled a list of the most common first names of the more than 3,800 babies born at Meriter Hospital in 2014.

Did your favorite name make the list? Let us know in the comments below!

1. Charlotte
1. Evelyn
1. Isabel/Isabelle
4. Nora
5. Sophia
6. Emma
6. Stella
8. Ava
9. Aubree/Aubrey
9. Harper

1. William
2. Henry
2. Jackson/Jaxson
4. Mason
5. Benjamin
6. Owen
6. Samuel
8. Alexander
9. Dillon/Dylan
9. Michael
9. Miles

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Hot Water Hand Washing and The Five Second Rule

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Meriter – UnityPoint Health Appoints CEO

The Board of Directors of Meriter – UnityPoint Health, with the support of our partners at UnityPoint Health, has named Arthur Nizza, DSW, as President and CEO, effective February 16, 2015.

“We interviewed talented candidates from around the nation and Art was truly the right fit for our patients, our community, our physicians and our employees,” said Virginia Graves, Chair of the Meriter – UnityPoint Health Board of Directors. “We are confident Art will help Meriter thrive in the changing health care world, allowing us to continue our mission of patient-focused, community-minded care for years to come.”

Bill Leaver, President and CEO of UnityPoint Health said, “Art’s experience, knowledge of the health care world and business savvy make him an outstanding choice to lead Meriter. We welcome him to the organization and know he will bring Meriter to an even higher level of excellence.”

Nizza is currently the President of MidHudson Regional of Westchester Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY where he successfully orchestrated the transition from a standalone entity to the regional hospital of an Academic Medical Center.  His focus has been on building collaborative relationships with community physicians, other local providers and faculty to further patient-centered care.

Prior to MidHudson, Nizza was President and CEO of Stellaris Health Network, a clinically integrated network of community hospitals in a very competitive market near New York City. Nizza has considerable expertise in transitioning organizations to compete on value over market share.

Nizza has held previous executive leadership roles at academic medical centers like Mount Sinai and NYU in New York and his experience includes direct patient care as a social worker and expertise with information technology in clinical practice.  Nizza earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Long Island University and holds masters and doctoral degrees from Adelphi University in social welfare.

Nizza replaces Jim Woodward, who served as Meriter’s President and CEO for eight years. Peter Thoreen and Dr. Geoff Priest have respectfully served as Interim CEO and Interim President since July.

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Symptoms and Triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Research suggests that individually tailored treatments, such as regular exercise, can be helpful for many people with IBS.

By: Dr. Luke Fortney, Family Medicine at Meriter McKee

Is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) real? Yes! Irritable bowel syndrome (also called spastic colon and sometimes referred to as abdominal migraine) is a complex disorder that affects as many as 20 percent of people at different times of their lives. Although there is no single cause for IBS, it is characterized by abnormal gut contractions and digestion, unbalanced gut bacteria, low-grade chronic inflammation, gut hypersensitivity and disruption of the gut-brain communication.

Common symptoms include chronic abdominal discomfort and altered bowel habits including constipation, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and abdominal pain. If you experience any of these symptoms several times each month, you may have IBS. Individuals with IBS report a variety of triggers for their symptoms, but the following are the most common.

  1. Certain foods and beverages: Some sufferers find it helpful to keep a food diary to track how their diet affects their condition. Foods and beverages affect each person differently, but foods that are most likely to cause problems include raw fruit and vegetables, wheat (gluten), sweeteners (real and artificial), caffeine, alcohol, soda, foods high in fat, highly processed foods, fast food, and most dairy.
  2. Medicines or supplements: It’s important to review your drug and supplement regimen with your doctor. Never stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor first. Also keep in mind that many supplements are upsetting to the gut.
  3. Stress in any form: Because IBS is a functional bowel disorder, it can be triggered and worsened by stress and anxiety.

Research suggests that individually tailored treatments such as improved nutrition, regular exercise, stress reduction, health psychology coping skills, and appropriate medications and supplements can be helpful for many people with IBS.

Altering gut flora (bacteria levels) also seems to be helpful. A recent analysis of multiple research studies reported that most probiotic strains appear to improve gas and bloating compared with placebo. Two additional studies concluded that probiotics, in general, improve overall IBS symptoms for most patients.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms generally associated with IBS several times each month, call us! Meriter-UnityPoint Health’s dedicated IBS Program can apply proven techniques to help you successfully manage IBS.

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Core Conditioning: It’s Not Just About the Abs

A strong core increases balance and stability making it easier to do daily activities such as bending down to tie your shoes.

By: Lori Parmenter, Clinical Exercise Physiologist with Women’s HeartCare

Many people compare “core” with their abdominal muscles. However, it is much more than your abs. Traditional stomach crunches or sit-ups target just a few muscles. The core is made up of the many muscles that run up and down the spine — in the front, back, and sides — that help you bend, stand, twist, lift, move and more. Strong core muscles make it easier to do everything from swinging a golf club to getting a glass from the top shelf or bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function-and can sap power from many of the moves you make. So, properly building up your core cranks up the power.

A strong core increases balance and stability. It can help prevent falls and injuries during sports and other activities. A strong, flexible core helps with everything including:

  • Everyday activities—Bending to pick up a package, turning to look behind you or standing in line at a store are just a few of the many everyday actions that depend on your core and you might not think about it until it is too difficult or painful.
  • On-the-job tasks—Jobs that involve lifting, twisting and standing all depend on core muscles. Even sitting at your desk for hours depend on your core. Phone calls, typing and computer use can make your back muscles stiff and sore, especially if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.

To be safe and effective, core muscle strengthening exercises require proper alignment and progression from one type of exercise to another—adjusted to your body and fitness level. Also, consult a clinician before starting any fitness program if you haven’t been physically active, have back problems or some other medical condition.

Exercises for Strengthening Your Core
You can start by learning how to “squeeze in,” gently but firmly tighten the abdominal muscles, squeezing the navel in toward the small of the back. The tailbone should be slightly tucked. Practice holding this position for 10 seconds at a time while breathing normally. Once you get the hang of this, you can start doing some core exercises.

A bridge is a classic core exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold the position as long as you can without breaking your form.

Exercises that strengthen abdominal and other core muscles should be part of an overall fitness plan that includes regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. It is recommended to get 20-30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and that is a good time to fit in a few exercises designed to work the core. Having a strong core will not only make you look better by changing your posture, it will help you move better and keep you protected during many of life’s daily activities.

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Meriter – UnityPoint Health Named Top Employer in Madison

Meriter – UnityPoint Health is proud to announce that it has been named the top place to work in Madison by In Business magazine.

Meriter received the magazine’s top score for offering our employees a robust benefits package, continuing education opportunities and community support.

“People who work in health care generally are highly motivated to be of service to others,” said Interim President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geoff Priest in an interview with the magazine. “And I would say that seems to be true across my whole career, from when I went into health care through today.”

In addition to an interview with Dr. Priest, employees at the Meriter Monona clinic are featured on the cover of the December issue of In Business. Our partners at Turville Bay MRI & Radiation Oncology Center are also featured as a top employer in the issue.

You can read the full article here. Not a Meriter employee? Browse available openings on our career page.

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Thank You to our Heart Walkers!

Thank you to all who participated in the American Heart Association® Heart Walk® on October 18. It was inspiring to see so many Meriter blue shirts despite the frigid temperatures. The totals have come in, and Meriter’s Heart & Vascular team raised just over $4,000, leading Meriter’s contribution total to reach more than $9,000!

It was a great event this year, and we are looking forward to an even bigger presence next year as we continue to support the AHA’s mission of education and advocacy. Thank you to all of our super heroes at Meriter!

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8 Accidents to Avoid This Holiday Season

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