Meet the 2020 Healthcare Heroes Redefining Medicine

Photography by Tessa Marie Images 

This year’s Healthcare Heroes are redefining medicine in our region. Now more than ever, we are honored to recognize their work.

The photo subjects aren’t wearing masks in the following photography as the shoot was set prior to COVID-19. 

Shafinaz Akhter, MD, PhD

Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship, Chester County Hospital
Assistant Clinical Professor, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
West Chester

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Being an agent of change isn’t easy—especially if it means changing how doctors prescribe antiobiotics. “I try not to be the antibiotic police,” says Dr. Shafinaz Akhter. “But in the beginning, I didn’t win many friends.”

With antiobiotic resistance on the rise in the United States, Akhter is looking to minimize overprescribing. Now, almost three years into her tenure, she has reduced antibiotic use at Chester County Hospital. “Are we prescribing the right medication for the right duration of time?” poses Akther. “Physicians are particularly bad about being told that we’re not doing something perfectly, but these are tough questions we need to answer.”

Jordan Burnham

Director of Student Engagement, Minding Your Mind
Bryn Mawr

Jordan Burnham knows he’s lucky to be alive. Leaping from a nine-story window in 2007, Burnham suffered skull injuries, a broken jaw and left arm, and fractures to every bone in his left leg. A senior at Upper Merion High School at the time, he’d been diagnosed with depression, but he wasn’t taking his medication and was abusing alcohol. “Negative coping skills,” says Burnham. “I didn’t know how to reach out for help.”

Following his recovery, Burnham became a mental health advocate, sharing his story through Minding Your Mind, testifying before United States Congress and appearing in national magazines. “There aren’t a lot of young adults who survive suicide—and want to speak about it,” Burnham says. “Having honest conversations about mental health is one of the ways we heal ourselves and our communities.”

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(Seated, from left) Leslie Forest and Jordan Burnham. (Standing, from left) Dr. Bernadette Logan, Arianne Missimer, Courtney McDade and Dr. Eric Zabat. Not pictured: Dr. Christina Clay.

Kevin Carr

Paramedic, Riddle Hospital

Kevin Carr has been a first responder for 25 years, though he started as a firefighter. “I had zero interest in riding on an ambulance,” Carr admits. “Eventually, I gave it a try. From my first call, I was hooked.”

As a paramedic with Riddle Hospital, some of Carr’s most challenging calls are from George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton. “They have their own medical staff, but they often need us to treat inmates or transfer them to outside hospitals,” says Carr. “Sometimes we’re going into hostile situations; sometimes we have to travel far into the prison to get a patient. But patients are patients, and we give everyone the same level of care.”

Christina Clay, MD

Director, Hematology and Oncology Summer Program for High School Students
Bala Cynwyd

Over 23 years, Dr. Christina Clay’s career in hematology and oncology took her from Main Line Health to Crozer-Keystone Health System. At the latter, she helped build a lung cancer program and expanded care for breast, uterine and other women’s cancers. Limited by a two-year regional noncompete agreement that went into effect when she left her practice, Clay decided to teach.

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This summer, she’ll open a Bala Cynwyd-based program that educates high school students about hematology and oncology. “There’s an increased need for nurse practitions, physician assistants and other medical professionals,” she says. “My goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of healthcare providers.”

Michael Criscuolo

Executive Director of Development, Bryn Mawr Hospital
Bryn Mawr

“I haven’t slept since 2003,” says Michael Criscuolo, only half joking. As chief fundraiser for Bryn Mawr Hospital, Criscuolo is more challenged by donor fatigue than his own exhaustion. “We’re a community hospital, so we don’t go after national dollars,” he says. “We’re on the Main Line, but there are only so many donors in our catchement area.”

Nevertheless, Criscuolo and his team raised $33 million ($3 million over goal) over a four-year campaign to build Bryn Mawr Hospital’s new seven-story patient paviliion. Crisculo’s latest challenge is raising $10 million to match Main Line Health’s $25 million investment in a new behavorial health inpatient unit at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “Our goal and our duty is to address the behavioral health crisis in our community,” he says.

David Danish, MD

Philadelphia Integrative Psychiatry
Wayne and Philadelphia

At Philadelphia Integrative Psychiatry’s offices in Center City and Wayne,
Dr. David Danish puts the emphasis on quality patient care. “It’s not just coming in for sessions when something is wrong, but getting to know patients on a deeper, longer-term basis,” he says.

In a little over a year, Danish’s Wayne practice has developed a large patient population with ages ranging from 6 to 70. Their struggles include depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder. Some are on the autism spectrum, while others have substance abuse issues. Right now, there’s a three-week waiting list for an appointment, which Danish hopes to reduce. “I know people need help,” he says. “My goal is to provide it.”

(From left) Dr. Thomas Oliver, Candace Gantt, Michael Criscuolo and Dr. David Danish.

Catherine Domanska Elliott, WHNP-BC

Women’s Health Medical Director, La Comunidad Hispana
Kennett Square, West Grove, Oxford

A highly skilled women’s health nurse practitioner, Catherine Domanska Elliott could get a job anywhere. She chooses to work at La Comunidad Hispana. In addition to OBGYN care, Elliot provides preconception counseling, birth control and STD testing to Latina immigrants. She also does breast and cervical cancer screenings and directs patients to dental and behavioral health services.

“The women I work with don’t have many other options, but they’re strong and resourceful,” says Elliott. “We provide services everyone should be able to access, regardless of their insurance status.”

Luke English, MSW

Clinical Director, Recovery Centers of America

For Luke English, it’s been one day at a time over the last 20 years. In 2004, he started working with teens and adult men in Kennett Square. “Some people give up on human beings even though they’re suffering and struggling,” English says. “I consider it a privelege to play a part in their road to recovery.”

Now the clinical director at Recovery Centers of America in Devon, English describes addiction as the same in every geography. “No one is above or below substance-abuse disorder,” he says. “It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate. We teach that to our population—and if they grasp onto it, they evolve and grow.”

Leslie Forest, RN, MSN

Nurse Educator & Allied Health Science Instructor, Technical College High School – Brandywine Campus

Where some people see a classroom, Leslie Forest sees the future of medicine. Students from 10 local high schools participate in a program for teenagers interested in healthcare careers. It’s run by Forest, who’s also an adjunct nursing professor at Delaware County Community College. Three days a week, they attend half-day sessions at Brandywine Hospital. There, they get classroom instruction and do clinical rotations with professionals in different departments, from pharmacy to radiology to the OR. “They come in with an interest in medicine and leave with real-world experience,” Forest says.

Candace Gantt

Founder and Executive Director, Mind Your Brain Foundation

A 2005 bike ride changed Candace Gantt’s life. Riding on Goshen Road in Newtown Square, she was hit by a truck. The impact broke her clavicle and crushed bones on the left side of her face.

Choppered to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Gantt underwent a partial craniotomy and was in a coma for three weeks. She had to re-learn how to walk and talk at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. It wasn’t until 2013 that she was released from medical care. “I was told that I was too high functioning, and no other services were available,” says Gantt. “But I wasn’t at 100 percent.”

After researching traumatic treatments for brain injury recovery, Gantt launched the Mind Your Brain Foundation to share what she learned. Penn Medicine co-sponsors the foundation’s annual conference, which has grown from 50 attendees in 2014 to 350 in 2019. “People need this information,” Gantt says.

April Gasbarro, BSN, RN

Stroke Coordinator, Brandywine Hospital

Caring for stroke patients requires a highly skilled, multidisciplinary medical team of neurologists, nurses and therapists. At Brandywine Hospital, that team is helmed by April Gasbarro, a former mental health nurse who went to “stroke bootcamp” to get additional education for the job. “I call myself the double-sided sticky tape,” says Gasbarro.

Because of Gasbarro’s leadership, stroke patients average a three-day stay at Brandywine Hospital. “I pull the entire team together and make sure our patients get all of the services they need to recover successfully,” she says.

(From left) Det. Sgt. John Newell, Dr. Shafinaz Akhter, Dr. Atom Sarkar, Christine Webster and Dr. Nirav Mehta.

Dr. Bernadette Logan

Bernadette Logan, DDS
Paoli and Berwyn

For 26 years, Dr. Bernadette Logan has provided pro bono dental services at Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School. The program is part of Children’s Dental Clinic, created decades ago to serve the kids of local GIs after World War II. Most of Logan’s patients are the children of Spanish, Albanian and Asian immigrants.

She also works with the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile, providing free care to indigent children in Chester and Delaware counties. “In addition to the actual work, I talk to kids about dental hygenie, prevention and even nutrition,” Logan says. “I want them to understand what I’m doing—and not hate going to the dentist.”

Maryanne Martin-Snyder RN, BSN, COHN-S

Nurse Navigator, Community Care Program, Mercy Catholic Medical Center

In her 40 years with Mercy, Maryanne Martin-Snyder has touched the lives of thousands of Delaware County residents living with mental health disorders. She’s on the executive committee of the Delaware County Suicide Prevention and Awareness Task Force.

As educational instructor of PREVENT, she teaches eighth graders about bullying, depression and suicidal thinking, and substance abuse. Martin-Snyder even created a vegetable garden for Mercy’s Community Care Program, an outpatient wellness group. It was so popular that she increased its size this spring, with all materials donated from local businesses and volunteers. “Clients help plant and harvest the garden, take home vegetables, then come back with a healthy recipe for us to share,” she says.

Courtney McDade

Director of Public Affairs Programs, Independence Blue Cross

Courtney McDade runs the Blue Crew, supervising the 15,000 hours of volunteer work done annually by 1,800 Independence Blue Cross employees and their family members. While the Blue Crew serves nearly 100 nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, McDade has a special fondness for events near her hometown of Media, along with Springfield, where she now lives.

This year, she became co-chair of the Greater Philadelphia Corporate Volunteer Council, made up of 40 local companies dedicated to nonprofit work. “I’m proud to be a Delco girl, and I feel fortunate to have a positive impact in communities throughout the region,” says McDade.

Nirav Mehta, MD

Cardiologist at Paoli Hospital

Given that he’s a cardiologist, it sounds trite to say that Dr. Nirav Mehta has a heart of gold. But his patients say just that. While they testify to Mehta’s modern medical expertise, they’re just as grateful for his old-fashioned bedside manner. He calls his patients and takes time to listen to their concerns. “It’s about medical needs versus emotional needs,” Mehta says. “I hear sad stories every day, but I try to individualize every patient. I ask how you would want a physician to treat you, your wife or your parents. If you leave feeling better about your health, I’ve done my job.”

Arianne Missimer, DPT, RD

Founder, The Movement Paradigm

Cancer wasn’t going to win. Arianne Missimer decided as much when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 liposarcoma, a rare form that affects connective tissue. Refusing to let disease determine her future, Missimer trained for American Ninja Warrior while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, competing on the show in 2016.

Two years later, she opened the Movement Paradigm, an integrative health center. “My philosophy is based on mindset, nutrition and movement,” she says. “Whether it’s cancer, chronic pain or something else, I believe in functional medicine and the holistic treatment of each individual. That’s where I find power.”

Holly O’Connell, RN, BSN

Founder and Executive Director, A Path to Hope

Holly O’Connell was ill-prepared for the medical maze she encountered when seeking help for her son, who suffered from anxiety and depression his freshman year of college. Stymied by a lack of resources and alarmed by a rash of suicides at Downingtown High School East, O’Connell drew on her training as a nurse to create a website filled with information on an array of mental health topics.

Her nonprofit, A Path to Hope, hosted its first resource fair at Lionsville Middle School last year. “There’s a huge need for help in this community,” says O’Connell. “Now that I have the resources, I want to share them.”

Thomas Oliver, DO

Founder, OncMate Hospitalist, Lankenau Medical Center

Dr. Thomas Oliver found inspiration in an unlikely place: Milwaukee. “That city has big institutes that receive a lot of national funding to power those programs,” says Oliver. “But patients of smaller hospitals like Lankenau shouldn’t have to travel into Philadelphia to access those resources.”

Oliver created OncMate to reduce such healthcare disparties. The phone app allows patients to communicate with medical providers who specialize in oncology care via voice, video and text. Winner of the “Health by Zip Code” category at the 2019 Jefferson Health Hack, OncMate also connects patients to clinical trial information and pain support groups. “The goal is to provide access to excellent care, no matter where patients live,” Oliver says.

(From left) April Gasbarro, Lt. Michael Savitski, Catherine Domanska Elliott, Holly O’Connell, Luke English, Maryanne Martin-Snyder and Kevin Carr.

Atom Sarkar, MD, PhD, FAANS

Director of Stereotactic, Functional and Epilepsy Surgery, Global Neurosciences Institute, Crozer Chester Medical Center
Professor of Neurosurgery, Drexel University School of Medicine

The way Dr. Atom Sarkar sees it, electricity is the brain’s currency. “Now we can use it to add function back to the brain, or remove it so functionality can be restored,” he says.

That’s the easiest way Sarkar can explain the complex, high-tech surgeries he performs at Crozer-Chester Medical Center to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors and complex spinal injuries. “These are non-destructive, non-medication solutions to neurological diseases,” he says. “They still have the disease, but we reduce or eliminate the symptomology. It’s the closest thing I do that’s close to magic.”

Lt. Michael Savitski and Det. Sgt. John Newell

Newtown Township Police Department

On Sept. 11, 2019, Det. Sgt. John Newell responded to a 911 call made by a frantic Newtown Square woman. “When I saw the mother carrying a dripping wet, unconscious baby, I knew exactly what had happened.”

The 2-year-old girl had nearly drowned in the family swimming pool. Newell started CPR and was quickly joined by Lt. Michael Savitski. It took 20 minutes for an ambulance to get the toddler to Bryn Mawr Hospital. Newell and Savitski did CPR on the way. “In the ER, the doctors were about to call the time of death, but they gave it one more try and she came to life,” says Savitski.

Though she required hospitalization, the toddler will make a full recovery. “We were in the right place at the right time,” Newell says. “That’s why we do this job.”

Christine Webster, CRS, PICM

Certified Recovery Specialist, PEARL, Crozer-Chester Medical Center

Christine Webster has two sets of patients: mothers living with addiction and their babies. Through the Prevention, Education, Addiction, Recovery and Linkeage program at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Webster connects pregnant women and new mothers with doctors, transportation, food pantries, support groups and whatever else they need to cope with substance abuse issues.

For her, this is more than a job. She’s also a mother—and in recovery herself. “I can interact with moms at crucial points in their lives,” she says. Post-partum, the potential for relapse is high. If I can intervene, I can save the life of a mother and her baby.”

Eric Zabat, MD

Premier Orthopaedics
Collegeville, Exton, Malvern

Dr. Eric Zabat isn’t a surgeon, but he readily volunteered for the Philippine American Group of Educators and Surgeons, a nonprofit that organizes medical missions to underserved areas of the islands.

In February, the first-generation Philippine American traveled to Ospital ng Imus to assist surgeons in correcting cleft lips. During his weeklong trip, Zabat screened nearly 100 patients of all ages up to 30 years old to ensure that they were good candidates for surgery. Though his accommodations were primitive and the workdays were long, the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

“Patients came out of surgery with their lips corrected, and when families saw them for the first time, the joy on their faces was unmistakable,” says Zabat. “You don’t need language to understand those emotions.” MLT

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!