Lifestyle Improvements and Self-Care Both Help Go a Long Way in Preventing Disease

June is Men’s Health Month, and Mercy Health would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to care for yourself, and your loved ones, by reminding you, or the men in your life, of the importance of taking the necessary steps to jump start positive lifestyle changes that will improve all aspects of well-being — body, mind and spirit.

Trying to “do it all” and “have it all” along with the hyper-competitive methods some use to achieve those goals can leave many of us burned out physically, mentally and spiritually. So look upon self-care and well-being habits as investments in yourself — investments with a high rate of return in the form of a happier, healthier more productive you.

Lifestyle modification can consist of a variety of strategies, such as healthier eating, exercise and physical activity, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress and spiritual fulfillment. However, it’s important to remember that no two men are the same and you should tailor whatever strategies you use to your own life and goals.

Ensuring that you get enough physical activity will go a long way toward improving your overall quality of life. Although the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the possibility of adverse outcomes, you should still start gradually and perform the types of physical activity appropriate for your current fitness level. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends the following activities for adults:

  • Move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none.
  • Perform at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, spread aerobic activity throughout the week.
  • Perform muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Additionally, do activities that you enjoy, be it weightlifting, walking, yoga, swimming and biking because almost any exercise is helpful.

Men’s busy schedules can sometimes make it difficult to eat correctly. Proper nutrition is a key component of any strategy to live healthier. Keep these guidelines in mind when planning your meals:

  • Eat three meals a day. Meals should consist primarily of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Control portion sizes. Take time to enjoy smaller amounts of food.
  • Limit foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and added sugar.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water.

While it’s important to know the physical aspects of disease prevention, knowing how to maintain a healthier spirit is important as well. Keep these things in mind:

  • Remain optimistic. Research shows that happiness and a positive attitude are associated with lower rates of disease. Focus on your thoughts. Stop negative ones and replace them with positive ones.
  • Control stress. Stress relievers like deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, and keeping a journal, can be helpful in controlling the impact stress has on your body.
  • Do everything in moderation. Don’t try to do too much at one time. Make sure to have time for proper nutrition, sleep, work and play.
  • Create a network. Maintaining a close circle of family and friends can provide you with support when you need it.

Lastly, getting annual screening tests from your primary care physician (PCP) is vital to sustaining your health and helping prevent or control health conditions. Having a PCP who can coordinate your care is vital to your good health. If you don’t have a PCP, just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

Mercy Health is committed to providing resources that promote well-being though body, mind and spirit, and is dedicated to helping you live a healthy life.

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Mercy Health Treats Patients Like Family

Gabriela DeLaVega wants everyone to understand that there are no symptoms of high blood pressure until it is too late. Nearly half of adult Americans have high blood pressure, which is the most common controllable risk factor for stroke — the number five cause of death in the U.S.

She should know, because her uncontrolled high blood pressure led to a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), sometimes referred to as a mini-stroke.

For six years, DeLaVega has worked as a certified national language interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients at medical facilities in Grand Rapids. DeLaVega was accustomed to explaining medical conditions to others rather than experiencing them herself.

Her attack came in 2017, a time when she had suffered great losses and was under a lot of stress — the deaths of two grandparents and her father, as well as the end of her marriage. As a result, DeLaVega threw herself into her work “instead of taking the time to grieve,” she explained.

“I was interpreting for a patient in the Wege Center when I began to feel tired and dizzy. I was having trouble understanding not just English but Spanish, so I asked for a break.”

DeLaVega drank some coffee, splashed some water on her face and went back to work. “Unfortunately, my left side became numb, I began to drool, and I couldn’t interpret. I was very confused,” she recalled.

At first, the doctor thought she was experiencing the effects of high blood sugar, but she does not have diabetes. “I told him that it was probably my high blood pressure. That’s when they rushed me to emergency,” DeLaVega added.

She suspected her blood pressure because in 2014 DeLaVega began to have symptoms of high blood pressure. At the time, her medical care was with a different health system. Although she was trying to do all the right things — reduce her stress and make healthy lifestyle changes — she was having side effects from the medications and trouble finding the right dosages.”

This time, the symptoms were worse.

“When you are in the [medical] field and are aware of what can happen, sometimes you are more scared. I was very blessed because I knew I was in good hands,” she shared.

“Being an interpreter, I was already aware of the great care that Mercy Health provides, but being a patient is totally different. The care and compassion and time they spend with you is so different to experience when you are a patient.”

After her diagnosis, DeLaVega spent two days at Hauenstein Neuroscience Center followed by four months going to physical and occupational therapy. Her ongoing care was through another health system following her TIA, and she recently reconnected with Mercy Health.

“Since my TIA, I’m confident that if I ever need some assistance and support, I know will have the best care at Mercy Health,” she said.

DeLaVega wishes she hadn’t denied her symptoms before her TIA because she continues to have issues with memory and concentration, due to other neurological conditions. “Some days are very good days and others are not. Sometimes I trip because of my left leg, and sometimes I get tongue-tied.” She has also lost some memories permanently.

She explains that in the Spanish-speaking community, people tend to minimize stroke symptoms as something that will go away. “We tend to ignore symptoms because we believe in taking care of our families first, but it is better to be safe,” she explained. “If you have symptoms, see a doctor. High blood pressure is a silent killer. As adults, we must take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others.”

DeLaVega wants readers to remember these facts:

  • In the U.S., someone has a stroke every 40 seconds, and nearly every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.
  • Always remember the B.E.F.A.S.T. acronym: Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech and Time.
  • High blood pressure, migraine with aura, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, depression and emotional stress are stroke risk factors that tend to be stronger or more common in women than in men.

Now DeLaVega’s primary care doctor is at Mercy Health’s Clinica Santa Maria, where many programs and resources are available in Spanish. “It is a blessing to be in a place where they have the knowledge of our health and our culture,” she said.

“If a Mercy Health doctor asks you to change your lifestyle, you can trust that the doctor has the knowledge to care for you. Mercy Health doctors show compassion for all patients and take care of everyone, like family members. You’re in very good hands.”

Learn more about Comprehensive Stroke Center at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences.

Assistant Manager of Security Drake Kartes Receives Friend of Nursing Award

The Friend of Nursing Award is often submitted by a colleague, but in this case, Drake Kartes received the award because a patient acknowledged that he went above and beyond. In doing so, he served as a role model for others through his excellent service, respect for others, communication skills and compassion for our patients.

His nomination resulted from a letter by patient Inge Boelkins of Muskegon, who reached out to our Service Excellence team:

On Friday, February 1, 2019, a friend of mine took me to Mercy Hospital. The pain I experienced was increasing, and I wanted to be examined. I was told that I would not get home until later. My friend said she wanted to be home before dark. I told her to leave and said I would take a taxi unless I had to stay in the hospital.

After examination, I was given medications to calm down the pain. After my pain seemed to improve I was told I could go home but to get in touch with my Mercy Health physician.

My discomfort increased because I thought I had $30 in my purse; I had my credit card but no cash. I needed money for my ride home!

I mentioned it to the gentleman who pushed me around the new medical center to see if there was a place I could get cash with my credit card, but there was no ATM.

Meanwhile, the taxi arrived, and I asked the driver how much it would cost to take me home to the Village of Park Terrace. She said it would be $10. This kind fellow — Drake Kartes — pulled out $10 from his wallet and gave it to the driver. I thanked him and said I would be back.

It’s taken me a week and a day to get back to Mercy Hospital. I went to the front desk and told my story and the woman on call said, “We do have a Drake working here and he is in the building.” When he came I recognized him immediately. He said to me, “You did not need to come back to see me,” but I needed to.

Thanks for people like Drake Kartes. An experience like that is powerful.

“Well-oiled Machine” – Comprehensive Stroke Team Saves Out-of-Towner’s Life

“Out of the way, coming through!”

Overhead lights whizzed by 61-year-old Andrew Barta, who was lying on his back, immobile. He was having a massive stroke.

The Barta Family: Lori Barta, their two sons, Andy Barta and their daughter, after a son’s graduation ceremony.

As the clinical team raced Barta on a stretcher from the Emergency Department at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s to Interventional Radiology for an emergent mechanical thrombectomy, one of the last things Barta remembered before everything went black is a soothing voice in his ear: “You’re doing great; you’re doing fine.”

Thanks to the quick work of the multidisciplinary stroke team at Mercy Health, the first responders and his friends and family, those aren’t Barta’s last memories.

Not only did Barta survive his ischemic stroke, Barta suffered no ill side effects from his “brain attack,” another name for a stroke.

“My doctor of 20 years said, ‘I don’t believe you had a stroke, Andy. You should be in a wheelchair,’ until he thoroughly looked at my chart, and said, ‘Well, I guess you did.'”

During a follow-up appointment, Barta’s primary care physician attempted to find deficits from the stroke. The doctor had Barta close his eyes while he moved a feather across his body.

“I could feel the feather the whole time,” said Barta proudly. His sensory was intact.

A manager for a prototype shop on the east side of the state, in Livonia, Michigan, Barta credits the clinical acumen comprehensive stroke team at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center with his extraordinary recovery. Barta was back at work in the shop within three weeks after his stroke, truly remarkable because stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

“If I had their [stroke] team in my shop, I’d say they are a well-oiled machine,” said Barta.

Barta’s incredible stroke story begins in early March 2019. While putting the finishing touches on his house, a power saw launched a large piece of wood at Barta, hitting him in the head hard enough to cause a nose bleed.

“Doctors believe this ruptured the lining of my blood vessels, possibly starting all of this,” Barta said.

From letf to right: Bryan, Andy Barta, Lori Barta, their daughter, Kathy, her daughter, and two other gymnasts with their coach.
From letf to right: Bryan, Andy Barta, Lori Barta, their daughter, Kathy, her daughter, and two other gymnasts with their coach.

Fast forward from his nose bleed to a week later, on March 17, a Sunday morning. Barta and his wife, Lori, along with many other families, attended a gymnastics meet in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their 13-year-old daughter was competing at the state level.

“The weird thing was, I felt great the night before,” recalled Barta. “I felt great that morning.”

During the national anthem, suddenly Barta noticed his foot went numb after he sat on the bleachers. Then his leg wouldn’t move; then his arm couldn’t either. He couldn’t use his camera, talk or stand up. Paralyzed, he was miraculously able to mumble to Lori, “I think I am having a stroke.”

A first response crew was beneath him in the bleachers. Not wanting to disrupt the meet and ruin his daughter’s chances of placing at regionals, Barta, with the help of his friend and fellow gymnast parent Bryan, quietly slid between and underneath the bleachers to reach the first responders. Another friend and parent, Kathy, immediately went into action, recognizing not only that Barta was having a stroke, but also keeping her calm to assist guiding Barta’s wife Lori to where the first responders were.

“You are having a stroke!” The first responder immediately recognized the symptoms, and the team placed Barta on the stretcher and immediately prepared him for transport.

“We’re taking you to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s; it will be a four-minute drive,” Barta remembered hearing from the EMT. “They’ll take the best care of you there.”

His body paralyzed, Barta’s mind was still intact as he was loaded into the back of an ambulance and taken to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, a certified comprehensive stroke center, where a team was already waiting for him. “Kathy barely had time to get Lori in the front seat of the ambulance, it all happened that fast.”

Upon his arrival at Mercy Health, Barta was treated with the “clot-busting” medication tPA, administered through an IV.  Barta needed additional treatment, which led to his swift transfer to the Interventional Radiology suite.

It was here that Neurointerventionalist Baljit Deol, MD, performed an emergent mechanical thrombectomy, which is a minimally invasive surgery where specialized equipment is used to evacuate the clot within Barta’s brain.

Right up to his thrombectomy, Barta could see everything and hear the voice of Connie Brooks, RN, Interventional Radiology nurse at Mercy Health, soothing him, “You’re doing great; you’re doing fine.”

Then everything went black. After he came to, Barta could see again. “Everything was so vibrant.” He could move his fingers. “Hold still,” he was instructed by Radiology Technician Chris Schmidt. “Don’t move ANYTHING.”

“Do you remember what happened?” he was asked.

“I …think I had a stroke…?” Barta half-asked.

“Yes, you did,” said Radiology Technologist Chris Hoffman.  After a few minutes passed, he was asked to move his arm. He did so with ease.

To the amazement of everyone, Barta has had a complete recovery. His daughter’s coach brought her to visit Barta at the hospital only a few hours later; she had qualified for regionals.

“I’m hugely indebted to this great team at Mercy Health,” Barta said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be working again in my shop; I would be on disability.”

To be able to help someone who’s having a stroke, get familiar with BE FAST, an acronym used to remember common symptoms of stroke:

BALANCE – Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

EYES – Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.

FACE –First, check for facial weakness. An uneven smile or weakness on one side could mean trouble.

ARMS – Next, check for arm weakness. Inability to raise both arms evenly could be another sign.

SPEECH –Check for impaired speech. Slurred speech or difficulty repeating simple phrases could mean a stroke.

TIME – Immediately call 911.

Please visit our site with questions about the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences.






Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Earns 2019 Get With the Guidelines — Stroke GOLD PLUS with Honor Roll Elite Plus Achievement Award for the Fifth Year in a Row

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s is the only hospital in the state of Michigan to do so.

Dr. Muhammad Farooq, Dr. Matt Biersack and Dr. Baljit Deol

Since 2014, each year the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have awarded Mercy Health Saint Mary’s with the Get with the Get With the Guidelines — Stroke GOLD PLUS with Honor Roll Elite Plus Achievement Award. Mercy Health Saint Mary’s is the only hospital in Michigan to have received this recognition for five consecutive years.

The award recognizes Mercy Health Saint Mary’s commitment to providing the most appropriate stroke treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.

Nearly half of adult Americans have high blood pressure, which is the most common controllable risk factor for stroke. Stroke is the number five cause of death in the U.S., where someone has a stroke every 40 seconds, and nearly every four minutes someone dies of stroke.

On Thursday, May 23, Senior Director of Quality and Systems Improvement Kathie Thomas, DHA, MPH, from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, presented the Mercy Health stroke team with this prestigious award.

With the prevalence of high blood pressure and stroke among Americans, we are grateful to the entire stroke team for their expertise and life-saving service that they provide to our community. Congratulations team!

Mercy Health Celebrates Legacy of Hackley Campus and of Philanthropist Charles H. Hackley

La Toya Jemison fills out a suggestion for the Mercy Health time capsule.


“It’s good to be a part of history,” said La Toya Jemison, Case Management, Mercy Health, of Hackley Day.

Jemison and many other colleagues across Mercy Health paid tribute to the philanthropist Charles Hackley and to the legacy of Hackley Campus throughout Hackley Day, on May 23, 2019.

Colleagues celebrated through a variety of fun activities, including playing “Hackley Plinko Trivia;” posing for photos with a cardboard cut-out of the late philanthropist, Charles Hackley; and eating cupcakes adorned with top hats.

Given a chance to reflect on the past 115 years of history, colleagues looked through yearbooks, photographs and mementos. One nurse, Lori Grover, found her aunt in a Hackley yearbook. Like herself, Grover’s grandmother, mother and two of her aunts have all worked as nurses on the Hackley Campus.

They could also look to the future by making suggestions for items to be included in the Mercy Health time capsule. Attendees were also encouraged to review proposals for the site of the Hackley Campus.

“Mercy Health Muskegon is blessed to be a health ministry grounded in three powerful founders: the Sisters of Mercy, Charles and Julia Hackley, and a group of 21 osteopathic physicians,” said Jennifer Haworth, director, Mission Services, Mercy Health. “Together, they shared one common interest: Caring for the health of their West Michigan community. As we prepare to open the new Mercy Health Medical Center in 2020, we pause to remember and celebrate the rich history of our Hackley Campus and the spirit of its founder, Charles Hackley, whose commitment to community health and well-being has enriched the lives of generations of Muskegon citizens.”

Youlette Jones plays Hackley Plinko Trivia
Nurse Lori Smith shows colleague photo of her aunt from Hackley yearbook
Julisa Walker, Guest Services Rep reviews proposals for Hackley Campus
Michael Brecht, John Foss, Michelle Klimt, Jennifer Haworth and Gary Allore pose with cut out of Charles Hackley
Jennifer Haworth leads Dr. Nhan Pham in a game of Hackley Plinko
Ann Koon, McClees Clinic, looks at Lobbyside Coffee Shoppe menu, circa 1975

To learn more about the future of Mercy Health, please visit



Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Receives an ‘A’ for Patient Safety for the Spring 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s was awarded an ‘A’ from The Leapfrog Group’s spring 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade. The designation recognizes Mercy Health Saint Mary’s efforts in protecting patients from harm and providing safer health care.

The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization committed to improving health care quality and safety for consumers and purchasers. The Safety Grade assigns an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade to hospitals across the country based on their performance in preventing medical errors, injuries, accidents, infections and other harms to patients in their care.

“To be recognized nationally as an ‘A’ hospital is an accomplishment the whole community should take pride in,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “Hospitals that earn an ‘A’ grade are making it a priority to protect patients from preventable medical harm and error. We congratulate hospital leaders, board members, staff, volunteers and clinicians who work so hard to earn this A.”

Developed under the guidance of a national Expert Panel, the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade uses 28 measures of publicly available hospital safety data to assign grades to more than 2,600 U.S. acute-care hospitals twice per year. The Hospital Safety Grade’s methodology is peer-reviewed and fully transparent, and the results are free to the public.

Mercy Health Muskegon’s Hackley and Mercy Campuses received a ‘B’ from the Leapfrog group.

Basil Lang Receives the Security Relationship-based Care, Unit-based Council Officer Achievement Award

On Wednesday May 15, Basil Lang received the Security Relationship-Based Care Unit-Based Council Officer Achievement Award. Basil began his career with Securitas at Mercy Health in Muskegon in 2007, and he has severed with dignity and integrity each and every day.

Officers who work with Basil describe him as being professional, reliable and dedicated to providing the best service imaginable. Basil has worked relentlessly to ensure the patients, families, and colleagues of Mercy Health are greeted with a smile and kind word and leave feeling safe and secure.

Please join us in recognizing Basil’s valiant efforts and many years of dedicated service.

Mercy Health’s Noble Purpose: Transforming Medical Care and Communities

In West Michigan, perhaps no other image better serves to distinguish Mercy Health from other health care organizations than that of the new medical center in Muskegon.

It exemplifies Mercy Health’s commitment to delivering the highest quality patient care and to transforming the lives of the underserved by providing opportunities to participate in meaningful work.

What’s more, this remarkable community transformation is based on the core principles of the Gospel.

The consolidation of three medical campuses into one; the building of a new tower with state-of-the-art technology and patient comforts; the renovation of the existing buildings on the Mercy Campus; and the re-purposing of the Hackley Campus are only part of what makes this multiyear medical center project extraordinary.

Shared Vision

In the years of planning prior to breaking ground in 2016, Mercy Health and its construction firm, The Christman Company, reached out to engage as many local, qualified workers, vendors and subcontractors as possible for this project. Embracing a similar vision and values for the future of West Michigan, the two organizations worked to “build a new medical center” and “build people.”

Together they made an unprecedented commitment to hire as many diverse workers as possible — (as defined by federal guidelines, which measures by the number of women and people of color) — by tapping the local community for the project’s workforce, many of whom had never worked in construction or the trades.

“I’ve worked for more than 30 years in West Michigan, and the largest percentage of diverse workers I’ve seen on any project was 12 percent,” said Lon Morrisson, senior director, facility services and capital projects, Mercy Health Muskegon.

“Although we were committed to providing employment opportunities for as many underserved people as possible — making it possible for them to learn skills that would lead to long-term careers — we hesitated to set a specific goal for our diverse workforce,” continued Morrisson. “We didn’t pick a percentage…we knew we just wanted to do better than before, but we were determined to keep track of our progress.”

The Christman Company has worked in Muskegon for 16 years according to 20-year veteran engineer and Christman Company Senior Project Manager Amy Sullivan. “In the past, diversifying the workforce on a project had been a great goal; however, it can be difficult to find available workers,” said Sullivan.

Remarkable Results

Their diligence has paid off: Of the total 1,100 people who have worked on the project so far*, 33 percent have been diverse. That’s 357 workers!

In addition, The Christman Company has directly employed 29 new workers, which includes construction management staff as well as carpenters and laborers.

Morrisson and Sullivan attribute their success to a collaborative approach with community organizations on this project.

“It’s the first time I’ve worked on a project where we’ve teamed up with others besides our construction company,” said Morrisson.

“To provide employment opportunities for local people during this Mercy Health project, our two organizations partnered with the Urban League of West Michigan, West Michigan Works!, Muskegon Community College, West Shore Community College, Grand Rapids Community College, Muskegon County Intermediate School District and local churches,” said Sullivan.

Noticeable Transformation

Citing Mercy Health’s mission and core values — such as commitment to those who are poor, justice, reverence and stewardship — Morrisson highlighted one core value in particular.

“We laid out a plan, we tracked the plan, and we’ve held ourselves accountable to the plan. That accountability is where Mercy Health’s core value of integrity comes in. We are especially grateful to local clergy for continuing to hold us accountable to our plan to diversify our workforce.”

These are exciting times in Muskegon.

“Cranes are popping up all over. I’d like to think that Mercy Health’s $291 million investment in our community was the catalyst for the tremendous rejuvenation and investment going on locally,” said Morrisson. “It feels like we’ve finally broken through the ceiling in West Michigan.”

*From the Mercy Health Campus Consolidation Project Diversity Outreach Report, which tracks total numbers of diverse workers on the project since the groundbreaking through February 2019.

Mercy Health and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System “BeRemarkable” Campaigns Receive Awards

Our BeRemarkable campaigns for Mercy Health in West Michigan and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System (in southeast Michigan) are being recognized in multiple ways. The Aster Award-winning video and commercial for West Michigan are listed below.

Our award-winning BeRemarkable campaign garnered two additional Emmy nominations and other accolades for both Mercy Health and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan.

“It is an honor to be recognized by the industry for this remarkable campaign that has held the attention of  physicians, patients, consumers and community,” Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Michele Szczypka said. “We thank all colleagues for your remarkable work every day.”

View the latest Mercy Health BeRemarkable TV commercial.

*The Aster Award honors excellence in healthcare advertising.