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The Survival of Gabriel

"I can’t lose him. I can’t think of my life without him anymore."

Gabriel Battaglia Cruz was born at 26 weeks, weighing 2 pounds 6 ounces, to Henrique Cruz and Andreza Battaglia Cruz. Both father and mother were very afraid and worried about the future of their newborn son. But today, they are very grateful for the outstanding, compassionate care provided by South Miami Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Unit (NICU); particularly by Alyssa Benjamin, R.N., who was Gabriel’s nurse from the very beginning.

Gabriel made steady progress in the NICU, until the day he turned one month old. His mother, Andreza, noticed he was not acting like himself – not moving much. She knew something was wrong and her instincts proved to be right. Little Gabriel had never had a bradycardiac episode, but within a 30-minute span, he experienced three of them. He was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a disease in which the bowel can become perforated and potentially be fatal. An estimated 12 percent of infants born weighing less than 3.3 pounds will suddenly develop NEC. Of those, about 30 percent will not survive.

Andreza told her husband,” I can’t lose him. I can’t think of my life without him anymore.” Thankfully, the caring professionals at the South Miami Hospital NICU caught it very early and moved little Gabriel back to Level 3 precautionary, where he did amazingly well through the entire process. After 110 days in the expert care of the South Miami Hospital NICU team, Gabriel was ready to go home, and today, he is thriving. Thousands of babies like Gabriel owe their lives to South Miami Hospital’s caring professionals.

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Dennis Bookshester

Surviving Cancer and Improving the Odds for Others.

"I think Miami Cancer Institute is going to be the best thing to come to South Florida," Mr. Bookshester said. "I don't think people realize yet how significant this is going to be."

Dennis Bookshester didn't think much about the annoying cold that was dogging him. But his wife, Karen, didn't like the sound of it. "We had just moved here and didn't have a doctor at that point. We heard about the urgent care centers run by Baptist Health, so we went there." Mr. Bookshester figured he would quickly put his wife's concerns to rest. Iinstead, what happened next changed his life. Following a chest X-ray and a CT scan, he found out he had a lung tumor.

A retired business titan who ran Fortune 500 companies, Mr. Bookshester was no stranger to dealing with crisis, but he felt uncertain about what to do next. That is, until he met Mark Dylewski, M.D., chair of the thoracic oncology tumor site team and medical director of general and robotic thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute. Dr. Dylewski offered the option of immediately removing the mass to determine if it was malignant. A biopsy conducted while Mr. Bookshester was under anesthesia confirmed it was cancer. Dr. Dylewski removed the lower third of his right lung during the same robotic procedure. That was in 2013, and Mr. Bookshester, 77, remains cancer-free.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, taking more lives annually than colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancer combined. As in many cancers, the chances of surviving improve dramatically if it is detected early. Mr. Bookshester credits Dr. Dylewski with saving his life by catching the cancer at an early stage. The experience prompted him to become an enthusiastic supporter of Baptist Health. He and his wife are Century Club members at Baptist Health Foundation and Mr. Bookshester serves on the Foundation's Miami Cancer Institute Capital Campaign Cabinet. To help others who might have undetected lung cancer, Mr. Bookshester donated $100,000 to help launch Baptist Health's lung CT scan program, which has grown to the fifth largest in the country. Among the more than 2,000 scans that have been performed so far, more than 80 cases of lung cancer have been found. Dr. Dylewski has the greatest respect for Mr. Bookshester's determination to help others by supporting Miami Cancer Institute and making screenings more accessible. "He wants to make a difference," said Dr. Dylewski, "His own experience with cancer is what motivates him." ​​

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Jodi Mazer

Breast Cancer Survivor

“Having to call your mom and say, Mommy I have cancer, is about the worst thing that there is; except, even worse is calling your husband and saying that I don’t know if we’re going to grow old together,”

In 2011, two weeks after her 40th birthday, Jody Mazer went for a routine mammogram – only 11 months after her previous mammogram. She could immediately see in the technician’s eyes that there was a problem. The radiologist came into the room and told Ms. Mazer that they didn’t think she had a problem – 98% chance she didn’t have a problem – but because they had the benefit of her previous mammogram, they could see there was a change and felt she should follow up on it. In that moment, she knew she had cancer.

For the next 48 hours, she went through decisions of biopsies and follow-up appointments with everybody saying – “Oh, I’ve had that before and they found a cyst,” or, “I’ve had things biopsied and had to go back for additional films.” Twenty-four hours later, she had a confirmed diagnosis of stage 1 her2 breast cancer. “Having to call your mom and say, Mommy I have cancer, is about the worst thing that there is; except, even worse is calling your husband and saying that I don’t know if we’re going to grow old together,” said Jody. Thinking of her children and all the good possibilities in her life and then realizing that at 40 years old, there may not be a future, Jody immediately made the decision that she didn’t care what any other tests or scans showed, she was having a double mastectomy as quickly as possible.

Jody met with Dr. Gladys Giron-Newman at Baptist Health Breast Center, who sat with Jody for more than two hours and explained every detail about her situation – what they knew, what they did not know and what they would be doing. By the end of the appointment, Jody told her family that the search was over and that she knew that this would be her doctor and the person who was going to save her life. She and her husband, Jason, were always very honest with their children and, even though they were very young, they sat them down and told them the truth. Their children gave them the extra bit of support that you need to get through an experience like that, every minute of every day. “Every day is a gift, which is something that we’ve always preached in our family, that every day is a gift and you have to be grateful, and we do the things that are important to live well and be happy.”

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Willis McGahee

Sports injury survivor

When I got better, I asked Dr. Uribe if I could still enter the draft, and he said – yes! Now that was my goal, to prove people wrong.

Millions of football fans watched as University of Miami star running back, Willis McGahee, suffered what’s known as one of the 10 worst sports injuries as University of Miami played Ohio State for the 2003 Fiesta Bowl National Championship. McGahee was expected to become one of the top NFL draft picks going into his final college game, but the game was about to change. The announcer proclaimed, “That is a serious knee injury.” Another asked, “Is his career over?” The announcers were speechless. McGahee boarded a plane back to Miami where he was immediately taken to Doctors Hospital to meet his soon-to-be surgeon, Dr. John Uribe. Déjà vu set in as doctor and patient recalled an earlier knee surgery on his LCL, from his school days at Central High – the bond seemingly renewed.

Extensive surgery was performed to the ACL, MCL and PCL. Intensive daily rehab with total body workouts inspired by his brother kept him on track seven days a week. No holidays. Draft Day came, and just as expected, Willis McGahee was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the first round. “I’ll never forget this phone call. Tom Donahoe, then general manager of the Buffalo Bills, said `Do you want to be a Buffalo Bill?’ `Yea,’ I replied, `When you guys thinking about picking me?’ `We’re going to pick you right now. Congratulations,’ said Mr. Donahoe. His life had changed. Willis McGahee went on to a successful 10-year National Football League career playing for four teams. Today at age 32, he feels he has another shot – all thanks to a genuine bond, a successful surgery and a trust in Doctors Hospital.

The Doctors Hospital Youth Athletic Outreach Program was there for Willis in high school and it’s there now – for thousands of young athletes at 37 Miami-Dade Public Schools. Every spring and fall, Doctors Hospital physicians provide pre-participation athletic screenings, football game coverage, continuing education seminars, voluntary electrocardiogram (EKG) screenings, the Baptist Outpatient Concussion Program, youth event athletic training coverage, and the Concussion Reduction program that allow young players and their parents to enjoy the many Little League, Pop Warner and other weekend sports games that are a part of our culture. With support from our donors, the physicians of the Doctors Hospital Youth Athletic Outreach Program can continue to provide these much needed services at no cost to our current and future athletes in elementary, middle and high school across Miami Dade County.

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Oliver "Rocky" Smith

Oliver "Rocky" Smith

Stroke Survivor

Speedy stroke care gives one semiretired grandfather a new lease on life.

One night as he was getting ready for bed, Oliver “Rocky” Smith suddenly found himself on the floor of his bathroom. “There was no blackout, no pain,” recalled Mr. Smith, 64, a semiretired air conditioning mechanic.” I tried to get up but I couldn’t. I thought it was my socks slipping on the tile.”

Alerted by the family cat’s screeching meows, his wife got out of bed to investigate. Rene Smith recognized the symptoms of stroke immediately — her husband was slurring his speech and couldn’t move his left side. She called 911; minutes later, paramedics were racing Mr. Smith to Baptist Hospital, bypassing closer hospitals that did not have comprehensive stroke centers.

The stroke team leaped into action when Mr. Smith arrived. “Everything they did, they were literally running down the hall — because every single second counts,” Ms. Smith said. A CT scan of her husband’s brain showed a complete blockage in his right carotid artery and a clot in his brain. He was given the clot-busting drug, tPA, but it didn’t help. “He had a very bad stroke,” said Italo Linfante, M.D., medical director of interventional neuroradiology at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center. “tPA doesn’t work with a big clot.”


By 2 a.m., less than three hours after his stroke began, Dr. Linfante was performing a minimally invasive endovascular angioplasty to open the blocked carotid artery with a tiny balloon and then remove the clot in the right middle cerebral artery. When he awoke, Mr. Smith was well on his way to a full recovery. “Dr. Linfante is a guardian angel who has been given a gift, this ability to salvage someone’s life with this procedure,” Ms. Smith said. “It saved Rocky’s life, and it saved his quality of life.” Today, about a year and a half after his stroke, Mr. Smith said he has recovered “100 percent.”


He plays golf about once a week, travels around in his RV with his wife and enjoys time with his three grown children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “I’m out in the world, mobile, doing what I was doing before,” he said. Ms. Smith is grateful that paramedics followed the county’s stroke network guidelines and sought help for her husband at such a well prepared facility. “The Stroke Center at Baptist Hospital makes a difference,” she said. “It gave us a real quality of life that we don’t take for granted any longer.”

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Cancer Survivor

“That was a devastating day, the day we found out it was cancer,” said Mr. Basso. “But then we thought, OK, we’ve got cancer, now what are we going to do?”

When Peter Basso got back on his bike after his cancer treatment, it represented more than just a chance to exercise. To him, it was a symbol of getting his life back on track. Mr. Basso’s life took an unexpected turn in 2014, when he found a lump on his neck while shaving. “I showed it to my wife and she thought we should get it checked out,” he recalled. A needle biopsy revealed it was squamous cell carcinoma, and it had traveled to his lymph nodes and an area just under his jawbone. “That was a devastating day, the day we found out it was cancer,” he said. “But then we thought, OK, we’ve got cancer, now what are we going to do?”


Mr. Basso first underwent traditional surgery to remove the tumor in his neck at South Miami Hospital. He also had robotic surgery to remove 20 lymph nodes, his tonsils and a small part of the back of his tongue. His follow-up treatment included radiation and chemotherapy. Mr. Basso’s wife, Carmen, is so grateful for Baptist Health’s family-centered approach to healthcare. “They understood this diagnosis was truly a family affair,” Ms. Basso said. “The treatment was not just about the patient, but about the whole family. There was never a meeting that I wasn’t part of. They made me feel like we were a team, and I was the team leader.”


Mr. Basso, 58, a building contractor and an avid cyclist who would ride 150 miles weekly prior to his diagnosis, never lost sight of his passion. “I kept saying during my treatment that I just wanted my life back so I could ride my bike and get back to work,” he said. Recent tests showed Mr. Basso remains cancer-free, and he is now back to riding long distances. “It’s part of feeling back in shape and feeling physically well, he said. “It’s like therapy for me.”

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Premature Birth Survivors

“We had our 24 week ultrasound and our doctor said that everything is great and everything was awesome, but then she dropped the bomb – I was five centimeters dilated.”

Thankfully, most babies are healthy when they are born, but in the case of the Holtzman twins, they were extreme preterm births. “When our babies were born they were small – very very small. Gabrielle weighed 1 lb 6 ounces and Luke weighed 1 lb 6.9 ounces,” said Sofia Holtzman. But South Miami Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is uniquely prepared to care for our tiniest patients. A full range of specialists, including pediatric cardiologists, neurologists, surgeons, neurosurgeons, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons and infectious disease specialists, are available to the NICU as needed, based on the condition of each individual patient.

“For 121 days, Dr. Jorge Perez and his team worked day and night to make sure that our miracle babies came home to us,” said Ms. Holtzman. The twins progress fluctuated. Gabrielle was doing well but Luke’s lungs were not good and were progressively getting worse. “Dr. Perez called us at lunch and said, he’s responding – he’s finally responding.” Through the care of a team of physicians – known as neonatologists – together with neonatal nurses, and under the direction of Dr. Jorge Perez, the twins started to make progress. “South Miami Hospital will always be a part of our lives,” said Ryan Holtzman. “It’s just one of those things you just can’t put into words – how very grateful you are.”

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Heart Attack Survivor

“Do you believe in miracles, Jim?” asked Dr. Abello. “Yes, I do,” Jim answered. “The Lord wasn’t ready for her yet, because she’s still got some things to do here on this earth.”

After church service on Sunday, July 31, 2011, Montye Barker felt very ill and told her husband, Jim, that she needed to go to the hospital. He called rescue and they transported Montye to the hospital, arriving around noon. After an examination in the Emergency Center, the attending physician transferred Montye to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and told Jim they wanted to keep her overnight for observation. Jim kissed his wife goodnight and told her, “I’ll see you in the morning, honey.” At 11:45 p.m., Jim received a call advising him he better come back to the hospital – as they were losing her.

Jim rushed to the hospital and found Dr. Robert Abello with Montye. Dr. Abello had already paddled her once and her heart came back – then stopped, so he paddled her again, as Jim stood behind him praying. Her heart came back, then stopped again, and Jim was still praying. As the two men stood there motionless, Montye’s heart started beating. “I don’t believe it,” said Dr. Abello. He turned around, looked at Jim and said, “Do you believe in miracles, Jim?” “Yes, I do,” Jim answered. “The Lord wasn’t ready for her yet, because she’s still got some things to do here on this earth.” Montye remained in the ICU for almost a month. “To those fine men and women, I owe my life,” Montye said.

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