Making connections with patients, with entire families, is what Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine
at NorthShore, enjoys most about his chosen specialty. Not only does he get the chance to help his patients feel better and stay better, but he can watch his littlest patients grow up and his patients’ families grow larger as he provides care over the years.
As a child, his own pediatrician was not simply a doctor; he was a warm, caring man who took the time to develop a relationship with the whole family. This example, as well as his mother’s efforts as a nurse for over 40 years and a desire to be challenged
by his career, led Dr. Plofsky to family medicine.
An avid nature photographer, Dr. Plofsky’s artistic passion has provided him with an outlet for his creativity. This outlet has also given him a chance to deepen connections with some of his patients. In fact, his current exhibition, “Our Natural World,”
is dedicated to the memory of his patient “Superman” Sam Sommer, (link to superman blog http://supermansamuel.blogspot.com/ ) who fought a courageous battle with leukemia that he sadly lost in December 2013. Dr. Plofsky will be donating all of the proceeds
from his current photography exhibition to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research grants.
Here, Dr. Plofsky discusses his two passions—medicine and photography—and the role of the family doctor:
Why did you choose to pursue family medicine? What was it that stood out most about that specialty?
Growing up, I saw my pediatrician as a warm and caring individual; he knew us personally and developed a meaningful relationship with our family. As I explored different options in training, I was drawn to family practice because it created similar
opportunities to connect with patients. But it’s also challenging because a family physician must have a firm grasp on a broad base of medical knowledge that the specialty demands. It’s extremely rewarding to take care of individuals and families as they
move through life.
Additionally, my mother was a strong role model. She worked for 40 years as a nurse. Her tireless work at the Whitehall Nursing Home opened my eyes to the field of medicine and what I could do to help others.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
The most rewarding part is the satisfaction gained from developing strong relationships with my patients and knowing that I’m helping them stay well. The connections that are created as I care for individuals and families are a daily reaffirmation of why I
went into medicine.
What is the most difficult aspect of family medicine?
As a physician, we have the knowledge to diagnose and treat many illnesses. Our ability to manage chronic and life-threatening diseases is constantly improving and enhancing our patients’ lives. Unfortunately, we don’t have the treatments for every
illness. As a physician trained to help people get better, it’s extremely difficult to see some patients simply not get better despite our best efforts. This was especially difficult with my patient Sam Sommer because he was so young and I’d been treating
his family for the past 12 years. I’d been Sam’s doctor from shortly after he was born until he passed away not long after his 8th birthday.
In addition to medicine, you are also passionate about photography. What sparked this interest?
My interest in photography goes back to high school. I was a staff photographer for my high school yearbook; I specialized in candids and sports images. Over the past seven years, I’ve gone on to develop a passion for photography now as an adult.
My interest in photography stemmed somewhat from the technical challenge it presented and evolved more to the creative exploration it has become.
Why has nature become your chosen subject?
For me, nature photography is a passion. First, I love being outdoors, hiking and exploring new areas of our natural world. When I’m taking pictures in nature, I have the opportunity to creatively record what I have seen and can present it to others.
I find this both challenging and rewarding. Spending time outdoors is also relaxing and spiritually uplifting.
Has pursuing this passion impacted the way you approach medicine at all?
Indirectly. It has opened up many conversations with my patients about their creative endeavors and hobbies. It has reminded me that we all need to take time to pursue our passions and that you need to set aside time to do this. My own health issues
several years ago helped me to realize that I needed to do this.
Why did you decide to donate the proceeds from this exhibition to St. Baldrick’s?
St. Baldrick’s primary fundraisers are these fun head-shaving events. Sam’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, who are both Reform Rabbis, were involved in one recently called “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.” They and 52 other rabbis shaved their heads in support
of this cause. It was such a powerful message and it inspired me to find a way to help them too, so I started my own St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. Sam loved nature and he loved the Heller Center, where my exhibition will run through July and August. With Sam’s
love for nature and my photography, I thought that dedicating my photo exhibit to his memory and using it to help raise money for St. Baldrick’s would be a perfect way to help.
There will be an open house at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 20th at the Heller Nature Center (2821 Ridge Road in Highland Park).
Dr. Plofsky's photos from the exhibit are available online through American Frame. Donations can also be made directly to St. Baldrick's
Those sunny skies and warmer temperatures can mean only one thing: summer. Before you head outside, it’s important to take some precautions to keep the entire family safe and healthy all season long. From grilling and sun safety to beachside swimming and
bug bite prevention, NorthShore University HealthSystem has the entire family covered with our summer safety tips
Click on the image below for the all the summer health tips you’ll need to take you to Labor Day and beyond.
It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day but it’s especially important to replenish your body with
fluids after exercise, particularly after periods of intense physical activity or exercise performed in high temperatures. But what’s the best way to hydrate?
Water might seem like the obvious rehydration choice but there are other options.
Patrick Birmingham, MD, Sports Medicine at NorthShore, discusses the pros and cons of some after-exercise rehydration options:
Water. Every system of the human body requires water to function, so when you exercise and lose water by perspiring, you need to replenish what you lost. On average, every individual needs to consume approximately 1.9 liters of water a day
but this amount increases when you factor in exercise, especially high-intensity exercise.
Pros: Unlike some sports drinks and coconut water, there are no calories in water so you won’t undo any of the good accomplished during your workout. After short, moderate workouts, water should be sufficient for rehydration.
Cons: After intense workouts lasting more than an hour, your body loses not just water but important electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and these electrolytes will need to be replenished too. In this situation, water might not cut it.
Coconut water. Coconut water is all the rage but is this “natural” source any better than a bottle of water or a sports drink when it comes to rehydration after a workout?
Pros: Depending on the brand, coconut water has fewer calories, less sodium and more potassium than the typical sports drink. Generally, it also has no added colors and only natural flavors (from other juices, for instance).
Cons: After an intense workout, the most important electrolyte you need to replenish is sodium. Coconut water has less sodium than most sports drinks, which means it might not be able to do the heavy lifting after a particularly intense
workout. Some coconut waters are enhanced with extra sodium but that can alter the flavor and make consumption less pleasant.
Sports drinks. Most popular sports drinks provide approximately 13-19 grams of carbohydrates and between 80-120 milligrams of sodium.
Pros: Sports drinks are made especially to replace the electrolytes you lose during long, arduous workouts, so they should be your go-to source on high-intensity days. The tasty flavors mean you’re likely to consume enough when you need
it most. Pediatric rehydration mixtures like Pedialyte are also a great option. They have just the right combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates with less sugar.
Cons: Many sports drinks have added artificial flavors, colors and unnecessary sugars. Make sure to check for lower-calorie versions so you aren’t undoing all your hard work at the end of your workout.
All summer long, NorthShore will be at athletic events in the community to help you find out how you can
Unleash Your Inner Athlete. Come to the NorthShore tent and enter to win free entry into upcoming summer races and/or a grand price of a personal activity monitor. For a schedule of events where
you can find NorthShore, click
Do you have a garden in the backyard or a few herbs growing in pots on your patio or balcony? Are you looking for
healthy recipes that will put the delicious flavors of your harvest at the forefront of every meal? If basil happens to be one of your summer crops this year, you’re in luck.
Katrina Herrejon, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator,
Adult Endocrinology Group, shares a vegetarian-friendly recipe that makes basil a star:
Recipe makes 5 servings
For the puree:
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2c pine nuts
3/4c basil, chopped
1 1/4c frozen peas
1/4c olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the grilled vegetables:
5 large (1/2” thick) tomato slices
5 medium portabella mushroom caps
5 medium (1/4” thick) jicama slices
2 tbsp of your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
5 basil leaves
To prepare the puree:
To grill the vegetables:
To assemble dish:
Nutrition Information (per serving) :
Do you have a favorite recipe that includes fresh basil as an ingredient?
Getting outside and staying active during the summer is incredibly important for kids. Playgrounds are
a great place for kids to combine making friends with some much needed exercise. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common places for injury. Each year approximately 200,000 kids under the age of 14 will visit the emergency department because of
an injury that occurred on a playground. And about 80% of these injuries will occur from a fall.
However, the benefits of the playground far outweigh the drawbacks, especially if parents take a few extra precautions before heading to the park.
David Roberts, MD, Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute, shares some easy ways to make the playground safer for kids this summer and all year round:
Supervise, supervise! Go to the park as a family. While there, you can make sure everyone is being safe by supervising play and have a little fun too! Getting outside and staying active is just as important for parents.
Slides are for kids only. Well-meaning parents might think it’s safer to go down the slide with toddlers on your lap; unfortunately, this is a common source of fractures in young children. When little ones go down the slide alone, they only
have their own body weight to contend with. If they go down the slide with a parent and catch their foot on the side, the full force of the parent’s weight is behind them now too. So one at a time down the slide!
Dress appropriately. This doesn’t just mean dressing appropriately for the weather. Avoid drawstrings and loose clothing that could catch on playground equipment and cause falls or other injuries. And always make sure shoes laces are tied.
Make sure playgrounds are safe and age-appropriate. Not all playgrounds are created equal. Many modern playgrounds are designed to have lower height equipment and softer surfaces beneath, like mulch or rubber padding, which absorb the impact
of falls. Try to keep outdoor playtime to these safer spaces. Also look for playgrounds that have separate equipment for older and younger children.
Does your family spend time at the playground in the summer?
When I write, it helps me express how I feel, and it’s a way of reaching out to people and letting them know my story,” said Jameka Leonard, a 27-year-old mother and poet who was first diagnosed with a rare brain stem glioma in 2009. After an initial consultation
at the Mayo Clinic, Jameka was referred to Egon Doppenberg, MD, Neurosurgeon, and
Nina Martinez, MD, Neuro-Oncologist, at NorthShore for expert, collaborative care closer to home.
After completing both surgery and radiation at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center, Jameka is now stable and on a maintenance routine supervised by Dr. Martinez. She channels her positive energy not only into her fight against cancer but also into her writing,
recently publishing a book of poetry entitled Internal Combat: The Battle Within.
Watch the video for her full NorthShore Patient story and read an excerpt of her poetry here:
My name is Jameka. I don’t know if you remember me, but we were first introduced to one another in 2009 … Not to be rude or anything, but I am tired of you and I would like for us to part ways. You came into my life unwanted, and you have consistently
been here … I am not trying to continue to be pulled into your negative elements any longer.”
Headaches can be more than just a pain; they can make work and day-to-day activities feel impossible. Headaches and
migraines are as different as the individuals who experience them and the key to treating them is proper diagnosis.
Steven Meyers, MD, Neurologist and Headache Specialist at NorthShore, discusses common headache and migraine triggers and some treatment options that
might help take the pain away:
How do you determine the cause of a migraine?
Many patients search for "the cause" when in fact most of the time there is no single cause. We believe migraine is a genetic disorder, meaning the tendency to experience migraine is passed down in your genes. Everyone wants a simple fix. If they can find the
one thing to avoid or eliminate, they can eliminate their headaches but that rarely happens.
Migraine is a chronic illness and like all other chronic illnesses, the severity can vary from person to person. Treatment must be individualized to the specific patient, taking into account their individual desires regarding treatment options. I recommend
always starting with your primary care physician. Schedule an appointment to discuss your headaches specifically. Don't wait for a yearly physical or when seeing your doctor for something else. If you cannot get the information you need then ask for a referral
to a headache specialist.
How can you figure out what type of headache you are experiencing?
Proper diagnosis is essential for treatment. Your doctor should be able to make an appropriate diagnosis. If uncertainty persists, then you should see a headache specialist. Migraine, tension and cluster are the three most common primary headache disorders.
Primary means no underlying cause, such as a tumor, aneurysm or other disorder, can be pinpointed as the cause of the headache. Doctors have specific features and there are well-established criteria for making specific diagnoses. I cannot emphasize enough
the importance of making a specific headache diagnosis. If your doctor cannot tell you the type of headache you have, get a second opinion.
Is there any evidence that migraines are genetic?
Yes. As I briefly mentioned earlier, migraine is definitely a genetic disorder. Most persons with migraine have a positive family history. In rare cases, specific genetic abnormalities can be tested for, but in the vast majority of migraine sufferers we don’t
yet know what the genetic abnormality is.
What are some common migraine triggers?
There are many possible triggers and no two patients are the same. Why one trigger brings on a migraine in one person but not another is not known. Common triggers can include certain foods, though this has become somewhat controversial, with some recent studies
questioning food as a trigger.
Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, are common triggers. Missing meals, alteration in normal sleep patterns (too much or too little), weather changes, stress, and hormonal changes in women during the menstrual cycle are all possible triggers.
It is also important to keep in mind that triggers are rarely all or none. This means that a trigger may not trigger a migraine every time the patient is exposed; it may only happen every other or every third time. This makes identifying these triggers even
What can you do about triggers that aren’t controllable, like weather and hormones?
In general I divide triggers into those you can control and those you can’t, like weather. Hormonal changes are potentially treatable but this can be tricky and there are pros and cons of pursuing this approach. Avoiding those triggers that are preventable
could be helpful. When that is not sufficient, it’s time to speak to your doctor. If migraines occur frequently enough, then there are medications that can help prevent them or at least reduce the frequency of attacks.
What can a migraine sufferer do to shorten the duration of a migraine?
There are many options to treat migraine attacks. We refer to this type of treatment as abortive therapy. There are migraine-specific medications that we prefer to use. When these medications can’t be used for a specific reason or if they don’t work for a specific
patient, we may prescribe other types of pain medications and/or anti-nausea medication. Some patients find relaxation, massage, or the use of ice or heat beneficial as well. Sleep, when possible, can also shorten the duration of an attack.
Is this normal to experience headaches at certain times of day, particularly in the morning?
Some patients do get headaches at very specific times of the day; however, it’s important that the type of headache be correctly diagnosed in order to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment of migraines that wake someone from sleep depends in
part on how often this happens and under what circumstances. Sometimes a preventative medication at bedtime might be appropriate.
Are there any new medications for migraines with minimum side effects?
Truthfully there is not much new out there at present. There are some very exciting new medications that we hope to see on the market in the not-too- distant future but drug development and research can be frustratingly slow. All medications have side effects,
which vary greatly from person to person. There is some evidence that migraine sufferers are particularly prone to drug side effects and many persons will need to try a variety of medications before finding what works for them.
Are feverfew and butterbur effective herbal treatments for migraine prevention?
Feverfew and butterbur are two plant-based supplements available without a prescription. They both have been used for decades, particularly in Europe, to prevent headaches. They both have been studied in good scientific research trials in the U.S. and both
have been found to be effective, safe and with few potential side effects. Overall, they tend not to be as effective as prescription medications in my experience but can be beneficial in certain persons and do tend to have fewer side effects.
The main problem is finding out what dose to use, as every supplement may be different in terms of strength and purity. Additionally, there are potential interactions with other medications. I would definitely recommend speaking to your doctor before starting
What are your thoughts on combining acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments with conventional treatments from a neurologist for migraines?
Both acupuncture and chiropractic treatments have been studied and found to be helpful in some individuals with migraine. I have many patients who use these therapies and find them helpful either alone or in combination with "conventional" treatments.
When suffering from a headache, does consuming a little caffeine help a headache or make it worse? Any other recommendations, suggestions or treatments do you have to help ease the pain of a migraine headache?
Caffeine is interesting. Consuming caffeine can be helpful. Several common headache medications add caffeine to make them more effective. Many patients will drink some coffee or cola along with whatever medication they take when they get a headache. However,
the frequent/regular use of caffeine can actually cause headache or make headaches worsen over time.
If you use a medication that contains caffeine such as Excedrin, be careful to follow the directions very carefully. These medications should not be used more than 1-2 days per week. I usually recommend that frequent headache sufferers limit caffeine consumption
to the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee per day. Short of medication, some patients use relaxation therapy, biofeedback, ice, heat or sleep to treat migraine attacks.
Scoliosis is a condition characterized by curvature of the spine. The most common form of scoliosis, called idiopathic
scoliosis, occurs in otherwise healthy children. Although some cases run in families and may have a genetic basis, most cases have no known cause.
Idiopathic scoliosis starts in the early adolescent years, around ages 10-11. Initially, most cases are mild, often undetectable, because changes in the appearance of the back develop gradually and cause no pain. However, some curves can get worse during
the adolescent growth spurt and may lead to problems later on. If a curve worsens, the spine begins to rotate, causing the body and ribs to protrude farther out on one side. Without treatment, severe scoliosis visibly affects the body's appearance, and in
some cases may cause pain or affect lung function by reducing available space in the chest for breathing.
Once even a mild curve is detected, it is important to have a doctor monitor your child’s spine. Fortunately, the vast majority of scoliosis curves are mild and may never need treatment. Some curves may be treated temporarily with a thin plastic brace, which
stabilizes the curve and prevents it from getting worse during periods of growth. Rarely, severe curves may require surgery to correct the curvature and prevent future problems. Children with scoliosis should be seen by a pediatric orthopaedist about every
four to six months during periods of growth.
David Roberts, MD, is a Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at NorthShore who specializes in scoliosis. He shares some the early signs of scoliosis
that parents should look out for in their children:
Some symptoms can be subtle, so see a physician if there is any question.
Are your children screened for scoliosis in their schools?
Sometimes the best gifts come in small packages and sometimes the best foods do too. They might not look like much
but seeds can pack a hefty nutritional punch. Tiny titans of a healthy diet, seeds contain nutrients like protein, fiber, iron and omega-3 fatty acids.
Jennifer Panicko, Registered Dietitian at NorthShore, discusses the big benefits of adding any of these five seeds to your already healthy diet:
Chia seeds. Packed with fiber, chia seeds are filling and nutrient-rich, adding omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, potassium and iron to the mix too. Their pleasant nutty flavor means they can be consumed raw or added to yogurts, oatmeal and
sprinkled on top of favorite whole grain snacks.
Banana almond overnight oatmeal with chia seeds
Sunflower seeds. With lots of B vitamins, especially folate, sunflower seeds are a great snack for pregnant women and those looking to boost the strength of their immune systems. They also have lots of vitamin E, and, even better, are packed
with protein and heart-healthy fats. Go natural and skip the salted variety.
Shaved squash, sunflower seed and feta salad
Flax seeds. Small but mighty, flax seeds are brimming with nutritional value. They contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lignans—which are plant-based phytoestrogen that have been shown to lower one’s risk for some types of cancer—and
both soluble and insoluble fiber. Make sure to grind the seeds before consuming to ensure you get their full benefits.
Date and oat muffins with flax seeds
Sesame seeds. The health benefits of sesame seeds go on and on. They are high in antioxidants, which help boost the immune system, and have been shown to lower hypertension and bad cholesterol, and reduce stress levels. With a delicate nutty
flavor, they can be added to just about anything.
Salmon with sesame and orange relish
Pumpkin seeds. A delicious source of B vitamins and iron, pumpkin seeds are also high in a particular amino acid that has been shown to reduce anxiety: tryptophan. They’re also a fantastic source for omega-3 fatty acids, which can help
lower bad cholesterol levels. Serve them raw or roasted, either will make a healthy snack.
Corn and quinoa summer salad with toasted pumpkin seeds
What is your favorite seeded recipe?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women, but, for men, on average, high blood pressure starts earlier and heart attacks occur earlier. Men, it’s time to be more proactive about your own health! Whatever your age, it’s never
too early to start taking better care of your heart.
The experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem have created an infographic that explores some surprising facts related to heart disease in men, including how their heart health compares to that of women. Click on the image below to view the
full infographic and also learn how you can begin to improve the condition of your heart with simple men’s health tips.