Being part of a team is nothing new for Daniel Fegely, DO. He’s been a team player since he played T-ball in kindergarten. Today, his teamwork skills prove invaluable as a general surgeon and Chief of Surgery at St. Luke’s Monroe Campus.
At St. Luke’s General Surgery in Bartonsville, Dr. Fegely uses surgical procedures to remove diseased tissue, repair injuries and promote health and healing. As Chief of Surgery, the 34-year-old Bangor resident ensures that St. Luke’s Monroe Campus maintains the highest surgical quality and safety standards.
He’s always a team player, whether working with St. Luke’s leadership to improve care by adopting new surgical practices and technology or in the operating room (OR).
“It takes an entire team to make the patient’s surgery experience go well. I couldn’t do it myself,” he said. “We have the nurses in pre-op getting the patient ready for surgery. In the OR, besides the surgeon, you have an anesthesiologist and the scrub nurses maintaining and handling the equipment. The physician assistants assist with the procedure. After surgery, other nurses care for patients in the recovery room. Even the office staff is part of the team. I need those individuals.”
Dr. Fegely has been part of a team for as long as he can remember. He started team sports when he was five, playing both baseball and soccer throughout his school years. At Albright College in Reading, he played rugby on a club team that competed against other colleges, including East Stroudsburg University.
In both baseball and soccer, he was in the middle of things. He played center field in baseball, where he says humbly, he “was alright.” During his senior year at Kutztown High School, his team competed in the state championship game but unfortunately lost, coming in second. Soccer is where he shined, however. He played central defender, where he had to control and set the defense, he said.
In medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, he first became part of the patient care team. He used skills earned in sports, such as communication and working with his teammates to achieve a common goal. Now, rather than another sports team, the common enemy was the problem causing the patient pain or illness.
His leadership skills emerged again during his residency at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, NY. He was named Chief Resident his last year.
After finishing his residency, Dr. Fegely wanted to return to Pennsylvania to serve patients and be closer to home. Having grown up in Kutztown, he knew St. Luke’s Health Network provided exceptional and consistent patient care. It was also known for having a staff-friendly culture. He applied and was accepted.
Dr. Fegely initially became interested in medicine as a child after hearing his grandmother, a nurse, share stories from her career. He chose surgery as a specialty because he enjoys working with his hands and likes the mix of the OR and seeing patients in his office. He also appreciates that he can remove or repair what is causing the patient’s problem.
“When a patient comes in with appendicitis and is experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort, I can remove it and fix the problem so they’re feeling a lot better,” he said. “There’s a kind of satisfaction you receive from helping them.”
As Chief of Surgery, he evaluates patient safety practices, performance improvement, infection control and other areas that enable the OR and the hospital to provide the highest level of care.
He appreciates the opportunity to help the St. Luke’s Monroe Campus grow and is excited about the expansion project. The new four-story, 165,000-square-foot patient care tower will double the size of the existing hospital. Scheduled to open in early 2024, it will house a 36-bed medical-surgical unit, additional operating and procedural space, expanded outpatient services and a state-of-the-art interventional radiology suite.
“At St. Luke’s Monroe Campus, we can handle medical and surgical issues for patients in a familiar setting near their home and potentially their families, reducing the need to travel,” he said. “We’re filling a need and giving the community the health care that it deserves.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Fegely, call 484-526-2200.
Ultra-marathon runner Michael Martinez, MD, of St. Luke’s General Surgery in Palmerton, considers himself the “luckiest man in the world.” An essential component of his perceived good fortune is the ability to work and live in Palmerton, where he finds joy in his surgical career and running on the area’s wooded paths, including the D&L Trail. His motivation stems partly from his desire to be physically and mentally in the best possible shape when he performs surgery.
“I get to walk to work every day and care for my neighbors,” he said. “It takes me five minutes to walk to work.” He relishes the small-town feel of Palmerton and the ability to get to know his patients and their families and friends. Concerned about his patients’ health, he encourages them to use the trail to improve their health.
As a general surgeon, Dr. Martinez treats a broad spectrum of diseases and injuries. He is a regional leader in minimally invasive acute care general surgery. His common procedures include appendectomy, abdominal surgery, colon and rectal surgery, gall bladder removal, hernia repair, soft tissue “lumps and bumps” removal and wound repair.
“I’m like the family doctor of the surgery world,” he said. “I can take care of 90% of what patients come to me for, and 10% of the time, I need to send them to a specialist.”
Dr. Martinez came to Palmerton in 2000 after completing his residency at the Guthrie Clinic and Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre. He raised his family in Palmerton and became involved in their sports so he could spend more time with them. He coached his children’s soccer teams from the time they were four years old. Then, when they entered high school, he coached their track and cross-country teams.
An avid runner, Dr. Martinez has twice run the Eastern States 100 in the Pine Creek Gorge of Pennsylvania, taking just over 31 hours to complete the race. Ordinarily, he logs between 30 to 70 miles a week, about a quarter of that on the D & L trail.
“As a physician, I have a moral obligation to be at my best for my patients because they come to me in their hour of greatest need,” he said. “Running on the DNL trail and being in nature puts me in the best position possible to provide my patients with the most positive outcomes. I need to get outdoors, run far and spend time in nature. That’s what I do because it’s what my patients deserve.”
Dr. Martinez points out, however, that you do not need to be an endurance runner to benefit from spending time on the D& L Trail.
“Everyone, of every ability level, can benefit from spending time of the D & L,” he said. “It is well established that exercise for as little as 10 minutes a day has measurable benefits to a person’s physical health and mental well-being.”
Dr. Martinez strongly advocates St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Get Your Tail on the Trail Program (GYTOTT), a partnership ofSt. Luke’s and Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L) to encourage healthy lifestyles. Community members can participate in free ongoing challenges, attend special community events and earn incentives.
The centerpiece of GYTOTT is the 165-mile multi-use D&L Trail that begins in the mountains near Wilkes-Barre and ends in Bristol, just outside of Philadelphia. The trail winds through woodlands, small towns and cities. Sections follow waterways, including rivers and canals, enabling hikers, bikers and runners on the trail to spot people on kayaks, canoes and rafts on the water below.
“The farthest I’ve ever run on the D&L Trail is 82 miles from Wilkes Barre to Allentown in 18 and 1/2 hours. Then, I got tired,” he joked. Dr. Martinez’s favorite part is the four miles between Weissport and Jim Thorpe, which he thinks is the trail’s most beautiful section.
Dr. Martinez also encourages his patients to use the trail. Besides the physical benefits of being in nature, it also boosts mental health, easing anxiety and depression. When patients need surgery, physically fit patients experience fewer complications and have better outcomes, including a quicker recovery. Dr. Martinez takes pride in his patients doing well.
Caption: Surgeon and ultra-marathon runner Michael Martinez, MD, of St. Luke’s General Surgery in Palmerton, and his daughter Madison Martinez enjoy a run together on the D&L Trail. Dr. Martinez is a strong advocate of St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Get Your Tail on the Trail Program (GYTOTT), a partnership ofSt. Luke’s and Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L) to encourage healthy lifestyles.
Many people think of a surgeon as a physician who performs operations and sees patients once or twice before and after surgery. But regarding cancer, surgeon and surgical oncologist Ali Butash, MD, describes her role as a patient educator and advocate who works with other specialists to plan and coordinate her patients’ care throughout their cancer journeys.
Dr. Butash’s surgical skills and down-to-earth, straightforward honesty make her particularly well-suited to serve the communities surrounding St. Luke’s Carbon and Miners Campuses. She operates primarily at St. Luke’s Carbon Campus and sometimes performs surgery at St. Luke’s Miners Hospital. She is part of a surgical team that responds to emergencies at those hospitals and Geisinger St. Luke’s Hospital.
“This is a unique region with a lot of unmet needs, particularly in the cancer field,” she said. “People in this area are used to traveling to New York, Philadelphia or Bethlehem for cancer care. Our patients appreciate it when we bring services to them. Over time, we’ll be able to offer more complex surgical oncology care at the Carbon Campus and throughout the Northern Tier region.”
Raised in the Philadelphia area, Dr. Butash received her undergraduate degree at Lehigh University, her medical degree at Jefferson Medical College and general surgery residency training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Then, she completed a two-year complex general surgical oncology fellowship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo.
“I’m excited to develop the cancer programming in our region so that people can get more of their care closer to home,” she said. “When you have cancer, it’s not just one or two appointments. It can be more like a marathon. Compliance and quality of life improve when patients are not constantly driving in and out of the region to get care. Rather than commuting, having services nearby enables them to spend more of their downtime with their families and doing things that bring them joy and quality of life.”
During her training, Dr. Butash found the challenge and complexity of cancer care attractive. She learned that the components and timing of treatment depend on the type of cancer, how far it has progressed and individual patient characteristics, such as age, medical history, and family history.
“Surgical oncologists and cancer care providers inspired me to go into surgery in general,” she said. “My mentors were surgeons who were excellent communicators, patient advocates and team leaders. That was how I wanted to practice. I was intrigued by both the challenge and art of the surgical management of cancer.”
Dr. Butash also enjoys being part of the cancer team. Often, cancer patients receive multiple types of cancer treatment involving different specialists. The team may include surgical, medical and radiation oncologists and palliative care specialists. Sometimes specialists, such as urologists, neurologists or gynecologists are involved. These specialists meet to discuss patients’ cases and together develop the best plan of care.
Dr. Butash treats various types of cancers, including cancers of the soft tissue and gastrointestinal tract. Many of her patients have breast cancer, and some patients seek out a woman due to culture-related preferences or just because they believe a woman can relate to their situation.
“As a woman, you understand the role women play within their families and workplaces,” she said. “Women are juggling a lot. After receiving a cancer diagnosis, they also have to figure out how to factor in their treatment, along with their concerns and worries. They appreciate talking to another woman who can identify with that.”
But more important than gender, the patient must find a physician who answers their questions and with whom they feel comfortable. The more patients understand the importance of different parts of the treatment plan, the more likely they are to adhere to it, she said.
“There’s nothing quite like connecting with a patient and their family, being able to remove their cancer and then continue to take care of them after that,” she said. “By performing a complicated operation, you can remove their cancer and potentially provide a cure for that patient.”
Judy Veron will turn 60-years-old on May 9, a milestone she says she might have missed without the skills and caring of SLUHN doctors near her home.
The Coaldale mother, wife and former “Mail Lady” for Carbon County, received a grim diagnosis of stage 3 invasive breast cancer in her left breast in 2008. She was just 49.
She credits her now-retired radiologist, David Bohri, MD, at St. Luke’s Miners with finding and diagnosing the disease during a routine mammogram. She says a breast expert in the Lehigh Valley had misdiagnosed her lump.
Though Veron had no family history of breast cancer, her mother had died of a type of gastric cancer known to be linked to her breast cancer, which is known to spread to both breasts.
Veron did her homework when choosing her treatment and treatment team. She wanted to remain local, believing that it wasn’t necessary to travel for the best care. She was referred by her gynecologist to SLUHN general surgeon Michael Martinez, MD, whom she describes as “concerned and compassionate” throughout her care, which was extensive.
During an 11-hour surgery at St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten, Dr. Martinez removed both of Veron’s breasts. Next SLUHN chief of plastic surgery Michael Morrissey Jr., MD, reconstructed them using her abdominal muscle and fat.
Following chemo and radiation therapy, Veron joined a national clinical research trial to help science test the effectiveness metabolic Tamoxifen in premenopausal women.
Then she did something she had desired for years: she went to Penn State-Hazleton and earned a nursing degree. It’s in her blood: her mother was a nurse and her daughter is a nurse. Veron has worked with mental health patients at the Coatesville VA since 2014.
“Judy is an inspirational individual both as a champion for breast cancer survivors and as a nurse,” says Dr. Martinez.
Now, more than a decade after her diagnosis and surgery, Veron hesitates to say she’s cured. Instead, she declares she is “totally optimistic” about her health and is looking forward to retirement just two years away.
To celebrate her health and the decade ahead, Veron will take a road trip to West Virginia to visit her best friend, who convinced her to have her first mammogram. Undoubtedly, it will be a much more joyful birthday than 10 years ago, thanks in a large part to her SLUHN doctors.
“Having local care was important to me,” she says. “I thank God every day for my doctors at St. Luke’s.”
Kathy, 55, nearly died in 1997 after 17 hours of abdominal surgery at a Philadelphia hospital where a large cancerous tumor was removed. She lay in a coma for seven days after the operation before her body began to heal.
Jim, her husband, never left her side. Family and close friends were summoned to say their good-byes. Miraculously, Kathy pulled through to the astonishment and joy of her doctors, her and her husband, who live in Mt. Bethel.
But complications from the operation and radiation treatments plagued her. For two years, Kathy suffered 28 bouts with intestinal blockages and the wrenching pain, frequent trips to the ER and major weight loss they caused.
Buoyed by their faith, Kathy and Jim never lost hope, though several doctors refused to operate on her to correct these problems. The couple found their answer in 2017 in general surgeon Richard Sharpe, MD, at St. Luke’s Warren Hospital, who brought 30 years of complex surgical expertise into the OR. During five hours of surgery, Dr. Sharpe removed the intestinal adhesions and gave Kathy back her life, providing her hope for a future without pain.
“I feel fantastic,” she says, beaming. “Dr. Sharpe saved my life.”
Jim, a surgical technician at St. Luke’s Warren, calls the outcome “nothing short of a miracle.” He says he was put in the OR to meet Dr Sharpe and witness his immense skills.
Kathy has returned to her hobbies of cooking, creating crafts and reading, which she had to give up when she was suffering with her post-surgical conditions. With help from Jim who manages her ongoing health needs, an enduring faith in God and undying gratitude for Dr. Sharpe, the former nurse pictures a bright future ahead on a healthier path.
“I’m back to my abnormally normal self,” she jokes, adding that she’d happy to live with her new normal.