‘For the First Time, I Had Hope’

‘For the First Time, I Had Hope’

“Energetic” is the word that Mary Ann Seidler, 65, chooses to describe herself. But a listener is likely to quickly conclude that “modest” would be equally apt. Swimming, skiing, bicycling – along with trips to the Metropolitan Opera and a busy professional career in radio engineering requiring frequent international travel – were just a few of Mary Ann’s pursuits prior to May of 2021.

That’s when she had a heart attack, and her world screeched to a sudden halt.

At a small hospital in Maine, Mary Ann received the bad news. Her heart was failing, she was informed, and treatment options were next to none. “I was told there wasn’t a lot they could do for me, and that I didn’t have much time remaining,” she says. “I even cashed out my 401(k), because I really, really believed I didn’t have much time left.”

The Turning Point

Still, Mary Ann struggled to accept that grim prognosis. “It seemed so strange to me, because I’m a biking enthusiast and normally biked about 100 miles in a week,” she says. “My heart attack didn’t make a lot of sense as there was no blockage.”

It was at that point, Mary Ann recalls, that her two sisters sprang into action. “They absolutely would not accept the fact that there was nothing to be done,” Mary Ann says. “They were relentless, and they just went ahead and scheduled me for a virtual consultation at Cleveland Clinic.

“And that,” she says, “was the turning point.”

Following the virtual consultation, Mary Ann was advised that a cardiac ablation could be an effective treatment.

“I’ll never forget when I got off that phone call: For the first time, I had hope,” she says. “And also, I was like, maybe I shouldn’t have cashed out my 401(k) yet,” she adds with a chuckle.

Furthermore, Cleveland Clinic staff confirmed what Mary Ann had come to suspect – and what other doctors had adamantly denied: that a case of COVID-19, in 2020, was an underlying factor in her heart disease.

Buoyed by the good news, impressed by the doctors’ depth of knowledge, and deeply touched by their concern, Mary Ann immediately knew she wanted to be treated at Cleveland Clinic. “This wasn’t the staff telling me I should come to Cleveland Clinic,” she emphasizes. “This was me saying, please, let me come to you! This is where I wanted to be treated.”

Mary Ann’s subsequent cardiac ablation was performed at Cleveland Clinic in August of 2021, by cardiology specialist Dr. Jakub Sroubek, MD, “and – bam! – my ejection fraction (a measure of heart function) was up to 54 percent,” or nearly normal. “I think even the doctor was a bit surprised!”

Under the subsequent care of Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Paulino Alvarez, MD, Mary Ann has made steady progress. “There have been a few bumps along the way,” she notes, “but Dr. Alvarez has been really brilliant in the way he has managed my medications. He had to tinker a little bit, but, boy, did he ever get the right combination!” By October of 2023, Dr. Alvarez informed Mary Ann that he considered her heart disease under control.

Since then, Mary Ann has been hard at work reclaiming her previous lifestyle. While a knee condition has so far limited her biking, she’s looking forward to regaining function this spring, when she will undergo partial knee replacement surgery at Cleveland Clinic. “I receive all my health care at Clevland Clinic now,” she explains, “because I know that the care I receive there is second to none.”

A Chance to Give Back

It was also during her recovery that Mary Ann began to feel the urge to give back for that care. “I started thinking about what Cleveland Clinic did for me, and I wanted to help them do that for others,” she says. “I wanted to be able to help the next person who might feel like she’s in a hopeless situation be able to come here and say, as I do, ‘Thanks to Cleveland Clinic, I’m going to be hanging around a while longer!’”

To that end, Mary Ann determined to make a substantial gift to the Cleveland Clinic, directing funds from her estate to support the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.

“It’s my honor to be able to leave something to Cleveland Clinic,” she says. “The more research they can do, and the more education they can provide – especially for women, because I think a lot of us don’t think we will ever have a heart attack – the better. And I’m glad to be part of that.”

But the biggest benefit of her treatment, she says, may have been to her peace of mind. “Since my heart attack, the awareness that I had heart failure was always in the back of my brain,” she admits, “and I always felt a little scared. But the day I walked out of the appointment where Dr. Alvarez said it was under control, it was such a huge relief. Now if I get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, I don’t immediately attribute that to heart failure; I attribute it to not getting enough exercise – and that’s so much better!”

Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s dance card has been filling up fast. She plans to pursue some consulting offers in her field this spring, and to resume her international travel – including a trip to Liechtenstein with her sister to investigate their family tree, and a trip to a favorite Bangkok hotel, for food, shopping, and chance to relax by the pool. “I’ve been doing a lot of swimming,” she reports, “and frankly, just enjoying life!”

She also continues to appreciate Cleveland Clinic’s role in making that possible.

“Every time I’m on a long bike ride, I say a little ‘thank you’ to the great doctors and caregivers at the Cleveland Clinic,” she says. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here, rockin’ and rollin’ and dancing on the ceiling!”

One Question with a Big Impact

One Question with a Big Impact

“I vividly remember that every time I went to see Dr. Bowling, my pediatrician, he would ask me what book I was reading,” says Christina Vernace, DO. “He was always asking what I was reading and he had book covers on the walls and all over the office.”

Today, Dr. Vernace is a pediatrician herself, who, in one of those funny twists of fate, works alongside her former pediatrician, Douglas Bowling, MD, at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.

She credits him with not just helping her land the job interview but inspiring her career path.

“To get to work at the same building has been a very special full-circle moment,” says Dr. Vernace, who completed her residency at University of Florida in July 2022.

Full circle, indeed. As a pediatrician, she’s also carrying on the tradition of taking an interest in what her young patients are reading.

Cleveland Clinic’s Catalyst Grant Program

To further integrate reading practices into her healthcare practice, Dr. Vernace applied for a Cleveland Clinic Catalyst Grant so that she and her colleagues could participate in the Reach Out and Read (ROR) program and provide each patient through age 5 with a new book at every well visit.

Catalyst grants are 100% funded by donations to Cleveland Clinic. Every dollar of every contribution has an immediate impact by funding projects that help our caregivers develop medical breakthroughs, enhance patient services and build community wellness programs.

The process to be considered for a Catalyst Grant is simple. Twice a year, Cleveland Clinic caregivers from the U.S. are encouraged to apply for a Catalyst Grant. Caregivers may be surgeons, social workers, nurses, administrators or any employee with a great idea. The grants, which reflect Cleveland Clinic’s spirit of diversity and inclusivity, are funded up to $100,000.

Through a competitive process, these one-time grants are awarded to applicants whose proposals that show the most promise for making an impact within one year. Caregivers must report on their progress and return any unused funds.

Fostering a Culture of Reading

Dr. Vernace was awarded a Catalyst Grant in January 2023.

Besides providing books, the ROR program aids in developmental screening — from how kids engage with the book and turn the pages to how interested they are in receiving a gift.  During the well visits with families, she also uses the ROR program to broach reading at home. “To not just tell parents to ‘go to the library’ but help them build their home library is really cool and empowering,” Dr. Vernace says.

She also stresses the importance of reading to children during early developmental stages with her patients' families. “Reading is one of the top determinants of overall adult health and wellness,” explains Dr. Vernace, “so the amount of exposure children have to books can have lasting impacts on their forever health.”

She points to the significant amount of literature and research regarding early literacy. “Empowering and engaging children with reading from even the newborn age promotes wellness and bonding with the parent or caregiver,” Dr. Vernace says.

Dr. Vernace's insights underscore the transformative power of reading aloud to children, fostering not just intellectual growth but also nurturing vital connections between caregivers and children, enriching their lives from the very beginning.

“I feel so grateful Cleveland Clinic has given us the ability to provide these books to our patients and start this program here,” she says.

Waltzing Into a Lifetime of Giving

Waltzing Into a Lifetime of Giving

Tad and Mary Waldbauer met at a Special Olympics benefit dinner in New York City when he asked her to dance. Forty-two years later they are still dancing...and giving…together.

The Hobe Sound residents are dedicated to supporting the communities they call home, both here in Florida and the Northeast. That includes contributing to cancer and heart care initiatives at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.

A New York State of Mind

Married in 1984, the Waldbauers have worked and lived in and around New York City for most of their lives.

Before raising the couple’s three children, Mary had a career in sales. Tad ran a successful multi-generational family business before transitioning to wealth management in 2001. Today he is a Managing Director and Wealth Partner with J.P. Morgan Wealth Management in New York City.

No matter where they’ve lived, Tad and Mary have always invested their “time and treasure” to make their communities better. “We have a number of organizations close to our hearts that we are proud to support,” says Tad.

In particular, Tad has been an avid supporter of the YMCA for 40 years, having served on the Board of Directors for both the Long Island YMCA in New York and the Somerset Hills YMCA in New Jersey.

Sunny Florida Calls

Ten years ago the couple brought their philanthropic spirit to Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Like many of their fellow New Yorkers, the Waldbauers found themselves drawn to the Sunshine State. They were new empty nesters and had family in the area. “We visited in May of 2014, and by December we were moved into our new house in Hobe Sound,” recalls Mary.

Though they continue to split their time between New York and Florida, Tad and Mary are fully settled into the beachside community and supporting the good works of area organizations.

Together the couple has contributed to Molly’s House, a local nonprofit that provides accommodations to patients who are receiving outpatient medical treatment from area healthcare providers, including Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.

A “Healthy” Investment

More recently, Tad and Mary made their first financial gift to Cleveland Clinic.

The couple attended a Cleveland Clinic medical lecture in Loblolly last year hosted by Barstow-Reed Society Donors, Pat and Fred Salerno. Hospital leadership educated the community on Cleveland Clinic Martin Health’s Stroke Program – from transport to treatment – and the resources now available to the community. They were especially impressed by neurosurgeon Jeffrey Miller, MD, Director of Endovascular Neurosurgery at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, who spoke at the event.

“He talked about stroke and cardiac arrest treatments and efforts to protect brain function,” recalls Mary. “We were very impressed with him and the enhancements Cleveland Clinic has made since coming to Martin County.”

That is why the couple chose to support cancer and heart-related research, education and patient care initiatives at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. Their gift was made in memory of Mary's sister, Regina, a Jupiter, Florida, resident who passed away in 2011 at the age of 52 following years of treatment for sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that develops in bone and connective tissue.

Tad also has been personally touched by cancer. He was first diagnosed with melanoma 11 years ago. “It’s been under control, and for that I’m grateful. But I know it’s important to stay diligent,” he says.

Mary and Tad both see their gift to Cleveland Clinic as an investment in the health of the community.

“The Cleveland Clinic name is synonymous with cardiac care, and we are fortunate to have that expertise here in our backyard,” says Tad. “It’s vitally important to the community that we have access to quality healthcare. That’s why we all have a vested interest in the success of Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.”