Celebrated Physician: Erin O’Neill, MD

The title on Erin O’Neill, MD’s business card reads “Attending Radiologist.” But it could just as accurately say “Puzzle Solver.”

That’s because Dr. O’Neill uses MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s array of state-of-the-art imaging technologies to help other physicians diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses, from the routine to more complex, medically challenging conditions.

“We see all the best cases,” Dr. O’Neill says. “That’s a privilege not all other specialties have, but it also keeps us on our toes.”

Why Radiology?

Originally from Minnesota, Dr. O’Neill considered training in surgery until she became fascinated with radiology’s procedural and analytical aspects. After medical school and internship at Creighton University Medical Center, it was on to Chicago where she completed a radiology residency at Rush University Medical Center, where she served as chief resident. Dr. O’Neill remained in the Windy City for an MRI Predominant Body Imaging and Musculoskeletal fellowship at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Training at some of the country’s leading research centers for radiology helped prepare Dr. O’Neill for keeping up with a technologically fast-paced field.

“It does require a lot of reading, and a lot of collaboration with my colleagues here at the Hospital Center and at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital,” she says, “but the strides that have been made in both the quality of imaging and patient safety are amazing.”

Body MRI, for which Dr. O’Neill serves as the Hospital Center’s associate director, is one of the fields most widely used tools, as it can provide extremely clear, detailed scans without the use of radiation. Still, not all patients are comfortable with the procedure, which often involves spending long periods in an enclosed tube.

“We do what we can to make them comfortable and feel at ease during the procedure,” Dr. O’Neill says. “We also look for the best alternative to evaluate a particular condition, such as using ultrasound for younger patients to limit their cumulative radiation doses.”

Outside the Hospital

Dr. O’Neill could easily add another business card title, “Mom.” She and her husband, who works in finance and real estate for a national accounting firm, love spending time with their 2-year old son and the family dog. But while they enjoy the attractions of the Nation’s Capital, they’ve also gotten to know the area’s airports quite well.

“We’re both from the Midwest, so we travel back often to see family and friends,” Dr. O’Neill explains. “There are a lot of places that we get to call ‘home.’”

Celebrated Physician: Helena B. Pasieka, MD, MS

It’s the rare physician who elects to endure the rigors of residency a second time. Yet for Helena Pasieka, MD, something about dermatology got under her skin, figuratively speaking.  

Meet the Physician

A graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr. Pasieka had completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan and had stayed on as an internal medicine hospitalist. Along with handling critically ill patients, she also admitted patients to the inpatient dermatology service. Her up-close look at dermatology cases was, to say the least, eye-opening.

“I was completely fascinated by the different types of cases and how they were being managed,” she recalls.

Dr. Pasieka initially balked at a mentor’s suggestion that she pursue a residency in dermatology. A few years later, however, an opening at the Johns Hopkins Dermatology Residency Program in Baltimore coincided with her husband eyeing a job opportunity at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

“The stars just seemed to align,” Dr. Pasieka says with a laugh, “and I’m glad they did.”

Dr. Pasieka's Work Today

Splitting her time as director of Inpatient and Consultative Dermatology at both MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Dr. Pasieka works with conditions ranging from cellulitis and infections, to diseases associated with HIV/AIDS and immunological issues. Because skin ailments are often a visible manifestation of an underlying condition, Dr. Pasieka often encounters a higher degree of anxiety among her patients.

“And it’s understandable, because this is something they can see, as opposed to, say, a cholesterol test result,” Dr. Pasieka says. “An important part of my work is to help alleviate their concerns, as I guide them through the diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr. Pasieka is involved in a variety of research programs, including one exploring Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare disorder that can result in significant skin loss, unless treated immediately. She’s also focused on raising dermatology’s profile in public health, as access to specialized expertise is often limited by patient resources or location, even in urban areas.

“If a primary physician doesn’t have access to a dermatology consult, how does it translate to costs and outcomes,” she says. “Are there higher risks of a misdiagnosis or improper prescriptions?” She adds that while technology such as telemedicine may help with educating both patients and providers, “we first need to fully understand the extent and implication of accessibility issues.” 

Celebrated Physician: Sara Iqbal, MD

Who is Dr. Iqbal?

The joyful anticipation of childbirth can also be fraught with anxiety, particularly if the pregnancy is considered high-risk, or unexpected problems develop. That’s when mothers and their families need more than just a capable physician. They also need a counselor, and a friend.

Sara Naeem Iqbal, MD, makes sure they have all that, and more. As program director for MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine program, Dr. Iqbal believes that while each pregnancy is unique, the goal is the same—to fully support the mother with the best possible care throughout a high-risk pregnancy, and the baby’s arrival.  

A voracious student of science while growing up in Pakistan, Dr. Iqbal pursued medicine as a profession because it allowed her to apply her interests toward helping people.  

“You get to make a difference in someone’s life,” she explains. “You ease the sufferings, cure the disease and are able to feel inner satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.”

Why Maternal-Fetal Medicine?

Maternal-fetal medicine likewise provided the opportunity to not only care for a mother and baby, but also focus on what Dr. Iqbal calls “the un-routine” cases—women who encounter problems such as early labor, bleeding or high blood pressure.  

“It was the perfect combination for me—prenatal care, ultrasound, genetic counseling, continuity of care and delivery,” she says. “I believe, by providing specialized clinical care, I can personally impact and make a difference in women’s lives.”  

After completing medical school at Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi, Pakistan, Dr. Iqbal joined her husband in the U.S. and completed her residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Howard University Hospital. She focused on high-risk obstetrics during her fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.  

Dr. Iqbal’s interest in gaining and sharing knowledge has proliferated through her many research interests, including intrauterine growth restriction, intrahepatic cholestasis and the effects of diabetes and obesity on pregnancy. She works with ob/gyn residents and fellows at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to help shape their own research pursuits, and leads the Hospital Center’s periodic conferences on high-risk obstetrics and morbidity and mortality.  

Outside the Hospital

Given such a busy, intense schedule, it’s no surprise that Dr. Iqbal enjoys spending as much time as possible with her husband and three daughters. And if she can help her patients achieve that same degree of serenity, it makes the long hours and hard work worthwhile.

 “I feel a sense of fulfillment when I help women,” Dr. Iqbal says, “and in turn give them and their child a healthy, happy life.”  

Thank you, Dr. Iqbal, for everything you do!


Celebrated Physician: Lauren M. Wiesner, MD

If a “routine” day in a hospital Emergency Department seems hectic, imagine what the day would look like if a public health emergency such as a natural disaster, act of terrorism or disease outbreak were to occur. For Lauren Wiesner, MD, it’s her job to help ensure that MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s physicians are prepared for an emergency and to coordinate the medical response in the emergency room.

As Director of Emergency Preparedness for the Hospital Center’s Emergency Department, Dr. Wiesner works with the emergency preparedness team to educate physicians and medical students on emergency preparedness plans. She also participates in city-wide emergency preparedness drills and other initiatives with the DC Emergency Healthcare Coalition, a partner with the DC Department of Health.

This is in addition to Dr. Wiesner’s primary duties as an attending physician in the Emergency Department, and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Dr. Wiesner might well have made a career out of covering emergencies as a reporter rather than caring for people impacted by them. As Biology major at Muhlenberg College, she maintained a strong interest in journalism and writing until she decided to enroll in Drexel University’s College of Medicine. She completed her emergency medicine residency at both MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. 

Dr. Wiesner is a Fellow in the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, and a diplomat of the American Board of Emergency Medicine. She is also a member of the Society of Simulation in Healthcare, and the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors.

Given the high-stress nature of preparing for and dealing with emergencies, it’s no small wonder that Dr. Wiesner takes advantage of her spare time outdoors. An avid gardener, she raises vegetables and is currently learning about cultivating native plants. She also spends as much time as possible with Aloha, her four-year old rescue dog.

Have any questions

Contact us for more information about Lauren Wiesner, MD. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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Celebrated Physician: Rocco A. Armonda, MD

It’s rare to see Rocco A. Armonda, MD, sitting still. When he’s not splitting time between MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as director of Neuroendovascular surgery, Dr. Armonda can often be found training for his next triathlon (he’s done 25 of them, plus 10 marathons), or gathering equipment for his family’s next camping trip.

Dr. Armonda’s propensity for near-perpetual motion isn’t just the result of physical fitness habits adopted during his 31-year military career. It’s also his way of setting a positive example of maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle that allows for daily exercise, sleep, and healthy food choices. And exercise benefits the literal nerve center of his chosen discipline—the brain. Exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells and improves cognitive ability.

A 1986 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Dr. Armonda says his interest in neurosurgery arose from an early fascination with neuroanatomy in medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, under Professor Malcolm Carpenter, MD, author of Core Text of Neuroanatomy.

And Dr. Armonda adds, "neurosurgery rotations during my internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center convinced me that this was the field I wanted to be in.”

Dr. Armonda’s specific focus is on Cerebrovascular disease—the treatment of cerebral aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, intracranial hemorrhage and ischemic stroke using both open microsurgical and neuroendovascular techniques. He also provides neurotrauma and neurocritical care in the advancement of treatment of traumatic brain injury.

“When I see patients return to the office with their family after having survived a life-threatening stroke or hemorrhage, and return to normal activities, it is one of the most rewarding activities of my day,” says Dr. Armonda.. He says he’s benefited from several mentors throughout his career and adds “their central theme is that of service to others in the practice of their art, and always perfecting their art to its highest level as an expression of who we are.”

That’s one reason why Dr. Armonda’s races often double as fundraising events. His participation in the 2015 Boston Marathon helped generate donations to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s programs for military veterans, and for the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing incident. Contributions in support of his participation in the 2013 and 2014 Patriot’s Half Ironman triathlon in Williamsburg, Va., benefited the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

In addition, Dr. Armonda is Chairman-Elect for “ThinkFirst,” a national foundation dedicated to preventing head and spinal cord injuries. He also serves on the boards for The Bob Woodruff Foundation for Combat Veterans and Families, and the Henry Jackson Foundation for Military and Civilian Medical Advancements.

Have any questions?

Contact us for more information about brain injuries or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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