When you need medical attention, who you gonna call? These 80 physicians in 36 specialties- from allergists to vascular surgeons- earned the highest ratings in a survey of their fellow Valley doctors.
The top 80 local physicians in 36 specialties — from allergists to vascular surgeons
Profiles by Rita Ross
Photographs by Chris Ware
Lauren Vigna, M.D. Family Medicine
Dr. Lauren Vigna blends traditional family medicine with complementary techniques.
“I actually prefer calling it ‘integrative’ rather than ‘alternative’ health, because it’s the best of both worlds of traditional and alternative medicine,” she says. “The integrative approach really shouldn’t be different from so-called regular medicine.”
Regarding health as a holistic process is nothing new to Dr. Vigna. “I grew up in a family that practiced healthy living,” she says. “At home, we didn’t drink soda. We ate non-sugary cereals. My dad is a runner who exercises every day. I saw the rewards of healthy living — firsthand, every day — and it was normal to me. It was just the way we lived.”
Dr. Vigna first wanted to be a veterinarian. “Somewhere along the line in college, I changed my major,” she says with a laugh. Board-certified in family practice and holistic medicine, she is a graduate of Albany Medical College, and did her residency at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. She also completed a one-year fellowship at the hospital’s Integrative Medicine Center for Health and Healing. “I was delighted to find that Beth Israel had a holistic program like this,” she says.
Affiliated with Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, Dr. Vigna maintains a practice there as well as in Red Hook, Dutchess County. She notes that it’s a misconception that alternative-minded physicians shun traditional medicine. “I’ll certainly prescribe medication if it’s appropriate. But I’ll also talk with the patient about choices they have, and encourage them to work at improving their overall health instead of just popping pills. I try to meet people wherever they’re at in terms of their understanding of health. It’s a partnership between patient and physician.”
Dr. Vigna notes that integrative health care may include treatments such as dietary changes, acupuncture, massage, use of essential oils, and/or chiropractic and other related procedures. “Integrative medicine isn’t some form of magic. It’s more about going back to the basics of good health.” She adds that some principles never change: “The two most important aspects of staying well are diet and exercise.”
She walks her talk when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. “I’m a triathlete, and enjoy swimming in Lake Minnewaska and running races. I also like rock climbing,” says Dr. Vigna, who resides in Ulster County with her husband and son. “I’m fortunate that I live where we do because our backyard is right at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains, one of the best areas for rock climbing on the entire East Coast.”
Richard DeMaio, M.D. Otolaryngology
Dr. Richard DeMaio is a prime example of the power of reinventing your life. Prior to launching his medical career, he worked in the television business. Starting out as a gofer, he moved up and eventually became an associate director on Good Morning America as well as MTV shows.
“But I had always wanted to be a physician,” he says. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
One day, he met a former businessman who had decided to change careers and become a doctor. “That inspired me to follow my true interest in life. Before I spoke with him, I never thought medical school could still be a possibility,” he says.
So Dr. DeMaio took the big plunge. “I completely started over. I didn’t even have any science credits when I went back to med school.” But he persevered, and graduated from Brown University School of Medicine in Rhode Island. He completed his residency in general surgery and otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat medicine, or ENT) at the University of Rochester. He was also a surgical research and clinical fellow in otolaryngology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Strome Laboratory, at Harvard Medical School, where he studied transplants of the larynx.
“I discovered in med school that otolaryngology is one of the few broad-based areas where you can practice both surgery and internal medicine. That appealed to me,” says Dr. DeMaio, who is board-certified in the field and affiliated with St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County. He also has an office at Vassar Brothers Medical Mall in Fishkill, Dutchess County.
He adds: “There is always something interesting in this field. Every day is different, because medicine is a practice; it’s not a cookbook of formulas. Every patient is different, so I can tailor treatment individually for them.”
He often sees patients over a period of years. “I may first treat them as children. As they grow up, our relationship may span a lifetime. We really get to know each other.” Most of his patients have nasal or sinus problems. He also treats a fair number of patients who snore or suffer from sleep apnea.
Dr. DeMaio lives with his family in Goshen, Orange County, and practices at ENT and Allergy Associates in Fishkill and Newburgh. “I enjoy being in a large practice that has a number of physicians,” he says. “This way, I can refer patients to other physicians when needed, and I know they’ll get good care.”
Barbara Chatr-Aryamontri, M.D. Pulmonary Disease
Dr. Barbara Chatr-Aryamontri is among the handful of board-certified sleep specialists in the Hudson Valley, but that’s not her only area of expertise. In fact, she’s certified in three other specialties — internal medicine, critical care, and pulmonary medicine. She serves as medical director of the Vassar Brothers Center for Sleep Medicine in Fishkill, Dutchess County, and is also affiliated with the Mid-Hudson Family Health Institute in New Paltz.
What led her to take on such rigorous medical studies? “I expressed an intention early on in life to go to medical school, and my family strongly supported and encouraged it,” she says.
She attended medical school in Rome, then came to the U.S., doing her residency at Beth Israel Medical Center and her fellowship at New York University, both in Manhattan. She also spent an extra year specializing in sleep medicine at NYU.
“My first love is critical care medicine. I really like the physiology of medicine in general. And I like the fact that there are niche specialty fields, such as sleep medicine.
“It may seem at first that pulmonary and sleep medicine are very different, but there’s definitely a link,” says Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri. “In fact, many pulmonary doctors also treat patients who have sleep disorders. Conditions like obstructive sleep apnea can go hand-in-hand with pulmonary and respiratory conditions.”
Sleep apnea, which often strikes overweight people who snore, may cause the patient to wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. “It can be very dangerous, but fortunately, it’s fairly easy to diagnose, and there are several treatments,” says Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri. “Often, a wife will drag her husband in to see if anything can be done. And usually, with a treatment such as the CPAP mask — it’s the gold standard for treatment, which the patient wears while sleeping to help regulate breathing — we can achieve excellent results.
“Medicine is becoming more genetically oriented,” she adds. “I think that in the next few years, we’ll know a lot more about many conditions, including sleep apnea.”
When she’s not working, Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri, who lives in New Paltz and has three children, enjoys providing community service “in things like support groups for sleep patients.” She also spends time studying narcolepsy — a condition that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly in the middle of daily activities — as well as sleepwalking. “They’re both fascinating subjects,” she says.
She recalls once giving a talk on sleepwalking at a local PTA meeting. “Some parents mentioned that their child was a sleepwalker and had been doing it for several years. They received new information and education that the pediatrician had not been able to provide,” Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri recalls. “It’s satisfying when things like that happen.”
Harm Velvis, M.D. Pediatric Cardiology
Dr. Harm Velvis recalls that he “was always interested in how the heart works.” And he has vivid childhood memories of the importance of cardiac medicine.
“My younger brother was born with a congenital heart defect and had to go to a pediatric cardiologist,” Dr. Velvis explains. “I remember the anxiety my parents would feel, taking him to the doctor. I grew up with a love of medicine and a desire to help ease patients’ fears.”
Years later, the same pediatric cardiologist who treated his brother turned out to be one of Dr. Velvis’ teachers in medical school. “He was a remarkable teacher and inspired me greatly.”
Raised in the Netherlands, Dr. Velvis is now affiliated with Albany Medical Center and also practices at Capital District Pediatric Cardiology Associates in Albany. He is one of only 800 pediatric cardiologists in the nation who deal exclusively with congenital defects, which can range from small holes in the heart to complex abnormalities of the organ’s structure. Because of the scarcity of these specialists, “Our group takes care of patients from Kingston to the Canadian border,” he says. “Most are children; some are adults who were born with heart conditions.
“One of the nice things about this area of medicine is that we work with patients throughout their lives,” continues Dr. Velvis. “We can treat infants born with critical, life-threatening congenital heart defects and then follow them as they grow up as normal children and adults.”
Dr. Velvis did his pediatric residency at Albany Medical Center and his pediatric cardiology fellowship at the University of California in San Francisco. He served on the faculty of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and is board-certified in pediatric cardiology.
In addition to his hospital duties, he often travels with a group of physicians to help impoverished patients in other countries who need heart treatments. “Once a year we go to the Dominican Republic,” Dr. Velvis says. “This past January we performed 12 surgeries and 12 cardiac cath procedures.” The group has done similar work in Honduras.
A resident of Delmar, Albany County, Dr. Velvis and his wife have four children. His daughter Mariah was born with Down syndrome. “Mariah required surgery for a complex congenital heart defect at two months of age. In children with Down syndrome, congenital heart defects are very common, occurring as much as 50 percent of the time,” he explains. “Mariah is a wonderful example of how much can be done for both congenital heart defects and children with Down syndrome. She’s now 15 years old, attends regular school, and is very active in Girl Scouts and with skiing.”
As a result of his family’s own experience, Dr. Velvis has a special interest in children and adults with Down syndrome and participates in programs for the Down Syndrome Resource Center in Albany. He also enjoys music (he’s proficient on piano and guitar) as well as reading and hiking.
“Cardiology is a great field to be in, mainly because in recent years we have developed successful techniques for repairing cardiac defects,” says Dr. Velvis, who is the only pediatric cardiologist in the region who performs cardiac catheterizations for congenital heart defects. “The majority of these catheterizations are interventional in nature, which means that congenital cardiac defects can be corrected during the procedure without requiring open heart surgery.”
Susan Gingrich, M.D. Medical Oncology
After an extensive education — medical school at Columbia University and residency in internal medicine at New York University — Dr. Susan Gingrich went on to a fellowship in oncology/hematology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Today affiliated with Vassar Brothers Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital (both in Poughkeepsie), she is a specialist in oncology/hematology and is board-certified in both oncology and internal medicine.
Dr. Gingrich deals with all kinds of cancer, but she has a special interest and expertise in treating breast cancer. And while dealing with the disease day in and day out is certainly challenging, Dr. Gingrich says her patients constantly inspire her.
“Medicine is extremely satisfying. I have tremendous admiration for my patients. They teach me so much about courage. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of their lives
during such difficult situations.”
Dr. Gingrich is a tireless proponent for improvements in the nation’s health insurance structure. “It seems like we physicians spend half our time fighting for permission from insurance companies to use certain prescription drugs to treat our patients’ cancer,” she says. “As it is now, insurance companies essentially dictate what drugs we can use. The economics can become all-consuming.” As a result, she’s actively involved with groups that are striving to demand that health insurance companies allow doctors to prescribe a greater variety of potentially live-saving drugs for their patients at affordable prices.
Yet the positive aspects of medicine still outweigh the politics, says Dr. Gingrich, who has two children and lives in Poughkeepsie. “It’s exciting to be working in this field at this point in time. More and more breakthroughs are happening, and treatments can now be tailor-made for each patient.”
Dr. Gingrich adds that she’s particularly interested in genetic-based theories of cancer. “But regardless of theories,” she stresses, “early prevention is still paramount.”
Daniel Spitzer, M.D. Neurological Surgery
Even as a young boy, Dr. Daniel Spitzer knew he wanted to pursue a career as a neurosurgeon.
He grew up in New York City, literally within sight of Montefiore Hospital. After graduating from Princeton University and New York University School of Medicine, he returned to his roots, doing his six-year residency in neurosurgery at Montefiore/Einstein Medical Center. He entered practice with Hudson Valley Neurosurgical Associates in Rockland County in 1989, and soon began working in Orange County as well.
Today, Dr. Spitzer is widely acknowledged as one of the top neurosurgeons in the metropolitan area. He serves as chief of neurosurgery at Nyack Hospital as well as a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan.
For Dr. Spitzer, technology helps make his field of medicine especially fascinating. “Bringing computers into the operating room has truly revolutionized neurosurgery,” he says.
The biggest breakthroughs include a process known as three-dimensional reconstructive imaging. “Prior to this, neurosurgeons had only a vague idea where in the brain or spine a problem lurked, so surgery was imprecise,” he explains. “Modern technology now allows us to routinely navigate within the brain with a precision of a millimeter or two.”
This offers several benefits. “More effective operations can be performed and tailored precisely to the anatomy of the individual patient, and recovery is much faster,” says Dr. Spitzer.
“We can also administer radiation therapy in the same precise way — we call it stereotactic radiosurgery — and give a very high dose of radiation to the ‘bad’ tissue while sparing the surrounding normal brain.”
When he’s not in the operating room, Dr. Spitzer is active in community causes. He received an award from the federal government for his efforts leading to passage of the Rockland County bicycle helmet law, which required riders to wear safety headgear. This, in turn, served as the model for the state’s bicycle helmet law.
“Prevention of injury and disease gets far too little attention,” says Dr. Spitzer. “Wearing a bike helmet or a seatbelt, or not smoking, is far more effective than trying to pick up the pieces after a bad injury — or after cancer has spread to the brain or bones.”
A board member of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Dr. Spitzer travels widely, visiting hospitals and lecturing in countries as far-flung as Tibet. He also maintains close ties with a spinal cord–injury rehabilitation hospital in Nepal, and routinely transports or sends medical supplies to doctors overseas.
He lives in Piermont with his wife, two teenage children, and an assortment of furry, feathered, and finned pets.
When not working, Dr. Spitzer can be found playing tennis, bike riding, sailing on the Hudson River, or, most recently, taking flying lessons. He is also an avid photographer whose work has appeared in magazines, museums, and international photography exhibits. His work behind the camera can be seen at www.creativephotog.com.
Allergy & Immunology
Scott L. Osur
8 Southwoods Blvd., Albany 12211
Affiliation: Albany Medical Center;
St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany
Special expertise: Asthma
Samaritan Medical Arts Building,
2231 Burdett Ave., Troy 12180
Affiliation: Albany Memorial Hospital
Special expertise: Interventional cardiology,
peripheral vascular intervention, echocardiography
Albany Medical College, Division of Cardiology,
47 New Scotland Ave., MC 44, Albany 12208
Affiliation: Albany Medical Center
Special expertise: Interventional cardiology,
2 Crossfield Ave., Suite 407,
West Nyack 10994-2212
Affiliation: Nyack Hospital; Hackensack
University Medical Center, NJ
Special expertise: Interventional cardiology, peripheral vascular disease, stents (carotid, kidney, leg arteries)
Hudson Valley Heart Center, 1 Columbia St., Poughkeepsie 12601
Affiliation: Northern Dutchess Hospital, Rhinebeck
222 Rte. 59, Suite 302, Suffern 10901
Affiliation: Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern;
Colon & Rectal Surgery
Albany Medical Center, Department of Surgery,
47 New Scotland Ave., MC 61GE, Albany 12208
Affiliation: Albany Medical Center
100 Rte. 59, Suite 101, Suffern 10901
Affiliation: Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern
297 Hoosick St., Troy 12180
Affiliation: Samaritan Hospital, Troy
361 Broadway, Kingston 12401
Affiliation: Kingston Hospital
Lewis M. Bobroff
255 Lafayette Ave., Suffern 10901-5103
Affiliation: Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern
Special expertise: Mammography, nuclear medicine, PET imaging
Richard J. Friedland
1 Columbia St., Floor 1, Poughkeepsie 12601-5404
Affiliation: Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Poughkeepsie