April 30, 2002 – It started with a wedding. Adam Shapiro and Pam Berkowsky loved St. Thomas so much that they chose to get married on the island. Nearly five years later, they've come back, this time to stay.
"Every time I'd come down, I would look in the phone book to see who was the ear, nose and throat doctor here," Shapiro says. "I would said, 'Hmm, maybe there's some way we could come down someday.' As luck would have it, Dr. [Ira] Buchalter retired, and we were lucky enough to come down."
Shapiro, a Board Certified Otolaryngologist, had a practice in northern Virginia while also serving on staff at George Washington Hospital and Georgetown University Medical Center. "I did a lot of racing around between the two hospitals," he says.
Berkowsky also left a busy mainland life to make the move. She was assistant chief of staff to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen in the Clinton administration. She is going to spend the next few months helping Shapiro set up his practice locally and then, in her husband's words, "She's going to blaze new trails."
The two seem well suited to the islands. Shapiro is an avid scuba diver and a commercial pilot. He also is certified to operate the hyperbaric chamber at Roy L. Schneider Hospital. "I'm planning to help out with that," he says. "I've done a lot of diving throughout the world. I love diving and snorkeling and hanging out with the fish."
Shapiro gives frequent lectures on ear, nose and throat problems associated with diving and for seven years has served as a referral physician for the Divers Alert Network — a dive medicine organization based at Duke University in North Carolina.
"I guess I just had a particular bent in my work with ear, nose and throat to be interested in people who are up in the sky and under the water," Shapiro says. "It was a perfect fit to take over the practice here and pursue my interest in diving and flying, being involved that way."
Shapiro completed a fellowship in endoscopic sinus surgery as well as facial plastic, paralysis and rejuvenation surgery. He says he plans to work with Schneider Hospital to provide a level of care until now unavailable on island.
Also among his special medical interests are snoring problems and other sleep disorders. "A lot of people have these problems and are unaware of it," he notes.
According to Shapiro, 95 percent of people with sleep apnea, or "sleep disturbance," don't realize they have the problem. In the past, he says, treatments for the condition tended to be very invasive and uncomfortable, often requiring hospital stays. He says he is bringing to the island a slew of new treatment methods that will make life easier for those suffering from sleep disorders.
"A lot of the procedures now that we use to help people, we can do in the office," he explains. For example, a new method involving a radio frequency probe can shrink nasal and soft palate tissue, helping to eliminate snoring. The procedure is called somnoplasty and is very effective at treating sleep apnea and related problems. "We've saved a lot of marriages," he says, laughing.
Shapiro also saves trees. His office is completely paper free, with all records computerized. Through his Virgin Islands Ear, Nose and Throat web site, patients can provide their medical history, schedule appointments and request prescription refills.
At the doctor's office, a patient's medical history and current information are entered into a computer and housed on a secure server. The paperless electronic medical records system gives Shapiro and clinical audiologist Judith Hirsh the ability to access the information from anywhere in the office suite via touch-screen notebook computers. From the patient's first visit, Shapiro says, he will have all of the pertinent information at his fingertips.
Shapiro's office is located in the Virgin Islands Medical Foundation building behind the hospital. He accepts insurance and is in the process of securing Medicare affiliation. And he has arranged with the hospital to provide a free ear, nose and throat clinic on Wednesday mornings for referral patients unable to afford treatment.
"We try and take care of everybody," Shapiro says. "Everybody has ear, nose and throat problems from time to time."
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