Inside Rex

Roasted Veggie Mousakka Recipe

vegetable mousakka on a tableIt’s hearty. It’s gooey. It’s packed full of protein and nutrients.

But most importantly, it’s perfect for fall!

Our Kardia Café chefs have done it again. They have so many delicious, healthy dishes, it’s hard to keep up. This one, however, is unforgettable.

Make it and see if you agree!

Note: You will need one large casserole dish to accommodate this amount of mousakka.


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Cute Photos of REX Newborns in Little Red Knit Hats

On February 3, REX Women’s Center distributed 200 red knitted caps to babies and new parents for National Wear Red Day. The knit hats were contributed to the REX Women’s Center courtesy of Little Hats Big Hearts, an American Heart Association organization.

We couldn’t resist stopping by to snap some photos.

red hard lil c

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Bee Sting or Back-to-School Bug?

REX Express Care of Raleigh

REX Express Care of Raleigh: 3050 Duraleigh Road

With the beginning of the school year, many families are juggling new schedules. When a family member gets sick or injured, it can throw even the most organized among us for a loop.

Regardless of the ailment, our REX Express Care team is here to help you at our new Raleigh location at 3050 Duraleigh Road.  We’re open seven days a week from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

REX Express Care is available to help treat conditions that can come up suddenly and get you or your loved one back into the routine quickly. With five convenient locations throughout the Triangle, we’re close to home, school or work.  Check the estimated wait time for a location near you at

Lab and X-ray services are also available onsite for your convenience. Our care team provides services and treatments for common conditions, including:

  • burn/wound care
  • cold/flu
  • earaches/ear infections
  • insect bites/stings
  • minor lacerations
  • seasonal allergies
  • skin rash/poison ivy
  • sore throat/strep throat
  • mild asthma
  • sutures
  • sports physicals
  • UTI/painful urination

We are here to help you feel better, faster!

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Making the Gym Part of Your Lifestyle

Post by Rodney Jenkins, a Group Exercise Instructor at the REX Wellness Center of Garner. He is also a business teacher, a soccer coach and an athletic trainer with the Wake County Public School system.

After one of my recent water classes in Garner, I had an opportunity to speak to some of our members about our July 10 Garner Sprint Triathlon. Ultimately, the question of training for a triathlon came up and after a short discussion about the training program that many of our participants used, I made the statement that there is a difference between simply working out and training. They asked me, ”what do you mean?”  My response was pretty simple. Working out does require a commitment but it is a commitment that can easily be broken. But training has purpose and requires a commitment that cannot easily be broken.

For various reasons, people walk away from working out at the gym every single day with seemingly no consequences. Some return while others do not.  However, if you’ve ever taken that leap of faith and trained for an event, you know what it feels like to find purpose in the workout. It’s called Race day. Race day is the ultimate reward where you prove to yourself that all of the training was worth the time and effort.  Without race day, it is easy to fall into the Doldrums. (aka, inactivity which I blogged about back in 2012).

Let’s use the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon in Knightdale as a perfect example of an opportunity for commitment and purpose. Race day is Sunday, September 18 (purpose).  As of today, the cost is $ 65.00 but after September 14, it goes up to $75.00 (procrastination fee) eventually going up to $85.00. So let’s say you sign up (commitment) and use an 11 week Sprint Training Program. You grab a calendar and count back 11 weeks from September 14. You begin reading the program and you start training. Week 1, you are excited. Week 2, you realize that this is hard work but you have made a commitment so you keep training. Week 3, you ask yourself, what have I gotten myself into?  I can miss a workout or two but I can’t stop and certainly cannot quit going to the gym (purpose and commitment). Week 4, you start to feel stronger and your confidence grows, you begin to understand what training is all about and start to see real purpose in swimming, cycling and running. Before you know it, September 14 has arrived and thanks to the training program you committed to 11 weeks ago, you are ready. Will you be successful? Until you sign up, the end of the story cannot be written.

It was not at all difficult to create this scenario because I see it played out over and over again. When members sign up for an event and find purpose in their training, the gym becomes part of their lifestyle and they are less likely to walk away. Purpose in your gym routine seems to make the commitment to a gym membership all worthwhile. So how do you start? Talk to a runner or triathlete at your wellness center. If you are in Garner, talk to me and I will be happy to show the path toward finding your Race/Reward Day.

Here are a couple of pictures from the Garner Triathlon.

Garner Triathlon

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West Virginia Flood 2016

On June 23, 2016, a devastating flood hit the state of West Virginia, taking 26 lives and damaging or destroying more than 1,200 homes. Jim McGrody, Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services, and three UNC REX chefs, Ryan Conklin, Paul Berens, and Steve Pexton volunteered with Mercy Chefs to cook meals for victims, volunteers and first responders in Greenbrier County. In this blog post, Chef Jim McGrody shares his experiences in White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle, West Virginia with his team.


(L-R) Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, Jim McGrody, and Paul Berens

Rainelle West Virginia, social media and an old friend

How those things will permanently affect four UNC REX chefs from North Carolina

Last weekend while watching TV, I saw a news clip about the massive flooding that was occurring in West Virginia. As I watched I thought to myself, I know people in West Virginia, and I hoped that they were OK. And like possibly many Americans that was all the thought I really gave it. I hoped that they would be safe but even though it is a state close to North Carolina, it seemed a world away.

That all changed when my old friend and classmate from the Culinary Institute of America, Sue Bastian and her husband Paul Brian Ciciora, started posting pictures on Facebook of the massive destruction. We had been friends for years and followed each other lives through social media.

The pictures on Facebook showed me how they were smack in the middle of a major disaster. I was glued to what was going on there. Sue was a great friend of mine while we were students at the CIA some 26 years ago. I was worried and started thinking about how I could help.

I reached out to her husband Paul who was on site working at a mobile kitchen in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. I asked him how I could help and he told me to check out the nonprofit group he was volunteering with. Paul is a full-time chef at the Greenbrier resort. The resort was closed due to the flooding, so many of the chefs that worked there were volunteering to help feed hundreds of people with absolutely no way to cook food for themselves. It was a community in absolute distress.

The nonprofit he directed me to was Mercy Chefs. This group is out of Virginia and was born out of the need following Hurricane Katrina. They travel the country going from disaster to disaster, helping people not only through nourishment but through spiritual healing as well. I checked them out and knew I had to be part of this. I reached back out to Paul and said that I wanted to help. He gave me the number to the chef in charge, Fred Tiess. After a few emails to Mercy Chefs and to Fred, I saw they desperately needed help. They pride themselves on professionally prepared meals served to people in need. I wanted on this train and said I want to volunteer. I was going to drive to West Virginia some 4 1/2 hours way. I quickly thought of my UNC REX Healthcare chefs and realized that we could use them too.

I texted Ryan Conklin, Paul Berens, and Steve Pexton late Sunday night June 26 and laid out my plan. I told them about my friend, and how I connected on Facebook and how the town they lived in was devastated. I told them about Mercy Chefs and how they needed help and would they want to come with me. In very short order I got return texts: “count me in,” “when do we go” and “hell yeah.” I was so proud of them — they had only basic information but they wanted to help and jumped right on this.

So there we were the next day with blessings from UNC REX leadership (who rock, by the way), driving from Raleigh. Our truck was loaded down with suitcases, knife kits, chef coats, aprons and side towels.

Chef Ryan Conklin drives the Mercy Chefs truck filled with knife kits, chef coats, aprons, side towels and food.

Chef Ryan Conklin drives the Mercy Chefs truck filled with knife kits, chef coats, aprons, side towels and food.

We arrived in White Sulphur Springs about 1 p.m. As we rolled down the highway, everything looked normal. Every once in a while, we would see some damage to trees and dirt and debris on the road but nothing serious that would make us believe a disaster had occurred. We then got off the exit to White Sulphur Springs that all changed.

Our first image was massive destruction of the creek beds, cars upside down, sheds, garages and debris all over the place. We saw a lumber yard that looked like it had been blown up. Construction crews were hard at work everywhere. Front end loaders, bobcats, dump trucks all over the place. People were swarming trying to clean up this major devastation.  We saw tractor trailers literally ripped apart and left in a pile of shredded metal. It was humbling to see such damage.

We didn’t really know where to go so we pulled into a grocery store parking lot. When we did we saw Army medevac helicopters, coming and going.  There were Army medics and civilians giving out tetanus shots, cleaning supplies and bottled water. We had never seen anything like this.

We got to the Mercy Chefs site and were immediately impressed. We met the key players and told them to put us to work. Lunch had already been served so we started to work on dinner. We diced onions, roasted pork loins, cut cabbage and made desserts. We made side salads and generally did whatever they asked of us. This was not our gig — we were volunteers and wanted to help in any way. So if that meant wash dishes or take trash to the dumpster, that is what we did. It was very satisfying to be there.

What we saw was an organization that was deeply committed to helping people. The permanent staff of Mercy Chefs are amazing. Their head chef Walter was a former US Marine Corps cook that had an amazing culinary skill set. He was totally devoted to his mission. In fact, he told me it was his calling. And by the way, it was definitely his kitchen (in a very good way). He was grateful that we had come all the way from North Carolina.

After that meal, we went back to our hotel 30 miles away. There was no water or electricity in the town we were serving. We all said we felt guilty that we had the ability to shower and be in air conditioning. This was something that many in White Sulphur Springs were weeks and possibly months away from having.

Jim McGrody in mobile kitchen

Chef Jim McGrody arranges supplies in the mobile kitchen

The next day we went back to White Sulphur Springs to prep and cook for lunch, but our new mission would be Rainelle, W. Va. This town will forever have an effect on all of us. It certainly has changed me.

This small community of Rainelle was about a 45-minute drive from where we were located. We were told that if you think White Sulphur (as the locals call it) is bad, wait to you get to Rainelle. When we got there, we saw that indeed it was much worse.

White Sulphur had teams of construction crews, grocery stores, food trucks and BBQ tents — Rainelle had none of that.

What we saw was an active military operation. The West Virginia Army National Guard was in charge here. They were everywhere — Humvees, military police, state police and Guardsmen everywhere. They had heavy equipment moving material that was placed in front of homes and businesses. It was bedlam. The stench was at times overbearing. It was a totally different feel than White Sulphur. It was far worse off and it was 6 days since the flood had occurred. The people were visibly torn apart emotionally. They had all lost everything they had ever owned.

What we did not see was adequate port-a -potties, hot food and disinfectants. We had people ask us if we had bleach and another ask us if we had hand sanitizer. It was sad to see all of this unfold in front of us.

We went for a short walk to survey the area when we first got there. We saw cars that were completely covered in mud inside and out. All of these cars were totally destroyed. Houses with water marks 5-6 feet up the side were commonplace. People were scraping mud out of their houses and pulling out sheet rock. There were piles of garbage everywhere we looked. We knew we needed to get to work.

So we set up operations on a corner lot that used to be a car dealer, right next to a trailer dealer. The trailers in that lot were completely destroyed. They looked like a can opener had ripped open the metal. Everything around us was destroyed. People were cleaning out their business all along Main Street. The Army was just down the road using front end loaders to clear debris, which was everywhere. All the homes in the downtown area and I mean all of them were destroyed.

The thing that I remember most was an immense sense of community. You could tell that before the flood, this was a close-knit town. It was even closer in the face of this disaster. Everyone was so nice and thankful that we were there.  They were amazed that we had come from another state and were willing to help. We were like, are you kidding me, this is an honor to be able to help out. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else that day.

One of the commodities’ that we had was fresh fruit — we had bananas, apples, and oranges. People were so happy to see them. Fresh food was pretty scarce at that time. We also had BBQ pork and beans, peach cobbler and a cold marinated vegetable salad. It was a meal many had not seen in more than six days.

About an hour after being there Ryan Conklin found a 5-foot statue of a chef, like the kind you see in some restaurants. We moved him over to our site and put a cardboard sign on him saying we had fresh hot cooked meals and fresh fruit. It was pretty cool. The people in the neighborhood stopped by and took pictures of it.

WV Flood Rescue

It was then that I noticed something that we had not seen since we arrived. People were smiling. They loved the chef statue and for just that one moment they forgot about their loss and just smiled. I couldn’t believe how powerful that was. Kudos to Ryan for making their day just a little bit better. We took the chef back home with us to Raleigh and we will clean it up and bring it to our café.  It will be dedicated to the people of Rainelle, W. Va.

We plated up about 200 meals and we split them up into four trucks. Many of the people in the town could not get to us, so we went to them. Ryan, Steve, Paul and I went to go find some people to feed. Paul and I were on the tailgate of the truck as Ryan drove through the neighborhood. We handed out meals to people as we pulled up beside their homes.  Everyone was so appreciative. It was very emotional for Paul and I and we both got a little teary-eyed when we saw how a simple hot meal had such an effect on people.

Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, and Paul Berens help prepare meals with their fellow volunteers.

Steve Pexton, Ryan Conklin, and Paul Berens help prepare meals with their fellow volunteers.

The saddest thing was we learned about the people that had died. A total of 26 people died and 13 of them came from this little town of Rainelle. One of the ones who died was bed ridden and lived alone. He drowned while lying in bed. We learned about the animals that drowned and how some people barely made it out of the water. It was very touching and very sad.

After we were done, we met up with the Mercy Chefs again at a small church. We all got together and they said a prayer for our safe return to Raleigh. We had only been there two days but we felt very connected to these people. They are an amazing organization and I am so glad our paths crossed.

The next day we drove back to North Carolina, we all reflected on what we had seen and done. We felt proud to have gone but were all sad that we were leaving. Had it not been for a few commitments, we all would have stayed longer.

When I got home, I looked around my house saw the furniture, pictures, and my dogs. I couldn’t imagine all of it being gone, with no way to ever get it back. None of the people in Rainelle had flood insurance. It was all just gone.

I am humbled by this experience and I want to send a message to all that read this, please reach out to groups like Mercy Chefs and volunteer or donate money. They do great things. We will be lifelong friends and a big fan of theirs forever.

To the people of Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., you will always be in our thoughts and prayers.

-The UNC REX Chefs from North Carolina


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Exercising Safely with Asthma

More than 20 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, the lung disease caused by narrow or blocked airways. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that 80 to 90 percent of people with allergic asthma also experience symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath during physical activity. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid exercise—quite the opposite!


Regular activity can help strengthen your heart and lungs, relieving asthma symptoms. Follow these steps to exercise safely:

1. Take your medication. Your doctor may prescribe two types of inhalers: one that’s used just before exercise and one for long-term asthma control. Medication is one of the best ways to treat an asthma attack. Long-term-control medicines control asthma by reducing inflammation that are taken every day. The quick-relief medicines relax and open your airways at the first sign of an attack. Discuss treatment options with your doctor to keep your asthma under control.


2. Warm up. Take about 10 minutes to warm up before working out.

3. Exercise in moist air. Breathe through your nose to humidify air before it enters your lungs. If it’s cold and dry, wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth.

4. Avoid allergy triggers. For instance, exercise indoors when pollen counts are high. Find out what things make your asthma worse and do your best to avoid them. Asthma cannot be cured, but is manageable with the right treatment. Knowing what triggers your asthma can help keep your symptoms under control.
Common triggers include:

  • Cold air
  • Perfumes and other strong smells
  • Smoke
  • Pet dander
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Pollution

To learn more about treatment options for your asthma symptoms or other pulmonary conditions, visit:

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Most Memorable Mentor: Nurses Week

Robin DealRobin Deal, BSN, RN, CCE is the Perinatal Services Manager at UNC REX Healthcare and has over 37 years of nursing experience in Women’s Health. She is the proud “Nana” of two little girls and expecting a grandson in September.

Happy Nurses Week!

Several years ago, ADVANCE for Nurses encouraged their readers to write about their most memorable mentor. “Mentors play an important role in the lives of nurses. Whether they inspire you to choose this profession or provide you with advice and guidance along the way, they are the ones who make a difference in our lives. More than 250 submitted their stories telling about that special person that made a difference in their career. These stories made it clear the nursing profession is full of compassionate and caring individuals that not only care about patients but each other as well.


During Nurses Week, it is nice to reflect on the individuals who have influenced and supported us in our profession. Here is the story of the individual they chose as their Most Memorable Mentor.

“Louise” has been an outstanding mentor. Not only has she been my mother but a shining example of what a nurse should be and my inspiration to dedicate my life to nursing. As a little girl I remember the care and concern she showed to the patients of Dr. Bob. She took care of babies, kids, and adults with compassion and care. She retired in 1992 but families still see her in the community and say “I remember when you took care of me as a child” or “you took care of my mother when she was sick.” Her dedication to her profession, her passion to do a good job, and her understanding and care for people not only was present in the hospital and office where she worked, but she took it into the community into her church and her family. In 1973 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, she wore her “mom” hat but dedicated herself to care for me while in the hospital and through radiation therapy. She coached me through nursing school and was always willing to talk “shop” and encourage me. Even when she retired she worked in the local Medical Ministries organization to assist physicians in providing free medical care to indigent patients in the community. Then in 2003, she took on her most difficult nursing job ever. She put her excellent nursing skills and sent her compassion into overdrive all over again when she cared for my sister who had been diagnosed with a very aggressive glioblastoma. She and my dad spent 7 months in Texas (they live in NC) as primary care givers for my sister until she died. In a truly very difficult personal situation, she advocated, cared for, and grieved for her oldest daughter with dignity, compassion and love that she has shown to thousands of people over the years. Her dedication and inspiration to her profession truly served as a mentor for me and every day I try to live my career in the same way I have witnessed such an outstanding nurse over 54 years. Louise is truly a shining star for Nursing and always will be.

This week, take time to remember those who have influenced you as a nurse. Be proud of the nurse you are and the wonderful care and compassion you provide to your patients, their families and to each other. Thank you for all that you do and the influence you have on others as mentors.

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A Gift of Song

Searching for ways to give back to new mothers, fathers, and families at the REX Women’s Center, UNC REX postpartum nurse, Meghan Presnell, RN, teamed up with eleven co-workers to create an album of lullabies.

Meghan Presnell’s love for music always thrived in her heart. At the age of 20, she launched a career as a country music singer in Nashville, Tennessee. For two and half years, she and her band wrote, produced, and performed their own music together.

Upon her engagement to her now husband, she decided to start a new life and career in North Carolina.

Meghan Presnell, RN“I found a love for nursing – I’m passionate about women and children’s health and those were the type of patients I wanted to work with,” says Presnell, who graduated from the University of North Carolina.

Presnell, who was born at UNC REX, knew exactly where she wanted to start her new career as a health professional.

Over the past three years of working at the hospital, Presnell witnessed and cherished many unique moments at the REX Women’s Center.

“We see births ever day in the work that we do, but we have to step back and remember, for the women we serve, that this is one of the biggest highlights of their lives,” says Presnell.

Searching for ways to celebrate new mothers, fathers, and family members at the birthing center, Presnell thought about collaborating with her fellow co-workers to create a music album.

“We wanted to show families at UNC REX that we are also thankful to be a part of the most incredible part of their life,” Presnell says, who was one of the leading coordinators of the lullaby project. “What better way to give back than by giving them the gift of song!”


After suggesting the project to her nursing managers, Wanda Adams, RN, and Tanya Creek,RN, the pair immediately latched onto the idea and connected Presnell with staff leadership.

This Mother’s Day, families and medical staff will hear the first-ever lullaby album, ‘What a Busy Day,’ sung by UNC REX co-workers and volunteers.

Laurie Cain, RNAccording to one project member, Laurie Cain, RN, the album will be beneficial for life at home and at work.

“With the hearing screening program, babies are screened on their first day of life and they have to be very calm in order to get through the test successfully,” Cain says, a child birth educator and infant massage instructor.

“To lull the infants to sleep, I sometimes sing lullabies. Now, I use new material we learned from the project, like the Braum’s lullaby and it works great!” Cain continues.

Though a majority of the singers and instrumentalists carry strong backgrounds in music, this project taught the group’s piano player Chris Morris new aspects about studio production.

“Because we were recording these songs in layers, it was an experience that I wasn’t quite used to at first,” says Morris, a child passenger safety technician at UNC REX. “Since then, if I listen to a song now, I have a better understanding of how music is created,” Morris continues.

Chris MorrisThe group had to review more than 100 songs in order to find seven that worked well with the project’s theme and were affordable to obtain due to licensing rights. Once the song choices were finalized in February, the album’s producer John Carlson began rehearsing with the group. Towards the end of April, several days were spent in the studio to record, mix, and master.

Presnell, Morris, and Cain believe this album is a solid representation of how an employee-driven initiative can spawn into a meaningful work of art.

“I described this album once as a love project and that’s what it is – you had to love it and be invested in it. It took up a lot of time and you have to love it to do that and I think you’ll hear it in the finished product.”

img-rex-birthcenter-cdcoverProduced by: John William Carlson and Blue Yonder Media

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by: Bunker Sound Productions

Song performers:
Laurie Cain
Helen Dobbins
Claire Fitzpatrick
Mark Hackett
Sylvia Hackett
Chris Morris
Meghan Presnell
Joel Ray
Abby Schiller

You can purchase your copy in the REX Gift Shop for only $5. All proceeds from the sales of this CD go to the REX Healthcare Foundation to support the Women’s and Children’s fund. You can also order a CD by sending an email request or by calling 919-784-4424.


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Stepping Outside with Seasonal Allergies

Brett E. Dorfman, MD, at Rex Ear Nose and Throat Specialists at Wakefield is board certified in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Dorfman is also a member of the American Academy of Otolarygology and American Academy of Otoloaryngologic Allergy. The Rex ENT Specialists at Wakefield provide allergy testing and immunotherapy treatments in office or at home.

Are you experiencing constant sneezing, sniffling, stuffiness, or irritated eyes? Many people look forward to enjoying the fresh spring air, but not the common allergens that come with it. But, with proper preparation you can enjoy the great outdoors even if you suffer from seasonal allergies.

shutterstock_267288281An inhalant allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to a normal substance that gets into your nose. Your body overreacts, creating a chemical response to attack the allergen. This chemical response then causes symptoms like watery or dry eyes, constant sneezing, and/or a runny nose. The common inhalant allergens are pollen dust mites, pet dander, and naturally occurring molds.

Follow these steps suggested by Dr. Dorfman before going outside. With these tips, you can learn how to enjoy the fresh air while keeping your allergies under control.

  1. Know what you are allergic to and when. When taking precautions for your allergies, the first thing to figure out is which seasons are you might be allergic to. Typically allergies tend to be caused by:
  • Trees in the spring
  • Grass in the summer
  • Weeds in the fall
  • Mold in the winter

If you can identify which season your symptoms flare up, then there are a number of things you can do. For example, if you’re allergic to tree pollen, you can visit and find daily reports on the levels of pollen and for which specific trees.

  1. shutterstock_197035589Find the best times to go outside. The pollen count tends to be highest around dawn and dusk, try to avoid being outside during those times of day. During days when it’s raining or shortly after rain showers, pollen gets pulled to the ground and the levels aren’t as high. And on nice sunny days, you’re going to have pretty consistently high levels of pollen.
  1. Take your recommended medications. If you plan to be outside for a long period of time, and you know you’re going to be symptomatic, be sure to take the appropriate medications beforehand. There’s not a perfect allergy medicine that resolves everyone’s symptoms, however, different types of medication are best for different things.
  • Oral antihistamines are best for treating sneezing and itching
  • Nasal steroids help control running noses and congestion
  • Newer medications such as nasal antihistamines and antihistamine eye drops help manage itchy or runny eyes
  1. Flush out pollen afterwards. After you come in from being outside, using salt water (nasal saline) will help flush out and dilute any excess pollen that’s sitting in your nose. Change into clean clothes and wash any attire that accumulated pollen from being outdoors. Scrub and rinse hands and face with soap and water to wash off pollen on your skin.shutterstock_332413589

You can learn more on which seasons cause allergy symptoms by taking an allergy test with Rex ENT Specialists at Wakefield.


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Sophie and the Little Red Wagon

Sophie, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, has a kind heart and gentle spirit. Bone deformity cost Sophie her right front leg. In spite of her physical condition, Sophie is living her life to the fullest. When she’s not busy running and playing with other dogs, she’s motivating patients at UNC REX Hospital as a therapy dog. 


At her home in Wake Forest, NC, Sophie lives with her family of five German Shepherds who compete in dog shows throughout the year. Her owner, Sarah Bridges, raised and trained two champion show dogs from Sophie’s family. Though the tradition of a show dog lifestyle runs heavily in her bloodline, Sophie has unique talents that can only be shared off stage.

“She’s extremely friendly with people of all ages and has the ability to sense emotional needs without any commands,” Sarah says.

Three years ago, when Sarah visited a friend at UNC REX Hospital, she discovered REX Fur Friends, an Animal-Assisted Therapy Program.

“The second I saw the pamphlet about dog therapy teams, I said to myself, ‘This is where Sophie and I are going to apply,’ says Sarah.

Fur Friends has a total of nine dog teams who volunteer each week, offering companionship for patients at the hospital. The program’s mission is to provide encouragement and support to patients during their stay, bringing comfort and healing in every interaction. Studies show that pet therapy helps lower blood pressure, reduce overall physical pain, and cope with anxiety or stress. Sophie not only volunteers to relieve the stress of patients, but she works as a role model showing others how to take difficult situations in strides.


Today, Sarah and Sophie are cheering up patients and staff members, making new friends and building stronger relationships with every trip. Wheeling through the hallways, Sophie is instantly recognized as she cruises along in her signature red wooden wagon labeled, ‘Sophie’s Ride.’

“There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t get stopped by a staff member or visitor who wants to pet Sophie,” she says.

While therapy dogs build one-of-a-kind relationships between patients, so do their owners. Looking back at her most memorable moments as a volunteer, Sarah remembers the joy one patient experienced when meeting the therapy team for the first time.

DSC_1778Recovering from a stroke, the patient had difficulties moving her hands and legs on her own. Taking caution because of the patient’s physical condition, Sophie carefully sat on the bed with the woman to keep her company. Petting Sophie with a smile, the woman laughed and said, “My children would not believe that I’m lying in a hospital bed with a dog!”

“After Sophie laid her head on the lady’s right hand, she slowly started scratching Sophie’s chin,” says Sarah.

Then, a nurse in the room asked the patient to scratch the top of Sophie’s head, lifting her right hand.

“We watched the lady slowly move her hand over Sophie’s head, it was so meaningful to witness and be a part that milestone,” Sarah says. “When we left the room, her medical providers told me that it was the first time she had moved her right hand since beginning treatment,” she continues.

No matter what the level of impact the pair brings to patients, Sarah hopes to continue delivering inspiration from the little red wagon for many years to come.

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