Making a difference one person at a time

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Zora Pesio spent much of her time volunteering in the pharmacy, filling prescriptions and talking with the Guatemalan villagers. Courtesy photo.
Zora Pesio believes in giving back. The women’s health care specialist and head of Woodinville Optimal Health/Woodinville Women’s Clinic became involved with Healing The Children last year in an effort to share her skills to help impoverished people in Guatemala.

“I was looking for a way to give back and learned about Healing The Children through one of my co-partners who serves on the organization’s board,” explains Pesio. “I had never been to Central America before and liked the idea of being able to travel somewhere different while at the same time having the opportunity to make a difference.”

Healing The Children, which was founded in 1979, is a well-known organization with 13 chapters across the U.S. It sends volunteer medical teams to help restore health to impoverished children and families around the world.

Currently, teams are working in parts of Africa, Central America and Asia. Pesio signed up for a team going to Guatemala last year and found the experience so rewarding that she returned again this past fall. Her medical peers, a group of 25, consisted of doctors, nurse practitioners, midwives, a medical resident and a medical student. There were also several support personnel that gave their time and energy to help with triage, computers, translating, pharmacy operations and lab work. The trip lasted 16 days and in that time, the group traveled to several villages on both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean sides of the country. The villages were extremely rural and the conditions were primitive.

“Agua Caliente and Boqueron are two villages that Healing The Children serves every six months,” says Pesio. “Agua Caliente has about 1,000 people and Boqueron has about fifty households of 5-15 people in each. Housing is constructed out of wooden sticks with corrugated steel roofs. The villages consist of Mayan Indians who were displaced from their homes in the early 1800s by the Guatemalan war. The people speak Q’eqchi and some of the leaders speak some Spanish.”

Pesio explains that the men of the village leave for three to four weeks at a time to work on large farms and ranches. Residents subsist mostly on fruits and vegetables that they raise on their own and eat meat only one or two times a month. The animals they raise are for selling, not for eating. Water comes from three springs and the few latrines in existence are made of cement with wood on top. In much of rural Guatemala, the women cook over open fires located in the home. The smoke from these fires is problematic, as it causes many of the respiratory problems inherent in the population.

“Other types of common problems that we see include parasites from unclean water,” notes Pesio. “The people also complain of headaches, which are due to dehydration. And then there are stomach issues that often come from a diet that is very low in protein and high in carbs. Additionally, many of the people have terrible teeth from all the soda they drink. Another problem that we’re seeing is an increasing trend in cervical cancers. This stems from the men, who have multiple sexual partners, as they are gone from the home for such lengthy periods of time.”

At each village, the team would set up its mobile clinic, often in the local school, where exam rooms were set up with ropes and sheets to divide large classrooms into individual spaces. Volunteers saw close to 100 people, of all ages, per day, using interpreters to communicate essential information. According to Pesio, sometimes this process got complicated. “With the Mayan dialect, you need two sets of translators,” she says. “And at times, you didn’t know if what you said was being conveyed accurately, especially directions about taking medications.” In addition to primitive conditions and the remote jungle locations, which entailed lengthy, arduous journeys on rough, steep roads, another challenge for the team was the weather. The country was in the middle of its rainy season and temps were near 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity.

“We needed fans while we worked otherwise we’d pass out,” adds Pesio. “At night, however, there were these amazing storms, thunder, lightning and torrential downpours.”

Pesio spent most of her time working in the pharmacy/dispensary and enjoyed organizing and preparing the prescriptions, as well as interacting with the villagers. Often, she would have groups of children and adults just watching her cut up pills, as they seemed fascinated by the task. She also did some gynecological and primary care exams. One of the most rewarding activities for Pesio was supplying reading glasses to those in need. “Watching their faces light up when they realize they don’t have to give up doing their fine needle work or their carving was such a treat,” she remarks. “That brought smiles to every face.” She adds, “The people are so appreciative of our efforts. Most of them come up to you and give you hugs and they’re always expressing their gratitude and thanks. The Guatemalans are very kind and loving – very generous people. Change isn’t easy for them and getting them to accept certain medical practices is a challenge. Sometimes they follow through and get in the habit of taking their medicine, especially the diabetics and those with hypertension. Others don’t. You do what you can and hope for the best.”

Pesio’s goal is to eventually become a liaison between the shamans or village medicine men and the Western physicians. She wants to better understand their traditions and ways of thinking, as well as have the opportunity to explain the rationale for the actions taken by the visiting American medical professionals. All of the medications and supplies that Healing The Children teams provide are donated and volunteers pay for their own expenses.

“My patients donated generously,” comments Pesio. “They gave money to the organization and all sorts of over-the-counter medicine, such as pain relievers and antacids, which I brought with me.”

Pesio plans to return to Guatemala with Healing The Children, though first she is going to Mexico to attend a shamanic workshop for the end of the Mayan calendar. “I’ll be back to Guatemala for sure,” she says. “I love the people and it’s such satisfying work. The need is so great and I feel that I really can make a difference, one person at a time.”

New locally-made snack food is getting rave reviews

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Mike Fitzgerald. Photo by Deborah Stone
Mike Fitzgerald’s career path has been interesting to say the least.

The local man, who grew up on the Eastside and attended UW, once owned a chain of hospitals in the South, then sold them all and became a professional racecar driver.

For 10 years, he competed in events all over the world, winning 33 professional races and three championships.

Now, retired from the sport, he is owner and CEO of HALFPOPS, a natural snack food company dedicated to reinventing the popcorn category.

“I have an entrepreneur background among other things,” says Fitzgerald, “but before this, I’d never done anything related to food so that aspect of it is all new.”

He explains that the idea for the unique snack food did not originate with him.

“Another guy, who was enamored with the crunchier pieces at the bottom of the popcorn bowl, came up with the idea,” says Fitzgerald.

“He experimented and figured out how to pop the corn kernels half way and then filed a patent application. But, he couldn’t get a business going. A friend connected me to this guy and I stepped in.”

This was back in 2008. Fitzgerald spent the next few years working on perfecting the recipe in his kitchen, designing packaging and getting the necessary equipment together to produce the product.

He then leased warehouse space in Woodinville and worked for nine months to get all the production details ironed out.

HALFPOPS was launched last April and immediately attracted fans.

Early devotees of the all-natural, gluten-free, air-popped snack include Barking Frog Executive Pastry Chef Matt Kelley, who liked them so much he opted to incorporate them into a dessert.

“I’m always looking for fun and different ingredients to add something extra to my menu,” comments Kelley. “My wife and I love snacking on HALFPOPS as a treat, but I realized that they could enhance my desserts as well.”

In October, Food Network Magazine named the product one of the “10 Things You Need to Know This Month,” and Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine included HALFPOPS in “Rachael Ray’s Faves.”

The snack food has also been featured in Cool Hunting and a host of other online publications.

Locally, HALFPOPS can be found in over 70 stores, mostly in the Seattle area, but they’re also in selected stores in Alaska, Oregon and California.

“Metropolitan Market was the first one we went into last June,” notes Fitzgerald. “The success there led to getting our product into the Hagen Top Food chain and then other stores followed such as Central Market and Your Local Market.

“We also launched our online store in July, which makes HALFPOPS available anywhere in the U.S. and around the world.”

The response to the product has been extremely good, according to Fitzgerald.

He says that most everyone who tries HALFPOPS loves them.

“People tell us they’re addictive,” he adds. “They’re flavorful and for a snack, they’re fairly healthy and low in fat calories when compared to other snacks.

“We market them as a natural product that has no preservatives or artificial ingredients, and they’re made in a nut-free facility.”

The company’s production space is about 5,000 square feet and accommodates a 14,000-pound-popcorn popper, which can make 10,000 bags in three hours.

Currently, the company produces two flavors of HALFPOPS: butter and sea salt and white cheddar.

Fitzgerald hopes to add a third flavor in the future. He says, “We have an online poll going on right now to determine what the flavor will be.

People can choose from kettle corn, chipotle lime or jalapeno cheddar. So far, kettle corn is winning.”

He adds, “We won’t be adding another flavor though until we get more production capacity.

“We’re looking for a bigger space, but we want to stay in Woodinville.”

The local man chose Woodinville because he likes the area, particularly the “vibe” that has been created from all the wineries and breweries in residence.

Fitzgerald’s ultimate goal for the company is to make HALFPOPS a national brand.

How much does a hippo weigh?

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

SEATTLE – Is losing some extra pounds a New Year’s resolution for you? Woodland Park Zoo carefully monitors the weight of its animals and has acquired a new scale to weigh its hippos. Here’s your chance to guess the weight of the graceful 33-year-old Water Lily and 12-year-old Guadalupe, and win the opportunity to meet the hippos up close.

Washington residents are invited to guess the COMBINED WEIGHT of both hippos. The entry forms can be found online at and will be accepted through midnight, January 27, 2012. The winning entry will be the closest to the combined weight.

The prize for the winning entry will be: a meet ‘n’ greet with the zoo’s hippos behind the scenes in the hippo barn, a 4-gallon bucket of Zoo Doo, six single-day passes to the zoo, and a ZooParent hippo adoption with a hippo plush toy.

To be eligible for the entrants must be legal Washington state residents and 18 or older, or have guardian approval. Employees and volunteers of Woodland Park Zoo and members of immediate family are not eligible to participate and win.

A weight-monitoring program is important to help ensure the health of the animals at Woodland Park Zoo and is a part of the zoo’s exemplary animal care program.

“The new scale allows us the ability to get an accurate weight on these giant pachyderms and modify their diets if necessary,” said Pat Owen, a collection manager at the zoo. “Our zookeepers have been working diligently to train the girls to step on the scale and hold still for a weight. While most folks balk at hopping on a scale, our hippos can’t read the numbers so the weigh-in shouldn’t be too embarrassing for them,” joked Owen.

Water Lily was born at Houston Zoo and has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 1979. Lupe arrived in 2003 from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Visitors can enjoy viewing the hippos at the zoo’s award-winning African Savanna where they are often in or near the pool or eating browse on the beach area. Other animals in the African Savanna include giraffe, zebra, ostrich and lions.

Hippos live in western, central, eastern and southern parts of Africa, and are one of the most iconographic species on the African savanna. Excellent swimmers, they prefer to amble along the bottom of slow-moving or stagnant water. An adult hippo can stay under water for up to five minutes.

Hippopotamuses are listed as a vulnerable species, primarily because humans have excessively hunted hippos for their meat, fat, ivory teeth and hides.

Zoo winter hours through April 30: 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. daily. Admission fees through April 30: Adult (13-64) $11.75; Child (3-12) $8.50. Free for children 2 and under year round.  Active and retired U.S. military and their families, seniors and people with physical disabilities receive an admission discount. Zoo members receive free zoo admission year round. Parking: $5.25. Parking is limited. Consider taking the bus, biking, walking or carpooling. Conserving resources is one more way to help animals. For bus service to the zoo, visit: more information or to become a zoo member, call ( (206) 548.2500 or visit

Festival celebrates the return of the bald eagle

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Numerous events will be held this month to celebrate the return of the bald eagle to the Skagit Valley. Courtesy photo.
Bald eagles are making their annual return to the Skagit Valley this month and to mark this notable occurrence, the Concrete Chamber of Commerce will once again hold its Skagit Eagle Festival.

This is the 24th year for the festival and the second year in its new four-weekend format, offering a wide range of recreation, education and entertainment options throughout the month of January.

“Until 2010, this festival was a two-day event held mostly at the local high school, where performances and presentations were offered along with bus trips to the eagle-watching locations,” explains Valerie Stafford, president of the Concrete Chamber of Commerce. “The volunteers behind that event dropped it in 2009 and the Concrete Chamber picked it up in 2010, turning it into a month-long celebration with more variety and covering a larger portion of eastern Skagit County. Instead of squeezing so many people into one location on one weekend, we give them the option of making their own schedule and attending only the activities they’re most interested in. In this way, they can design their own personalized experiences.”

She adds, “With more smaller venues offering indoor and outdoor activities through the month, this has become a very diverse and dynamic celebration.”

Every Saturday and Sunday in January, visitors can observe eagles at special eagle-watching stations provided by the U.S. Forest Service and staffed by trained volunteers.

Stafford notes that the number of eagles to be seen varies greatly, depending on many factors such as the water level of the river and the weather conditions, but she emphasizes that through the end of January is the period of time when the biggest population is in the area.

Some of the most popular activities associated with the festival are river rafting and float trips along the Skagit River. There are also fish hatchery tours to learn about the salmon that attract the eagles to the area each year.

Families will enjoy the free hayrides at a historic family-owned ranch and free admission to the Concrete Heritage Museum, where the history of the upper Skagit Valley is on display, with a focus on the logging and cement industries. And for those seeking cultural and historical information about eagles, there will be guided walks and lectures given by the knowledgeable folks at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport.

Throughout the month, numerous one-time special events are also planned, including photography workshops and wildlife presentations at the historic Concrete Theatre, Native American dancing, drumming and crafts at the Marblemount Community Hall, book and bake sales, a fundraising chili feed and a unique art walk and contest featuring hand-crafted artwork made exclusively from recycled items.

New this year is Puget Sound Energy Day in Concrete on Saturday, January 21st, during which the utility company will offer presentations and performances at its facility.

The newly-designed celebration is a collaboration of dozens of agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations in eastern Skagit County, who invite visitors from all over the region to experience the natural beauty of the area and enjoy the friendly, small-town environment.

Stafford says, “The number of visitors has increased steadily over the years, with many families planning their winter vacations around the arrival of the eagles. We see a lot of people from the Seattle/Tacoma area, since it’s a fairly easy drive from there and an affordable day trip.” She adds, “I think the event is popular because it’s such a unique experience to see so many of these majestic birds all at once. And the winter weather adds a rugged kind of charm to it. You bundle up and trek along the river or through the trees and are rewarded by spotting these incredible birds. In the process, you learn from the experts about the river, salmon and all kinds of wildlife, as well as environmental issues.”

For more information about the event, visit or call the Concrete Chamber of Commerce at 360-853-8784.

Woodinville man is Big Climb honoree

  • Written by Deborah Stone
This year's Big Climb honoree is 21-year-old Curran Parker of Woodinville. Courtesy photo.
The Big Climb is a favorite Seattle event and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s WA/AK Chapter’s largest fundraiser.

In 2011, 6,000 people climbed the stairs at the Columbia Center, the state’s tallest skyscraper, and raised $1.6 million.

The 69-flight course has 1,311 steps, 19 steps per flights, and 788 feet of vertical elevation.

This popular area event encourages participants to be active, while applying their efforts to a greater cause. Not only do entrants get a challenging workout, but they also get the opportunity to support a worthwhile organization.

All funds raised through the Big Climb go towards the society’s mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

Since its inception in 1949, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has invested more than $750 million in research, which has helped contribute to the remarkable progress made in treating individuals with these diseases.

Survival rates for blood cancers have doubled or tripled and in some cases quadrupled over the years.

Unfortunately, there are still more than one million North Americans battling such cancers and the rate of diagnosis is every four minutes.

2012 marks the 26th year for the Big Climb.

The event will be held on March 25 and this year’s honoree is 21-year-old Curran Parker of Woodinville.

“We met Curran in 2011 through his team Climbing for Curry, which raised a whopping $16,000,” says Anne Christine Cochran, senior campaign manager for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s WA/AK Chapter.

“He is an inspiring individual with an amazing story of strength, courage, hope and survival.”

Parker, a 2008 Bothell High grad and current Cascadia Community College student, was working at the Melting Pot in May 2010 when he discovered a lump on his neck.

He underwent a biopsy and a scan and then came the bad news.

“I was told I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” says Parker. “I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked. I had been in perfect health and it seemed so surreal that I would have cancer. I was 20 years old. How could I have cancer?”

Though he was upset, Parker felt better once he learned that the disease was 90 percent treatable the first time around.

He felt confident he would be OK.

But, after four months of chemo, the lump came back and he had to embark on another cycle of chemo that was more potent than the first, with harsher side effects.

“I lost my hair and dropped 10 pounds,” he explains, “and I felt nauseous most of the time. Unfortunately, the cancer still didn’t go away. And now I had only a 20 percent chance.”

Parker was sent to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where he subsequently underwent another treatment protocol followed by a stem cell transplant.

Because the procedure wasn’t entirely successful, he was then given a form of chemo that he describes as the most intense of all treatments.

“It was really, really harsh,” comments Parker. “I lost 25 pounds and had to stay in the hospital for 12 days. I had no strength and could barely walk.”

Thirty days after the treatment and a second stem cell transplant, the words “cancer free” were finally uttered.

“It was so great to hear the news,” says Parker. “I felt like I had been through a war, a battle, and had come out victorious.”

Though there were times when the young man felt depressed and discouraged during his ordeal, he pushed himself to keep going, finding an inner strength to make it through one step at a time.

Initially, he was angry and questioned why such a bad thing was happening to him at this time in his life.

Anger eventually gave way to determination and an unwavering attitude of optimism and hope.

“The key for me was to be positive and to have faith that I was going to make it,” explains Parker. “I was lucky to have my family, friends and church support me. They stayed strong for me and gave me encouragement.”

Parker feels privileged to be the Big Climb’s honoree and expresses his appreciation for the opportunity to instill hope in others who are fighting blood cancers.

He adds, “I am a living example that faith and a positive attitude, combined with the right treatment, can make all the difference. It’s so important that the research continues to find better treatments and cures. And the only way that’s going to happen is with funding.”

As the honoree, Parker is giving speeches at various events, telling his story, and urging others to help support the mission of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“This is a cause I will be involved with for the rest of my life,” he notes. “And I will do everything I can to be a source of inspiration to others.”

Though there is a risk that the cancer will return in the future, Parker refuses to live under a shadow.

“That’s not me,” he says. “I have too much I want to do in my life and I plan to live it to its fullest. I don’t want to spend my time worrying about something that may or may not happen.”