The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 12, 2010

Person of the Week: Charity drives

Woman organizes golf event that benefits patients in pain

Frank Sojak
fsojak@tribdem.com

— Nearly 70 golfers teed off Thursday at Somerset Country Club to help a Richland Township-based nonprofit agency aid people suffering from serious or chronic illnesses.

“It was a rip-roaring success,” said Mary Ann Ritko, chairwoman of the seventh annual golf tournament hosted by the Integrative Medicine Advisory Council.

In its first six years, the tournament has raised $100,000 for the council’s mission of helping people and health-care providers learn more about the positive role that complementary and alternative medicine therapies can play in the healing process.

The amount raised in Thursday’s tournament is still being tallied, but is expected to exceed the $10,000 raised last year, she said.

Pittsburgh Steelers great Robin Cole served as the celebrity host for the tournament.

“Robin Cole was fantastic,” Ritko said. “The guys loved him. He took the time to talk to everyone.”

She said she appreciates all the golfers and all the people and businesses who supported the event.

The council works to help people suffering from serious or chronic illness by providing various patient-support groups with complementary-treatment programs that add to the treatments the patient is receiving from a physician.

For example, the council conducts music therapy, art therapy and others programs to help patients with chronic pain, she said.

“It’s therapeutic,” she said, about how it helps those patients.

The council donated a massage chair to the palliative care unit at Memorial Medical Center and another to a local hospice, she said. Caregivers of the patients are going through much themselves so the chairs can be beneficial to them, she said.

The council also helps people who are not ill.

Each summer, the council conducts a yoga program for children.

“It builds their self-esteem and helps them to become more centered,” she said.

This fall, the council will be conducting cooking classes to teach people how to prepare foods that can help to fight cancer.

“I have a passion for this,” Ritko said about the council’s work. “When you integrate conventional medicine with time-honored complementary or alternative therapies, you now are treating the person physically, spiritually and mentally.”

Those therapies can help to reduce the stress created in a patient and help to provide a better quality of life, she said.

Ritko said the council was founded seven years ago by her husband, Barry.

He started it in memory of his first wife, Georgia, who battled cancer for seven years, she said.

She said her husband tried alternative and complementary procedures along with conventional treatments to help his late wife. The procedures improved her quality of life, she said.

 After Georgia Ritko died, her husband founded the council to help others, Mary Ann Ritko said.

She said the funds the council raises are administered through the Conemaugh Health Foundation.

For her efforts, Ritko, a Davidsville resident, is the Person of the Week.

Barry Ritko said physicians do a good job of treating patients. Their programs are designed to complement mainstream medicine, he said. It’s important to help eliminate the stress that an illness can cause so that the body can fight the illness, he said.

He said the alternative and complementary procedures helped to prolong the life of his first wife by many years plus provided her a better quality of life.

Barbara Duryea, who servesā€ˆon the council’s board of directors in conjunction with the Health Foundation, said the council has successfully helped local residents and health-care providers learn more about the role that complementary and alternative medicine therapies play in the healing process.

The council continues to grow thanks to the hard work of the Ritkos, she said.

Other council board members are Andrew Rutledge,

Dr. Sharon Plank, Judith Sullivan and John Hargreaves.