The Science Behind Forming New Habits

Abigail McCleery, MPH, RDN, DipACLMWellness Coordinator,  Saint Joseph Mercy Health System

As we start this new year, many of us are planning to seize the opportunity to set new intentions around creating routines that improve our health, increase our energy, reframe our stress, deepen our connections, and sharpen our focus.  An individual’s journey to whole health consists of many steps along the way.  It’s these small choices that we make daily that have far more impact on our long-term health than activities we only do occasionally.  All of us have made short term changes before, but what’s the key to really making them stick? When looking to incorporate any new habit, the science on successful change provides some tips:

  • Start easy – years of research in behavior change has found that if we want to form lasting habits, they should take little mental or physical effort, but be powerful enough to start feeling the benefits quickly. 
  • Tie to existing habits – could you incorporate mindful breathing while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning, or add in calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth?  Research shows that connecting new habits to existing ones is helpful for making the new activities stick.
  • Create a supportive environment – be intentional in designing your environment for success by surrounding yourself with visual cues and people that support the positive changes you are making.
  • Respect your rhythm – be thoughtful about where in your day you plan to incorporate your new habit.  Do you feel most energetic first thing in the morning?  Would you like a transition from your workday to spending time at home?  Designing a schedule that works for you is key.
  • Celebrate your successes – we often find ourselves waiting until we reach our ultimate goal to celebrate, but science shows us that it’s essential to celebrate each positive step we make on our journey to whole health.

As you look to the year ahead, remember each day provides an opportunity to make small but impactive choices that lead to increased energy, positive connections, restorative sleep, sharper minds, and effective stress management strategies.  Here’s to your personal journey to whole health.

Holly Phail, SMML RN, Helps Save a Man’s Life at Local Meijer

LIVONIA – A routine trip to Meijer recently turned into an astonishing chance to save a life. Holly Phail, an RN in St. Mary Mercy Livonia’s Family Birth Center, was shopping in the produce section when she heard a piercing scream. After looking around for a moment, she saw 82-year-old Livonia resident Edwin Ellul on the ground after suffering a heart attack and fall. A Meijer employee had begun performing chest compressions when Holly raced over to take Edwin’s pulse. “I wasn’t able to find a pulse, so I told the employee to go find a defibrillator,” said Holly.

Holly continued performing CPR with another nurse, using a rescue breather provided by Meijer. The defibrillator detected that Edwin needed a shock, so they delivered one and then continued with compressions until the ambulance arrived.

After the EMTs took Edwin away to St. Mary Mercy Livonia’s Emergency Center, Holly and the others spoke for a few minutes, still surprised by what had just happened. She shared, “When the police department called to let me know he was all right, I felt so much better.”

Holly had a shift the next day at SMML, so she asked Edwin’s unit if she could visit him. While they initially declined, they allowed her in once they learned that she had helped save his life. She said it was a bit of a shock, though a pleasant one, to see him sitting up and talking. Holly visited him a few more times until he was transferred to St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor for his heart catheterization and stent placement. Edwin was able to go home after his surgery, and now returns to SMML twice a week for cardiac rehab.

Cathy Agius, Edwin’s daughter, nominated Holly for the BeRemarkable Award at SMML. She wrote, “Holly Phail is an angel and a hero. She went over and beyond by bringing my father back to life at our local Meijer when she walked in to shop and she saw my father had fallen and his heart completely stopped… Because of her he is alive!”

Holly was recognized for her quick actions and willingness to help during a surprise BeRemarkable Award ceremony, with Edwin and his family in attendance. Cathy brought a large gift basket and expressed her sincere gratitude to Holly, saying, “Thank you so much for bringing my dad back to us.”

For Holly, the chance to see Edwin again was so rewarding: “I had seen him in recovery, but it was different to see him up and walking with his family, smiling and wearing his Red Wings jacket. It made it all much more real to me.”

Holly also credited her Basic Life Support (BLS) training at SMML for her quick response, stating that it was so helpful to have that training and instinct to fall back on during a stressful moment.

Holly commented on what this experience has meant to her, stating: “Throughout the pandemic, everyone has felt so disconnected. This near-tragedy brought so many strangers together. It was wonderful to see humanity back, and I loved being able to help and be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, nurse siblings care for patients, look to each other for support

Fellow nurses Megan Clemence (right) and her sister Kristen Clark (left) pose for a photo after Kristen administered Megan’s COVID-19 vaccine.

For sisters Megan Clemence and Kristen Clark, having similar careers in nursing has always been a blessing.

“A lot of people in our family work in the medical field, which is nice,” said Megan.  “With Kristen, we talk regularly and support each other.  We have a greater understanding of the challenges of nursing and what each may be going through.”

Megan, a nurse practitioner with Clarkston Internal Medicine, rounds regularly inside St. Joseph Mercy Oakland to check in on her patients, including many on units managed by Kristen.

Kristen, a nurse manager on 5S and 4G, agrees that having a sibling work in the same hospital is a unique circumstance not many get to enjoy. 

“Knowing Megan is here, close by, gives me strength,” says Kristen.  “It’s really cool to have someone to speak with, and that can listen.  My sister understands what I’m taking about because she has similar feelings and experiences.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Michigan in March of 2020, Megan and Kristen came to rely on each even more.

“In the beginning of the pandemic we each experienced increased anxiety and fear of the unknown, but we found strength in each other,” said Megan.  “As things have evolved, we both find that the safety protocols and processes in place make us feel much more at ease.  We know our patients are safe, we know we are safe, and that has given us each the peace of mind needed to focus on our jobs.”

When the vaccine became available to health care workers in late December, Megan and Kristen were among the first to volunteer to get it. 

“We talked about it at length but, in the end, it really wasn’t a difficult decision for either of us,” said Kristen.  “The vaccine has been thoroughly tested by medical experts and is needed to help bring the pandemic under control.  We both recommend the vaccine to friends and family, and when it becomes available we hope they all sign up to get it.”

Kristen, who received her COVID-19 vaccination first, was asked to staff one of St. Joe’s Oakland’s earliest vaccine clinics.  Fate would have it that these two sisters would be brought together once again, this time with Megan as the patient, and Kristen the nurse administering her vaccine.

“I trust my sister,” said Megan.  “We both believe in the vaccine and she would never have vaccinated me if we didn’t both wholeheartedly believe it was the right thing to do for each other and our family.  Kristen and I have been through this experience together, as sisters, and I love her with all my heart.  So it was nice for her to have been the one to administer my shot.”

Santa Receives Gift of Health From St. Joe’s Livingston

Michael Omstead is known in the medical community as Santa. Each year, he dresses up and transforms into the jolly character to bring joy to the patients of local hospitals. This Christmas season, you won’t find Michael – aka Santa – roaming the halls of St. Joe’s Livingston and Brighton delivering holiday cheer. Instead, he’ll be recovering from a serious bout of COVID-19.

In November, when Santa is usually checking his naughty and nice list, Michael began to feel ill during this staycation with wife, Linda. Thinking it was just a cold, Michael powered through.

“Three days later, he woke up and said he felt awful,” Linda said. “It wasn’t just a mild fever and stuffy nose anymore. We went to his doctor’s office and his pulse oxygen was low. We were told to go right to the Emergency Room.”

Michael was admitted to St. Joe’s Livingston and remained on a high percent of oxygen for several days. He tested positive for COVID-19, and Linda’s diagnosis of the same followed soon behind. She quarantined at home at first but eventually joined Michael in the hospital.

Eight hours after Linda was admitted, doctors told her Michael was taking a turn for the worse and would be going on a ventilator. For days, his temperature fluctuated between 104 and 105 and his heart rate remained high.

“I thought I was going to lose him that week,” Linda said.

Eventually, 17 days later, after Linda had been discharged from the hospital, Michael was weaned from the ventilator.

“I was recovering at my daughter’s house when I received a video call from one of Michael’s doctors,” Linda said. “I knew that meant one of two things – it was the end or things we’re looking up. The doctor had a surprise. There was Michael; off the vent and awake.”

Michael and Linda credit St. Joe’s Livingston angels for saving their lives.

“It was the staff and prayers that got us through this,” Linda said. “The attention and quality of care we received was just incredible. I can’t say thank you enough.”

When Michael was discharged a few days later to a rehab facility, St. Joe’s Livingston staff surprised Michael and Linda by lining the halls to cheer them on.

“It was a complete surprise,” Linda said. “To see all of Michael’s caregivers and hospital friends from all departments there, I was at a loss for words.”

Michael, on the other hand, had a few words for everyone who cheered him on – “Santa will be back next year.”

Healthy Holiday Cookie Recipe – Mercy Health News Healthy Holiday Cookie

Cookie Ingredients

  • 1 cup peanut butter  
  • ½ cup real maple syrup
  • 1.5 cups almond flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Dark chocolate kisses


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
  3. Fold in almond flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Roll dough to form 1-inch balls and place two of them side by side on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.
  5. Use a fork to gently press down on each ball to form a crisscross pattern with fork tines.
  6. Bake cookies for 12 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Allow cookies to cool.

Optional: Drizzle with melted chocolate or add a dark chocolate kiss to the center of the cooled cookie. Sprinkle with sea salt. Can also make a peanut butter sandwich with your favorite filling (frozen yogurt, vegan ice cream, etc.).

Saving Shunbao Li … Passerby’s Hands-only CPR Starts Miraculous ‘Chain of Survival’

When Robert Lane left his house for a run one summer evening in 2020, he had no idea that minutes later he’d be performing hands-only CPR on a stranger with sudden cardiac arrest.

Bing Li (Joel’s wife), Joel Shoenhals, Robert Lane, Shunbao Li and Yunxiang Dong (Shunbao’s wife).

While running on Green Street in Ann Arbor, Lane saw a car suddenly weave erratically and hop the curb. He circled back to see what was going on.

After speaking with another bystander who had called 9-1-1, Lane approached the car and found the driver slumped in his seat, eyes open, his hands curled up. The woman beside him in the vehicle was frantically speaking Mandarin.

Dr. Hsu presented a certificate of appreciation to Robert Lane for working to improve cardiac arrest survival.

“I thought, this man has either had had a stroke or a heart attack. Then I thought, oh boy, I’m going to need to do something.”

Physical distancing and masking are the norms during the pandemic, but there was no time to hesitate. The man was not breathing, non-responsive and beginning to change color. Lane later learned that the man was 67-year-old Shunbao Li.

“I pulled the driver out of the car after I put it in ‘park,’ and then began chest compressions,” Lane said. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, Lane shared what he had done with the medics and the police. Once rescue personnel took over, he continued his run.

Lane’s quick-thinking turned out to be one of a series of events that helped save Li’s life.

Off-Duty and On-Duty Saint Joseph Mercy Emergency Physicians

As Lane performed life-saving CPR, an off-duty Emergency physician arrived on the scene.  

“I saw a guy doing bystander CPR — the first time I had seen that in the field,” said Keenan Bora, MD, Emergency physician at Saint Joseph Mercy. “I pulled up just as Huron Valley Ambulance did. The medics acted quickly but were having difficulty because the patient’s heart rhythm was very unusual.”

Familiar with advanced cardiac life support beyond CPR, Dr. Bora helped the medics return spontaneous circulation in Li’s body. Together they were able to restart Li’s heart.

Dr. Bora called Christopher Wilson, MD, assistant medical director of Emergency Medicine at St. Joe’s Mercy, to let him know a patient was en route to the St. Joe’s ER.

What had caused sudden cardiac arrest in this 67-year-old active man? Scans revealed it was a blockage in the artery known as “the widow maker” — a massive heart attack that occurs when the left anterior descending artery is totally or almost totally blocked.

After stabilizing the patient, Dr. Wilson and ER Senior Resident Jonathan Porath, MD, sent Li to the cardiac catheterization lab for an emergency stent. The care team also used therapeutic hypothermia (targeted temperature management) to help save Li’s brain function. St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is one of only a few hospitals in the region with therapeutic hypothermia as part of its Advanced Cardiac Care.

Chain of Survival

Recovery was long and difficult for Li. He spent five weeks in the hospital, three of which in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Li eventually recovered with no serious complications.

“The chain of survival was absolutely amazing,” said Joel Schoenhals, son-in-law of Shunbao Li and spokesperson for the family. “It was as if everyone was involved at just the right time so they could be of the most help.

“The miracle of this story is that if this had happened at our house, I doubt that my wife and I would have had the presence of mind to help my father-in-law the way that Robert (Lane) did. He even risked getting COVID-19.”

As more Americans quarantine from coronavirus, there’s a more urgent need to learn hand-only CPR as a life-saving technique.

Schoenhals said his father-in-law is still physically weak but has suffered no memory loss, no brain damage, no paralysis and no organ damage.

“Everyone helped us — from bystander Robert Lane, Dr. Bora and the medics at the scene, to Dr. Wilson, the many hospital specialists and nurses, the hospital social worker and Home Care for rehabilitation.

“They took care of our entire family. There aren’t enough words to express how we feel. We are so grateful.”

CPR and COVID-19

A few months after the heart attack, Mr. Li’s family hosted a small ceremony sponsored by SaveMiHeart, a nonprofit focused on CPR education and sponsored by the American Heart Association.

Teri Shields, Mr. Li and Dr. Hsu.

The event included Mr. and Mrs. Li; ER Drs. Bora, Wilson and Hsu; the medics, Robert Lane, and Theresa A. Shields RN, BSN, executive director of SaveMiHeart.

Antony Hsu, MD,an ER physician at St. Joe’s Mercy and a member of SaveMiHeart, presented a certificate of appreciation to Robert Lane for working to improve cardiac arrest survival. Dr. Hsu’s message about CPR and COVID-19 is important for every Michigander:

“COVID-19 has driven down the number of bystanders willing to perform hands-only CPR as well as the amount of time they are willing to administer CPR. At SaveMiHeart, we don’t believe in luck; we are trying to take the word ‘luck’ out of people’s perception about survival after CPR. CPR works for many patients — as we saw with Mr. Li. We are encouraging people to learn hands-only CPR throughout the state.”

Read more about learning CPR.

Watch an American Heart Association video of hands-only CPR

Celebrate Safely This Holiday Season

The holiday season, with its tradition of bringing families and friends together, is fast approaching. However, as we plan for fall and winter holiday celebrations, how do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers valuable holiday guidance to help you lower the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Celebrating virtually or only with members of your own household poses the lowest risk for spread. However, if you are organizing a larger, more traditional gathering, or planning to attend one, please be mindful of the higher risk of virus spread based on the type and size of the event, as well as strategies in place to help mitigate those risks.

Here are some things you should be aware of:

  • Community levels of COVID-19 – Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increases the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
  • The location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings.
  • The duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • The number of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people.
  • The locations attendees are traveling from – Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area.
  • The behaviors of attendees prior to and during the gathering – Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, hand washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventive behaviors.

Are you hosting a holiday gathering?

If you’re planning to host a holiday event, you should:

  • Remind guests to stay home if they are sick – Invited guests should stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or are showing symptoms.
  • Encourage social distancing – Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated. Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing.
  • Wear masks – Wear masks properly when less than 6 feet apart from people or indoors. Consider providing masks for guests or asking them to bring their own.
  • Clean hands often – Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting social gatherings. Make sure there is adequate soap or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available.
  • Limit the number of people handling or serving food – Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks. If serving any food, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.

Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items – Use touchless garbage cans and clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use.

Are you going to an event?

If you are planning to attend a holiday gathering, you should:

  • Prepare before you go – Stay home if you are not feeling well, have been diagnosed, are awaiting test results or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Bring extra supplies (e.g., hand sanitizer, masks, etc.) to help you and others stay healthy.
  • Use social distancing and limit physical contact – Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or more from people who don’t live in your household. Consider arriving early or at off-peak times to avoid crowding.
  • Wear masks – Doing so minimizes the risk of transmitting the virus.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items – Avoid any self-serve food or drink options and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer immediately before eating food or after touching any common surfaces.

Are you planning to travel this holiday season?

Traveling increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you decide to travel, following the basic measures of wearing a mask in public settings, avoiding close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart, washing your hands and avoiding touching your face will help keep you and those around you safer. Also consider whether COVID-19 is spreading at your destination. The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return.

You should also know whether your destination has requirements or restrictions for travelers. Some state, local, and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring those who recently traveled to quarantine for up to 14 days. Check state, territorial, tribal and local public health websites for information before you travel. If you are traveling internationally, check the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information page for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.

It’s Time to Man Up – Put Men’s Health on the Radar

November is Men’s Health Awareness Month. While the life expectancy of a man has increased in modern times, the average life expectancy for men in the United States is almost five years less than women. Research shows men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. It’s time to man up and make men’s health a priority.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death for men. These conditions can see a reduced risk if men can adopt healthy eating habits and apply small lifestyle changes.

  • Eat a healthy diet. This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, which have vitamins and minerals that help protect from chronic diseases. Limit foods high in calories, sugar, salt or fat.
  • Live an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity has many benefits including helping to control weight and reduce the risk for disease. It is also link with better mental health and mood.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress. Over time, stress can take a toll on emotional and physical health. Find ways to relax and de-stress, such as exercise, meditation or massage.
  • Get a good night’s rest. Sleep is important for feeling and functioning.
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups and recommended screenings. Follow your doctor’s guidance on regular screenings for colon cancer, prostate cancer or lung cancer.

Need help finding a physician? Visit

Helping Youth During an Unexpected Holiday Season

As we near the end of a year filled with unexpected challenges, the holiday season has arrived. For many, the holidays are typically a time of celebration and cheer, in large part because of the ability to spend time with those we love. Children especially embody the excitement of the season, often counting down the days to their favorite holiday. But, let’s face it, this year is different and they will feel it. We all do.

Fortunately, we as parents, guardians, and trusted adults, can help children navigate celebrating the holidays in midst of the pandemic. We can help them cope with the possibility of celebrating the holidays without important loved ones who live outside the home, as well as continued changes with schooling and routine.

How do we start? By listening.

“Listen to a child’s concerns and validate the feelings associated with them,” Elizabeth Block, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea said.  “Acknowledge that yes, this year is going to be different, and it’s okay to feel sad or disappointed. However, different does not have to mean ‘all bad.’ This is a great opportunity to promote resiliency in youth by teaching that it’s okay to acknowledge the loss of something, but also a chance to make the best of a tough situation.

Here’s some ideas for families to make this holiday season special:

  • Let each family member pick an activity that they enjoy for the holiday and everyone in the household participate
  • Emphasize that distance doesn’t need to stop us from showing other we care. Take time to create something special such as a homemade card or a video to send to loved ones you can’t gather with this year.
  • Find ways to show kindness to others – make cards for nursing home residents, support elderly neighbors with grocery shopping or snow shoveling, leave a note for a delivery driver or create messages for front-liner workers. Be creative!
  • Create an imaginary vacation where you provide special foods, virtual tours, books, arts and crafts that are representative of dream vacations.
  • Take decorating your home to a new extreme. Let your family make holiday decorations and help decide where they go. Create a holiday wonderland right inside your home.
  • Find the best holiday light decorations in your neighborhood and go for a tour. Bring along favorite snacks and play holiday music.

Finally, take care of YOURSELF. This has been a stressful year. Make time to relax, meditate, or go for a walk.

Even if you create new traditions and ways to enjoy the holidays, children may experience ongoing anxiety about the pandemic. Per the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about COVID-19 should be evaluated by a trained mental health professional. Signs that a child may need additional help include:

  • Difficulty with sleep or new changes to sleep patterns, like nightmares or frequent waking
  • Thoughts that are frightening or disruptive
  • Frequent talk or worries about illness or death
  • Reluctance to leave parents or go to school

If you have noticed such changes in your child, you can ask their doctor or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.

Additional Resources:

Rob Casalou Discusses COVID-19 on Podcast

Rob Casalou, President and CEO of Trinity Health Michigan

Trinity Heath Michigan President and CEO Rob Casalou appeared on Rich Helppie’s Common Bridge podcast to discuss the recent surge in Coronavirus that is spreading across the country and how it is impacting the hospitals.  They discuss the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, and how K-12 in person classrooms appear to not be a super spreader if normal precautions are taken.