On Oct. 13, 2014, Dr. Melissa Caraballo opened her office on at 4306 Third Ave., Suite A, in Marianna. While she knew few people in Marianna, in just five years her practice has flourished.
Originally from Naples, Dr. Caraballo earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in photography from the University of North Florida. Then, she took a year off from her studies, and moved to Massachusetts with her boyfriend.
“We lived in a house that was a hundred years old with windows that allowed us to see the bay,” she recalled. Dr. Caraballo always wanted to be a physician, but needed time to study for medical school acceptance. During that time, Dr. Caraballo worked several jobs, including working with a radiologist specializing in mammography, working in a sleep lab assisting with sleep studies, and similar type work, all of which prepared her for her future career.
Dr. Caraballo was accepted and attended the Bradenton campus of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). It was while in Bradenton Dr. Caraballo became engaged. The couple lived in Bradenton for about four years. Then, they moved to Lansing, Michigan, so she could begin her residency in Pediatrics at Michigan State University. During the first year, the couple was married. While Dr. Caraballo was in Michigan, she had to take three sets of boards, which she took while pregnant with twins. During medical school rotations in Arcadia, Dr. Caraballo had fallen in love with rural rotations and enjoyed it more than the large city hospitals. Rural areas were complicated, but she thrived in the environment. Her experience in Arcadia led her to working in rural pediatrics. Dr. Caraballo drove to Marianna post-op, and fell in love with Marianna, Jackson County, Jackson Hospital and the opportunity. Her first interview was with Jackson Hospital. After visiting Marianna, Dr. Caraballo cancelled all the other interviews.
“Jackson Hospital is one of the few rural hospitals that delivers babies,” she explained, “and the nursery staff make it a dream to work with them.” “Jackson Hospital’s nursery is awesome,” she continued. “It’s up-to-date, and a great place to be when the bad stuff happens,” Dr. Caraballo shared, “and I have studied at a Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU).” “Jackson Hospital’s Labor and Delivery Department offers a child birth class twice every month, and they assist with breast feeding,” she added.
Recently, Jackson Hospital received the “Baby Friendly” distinction that the facility has been working on for years. The designation helps with safe infant feeding. According to Dr. Caraballo, “When someone asks, they can go anywhere they feel comfortable, and no one will ever say ‘go to the bathroom’.” In fact, as available, the mother will be provided a private room or office to nurse her baby.
Dr. Caraballo is accepting new patients. Most of her original staff is still with her. During her interview she shared some helpful tips for parents.
When asked about the measles outbreak, she explained that there are concerns with increased infection rates in general, but mostly in large population centers, and centers for international travel. Dr. Caraballo strongly recommends children be vaccinated, and in Florida it is mandatory unless there is a medical or religious reason to prevent it. “All vaccines have been studied and tested over time,” Dr. Caraballo continued. “You can pull up the data on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website,” she shared. “All of my kids have had them,” Dr. Caraballo continued.
Recently the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been in the news. “It has been linked to a large portion of head and neck cancers,” Dr. Caraballo shared. The vaccine is now available for women, girls and boys. “I have seen no personal adverse events in my office from the vaccine,” she continued. “The newest vaccines protect against nine strains, four of which prevent cancers.”
In the summer, with children out of school, she recommends applying sunscreen rated 70 SPF or lower every two hours. “If it is over 70 SPF, it is not doing anything,” she explained. “To prevent drownings, make sure your kids are supervised,” she continued. “During the Fourth of July holiday, be cautious playing with fireworks,” Dr. Caraballo added. “Be careful where you are walking, and if you see a snake, don’t entice it,” she instructed. Dr. Caraballo recommends a topical or oral antihistamine for itchy contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy or insect bites. She also explained, “We have a lot of ticks here, but this area is not known for a lot of tick-borne illnesses.” If you find a tick on your child, be sure to remove the head or see a professional.
When asked about sports, Dr. Caraballo explained, “If a child has a head injury, see your doctor so they can follow their progress.” “Some issues related to concussions and overuse injuries may not show up until later, because the kids are still growing” she shared. “Teach your children to always follow the sports rules.” Dr. Caraballo discourages taking your children to trampoline parks, because of the number and different sizes of children on the trampolines, especially if you have smaller children. “Also, be careful with inflatables, because they are not always clean and there have been reported issues with Mercer Staph infections,” she added. Dr. Caraballo also recommended helmets and wrist braces when using hover boards and electric scooters. “You can’t prevent everything, but you can have good sense about it,” she added.
What about soft drinks? Dr. Caraballo clarified that the biggest concerns with soda are sugar, weight gain, hyperactivity, diabetes and tooth decay. She recommends children always brush and floss their teeth before bed. In addition, the caffeine in soft drinks can cause reflux, headaches and act as diuretics, which could dehydrate your child.
According to Dr. Caraballo, the most common illnesses she sees are ear infections, viruses, upper respiratory illnesses, and strep infections. “We do a lot of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) testing and treatment too.” One of the best things Dr. Caraballo is able to offer is scheduled well visits. “It’s not just about vaccines, the goal is to make sure your child is developing properly and for us to catch things that you may not be noticing like speech, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, activity levels and similar issues,” she shared. However, if your child is afraid of vaccines, Dr. Caraballo’s nurse, Tracy Anderson, uses a “shot blocker” to ease the pain. Tracy formerly worked for Dr. Ben Saunders.
In terms of foreign objects, Dr. Caraballo says, “The majority of the time I find stuff in their ears during well visits.” If your child swallows batteries or magnets, it is an emergency. Seek immediate medical assistance. In the case of chemical ingestion, call poison control.
“Be careful with screen time even with learning apps, because it limits creativity,” Dr. Caraballo added. “Teenagers need supervision, too” she continued “with the type of game and interaction with others on the Internet.” However, she recommended board games, which teach skills and helps families and friends to bond.
If you are expecting a baby, think of which physician you would like to use while you are pregnant. You need to know before the baby is born, because the hospital will want to know the doctor’s name before you leave the hospital. New patients will need to provide birth, parent/family, and vaccination history.
Dr. Caraballo, her husband and twin girls live in Marianna. Her husband is a chef. While he is now a stay-at-home dad, he’s considering a food truck in the future. Her family loves the outdoors. “I love gardening, hunting and processing our meat,” she added.
During Hurricane Michael, Dr. Caraballo was on call at Jackson Hospital and her family was with her. When they were able to return home, the family helped their neighbors by cutting them a path out of their homes with a chainsaw. “It took us four days to cut the trees out of our driveway” she shared “and we lived in a camper for two weeks.” Although she had extensive damage at her office and home, she considers herself very fortunate.
“I always wanted to be a doctor and nothing else,” Dr. Caraballo shared. “I care and love the children and their parents.” What a wonderful family and physician to have in Marianna! Visit Dr. Melissa Caraballo at 4306 Third Ave., Suite A, Monday-Thursday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and every other Friday between 8 a.m. and noon. The office phone number is 850-718-2886, and the nurse line is available during office hours. Visit the City of Marianna’s website at http://www.mariannafl.city/335/New-Businesses-and-Other-Community-News to learn more about businesses in Marianna.
Kay Dennis, MBA, MPA, A.I.C.P., is the director of Municipal Development for the City of Marianna.