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Buffalo podiatrist seeks company on bike ride to fight diabetes

Dr. Jeffrey M. Carrel will participate in his 20th Buffalo Tour de Cure next weekend in Niagara County. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Dr. Jeffrey M. Carrel is quite the inspiration to his patients at Podiatry Associates.

At age 72, the foot doctor who grew up in North Buffalo is still going strong in his practice and on his bike.

Next Saturday, he aims to ride 62.5 miles as part of the Buffalo Tour de Cure, which benefits the American Diabetes Association. Register to participate under the “Find Tour” link at

Read more about him today in the In the Field feature in WNY Refresh.

The 1959 graduate of Bennett High School went to the University at Buffalo for two years after that, including summers, grabbed his bachelor’s degree and set out for the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in Harlem. He graduated with the highest GPA in his class, did his surgical residency in Detroit, and returned to Western New York in the late 1960s. He and Dr. David Davidson are the lone doctors from the early days of the practice who remain on the job.

“I’m still having fun,” he told me earlier this month, “and plan to practice as long as I can keep going. I have no real plans to move.”

He and his wife, Sheila, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary on June 21, have three sons: Aaron, a pediatric endocrinologist in Madison, Wis.; Mitchell, a lawyer in Chicago; and David, a business consultant in Chicago. The boys often come home to ride the Tour de Cure with Dad.

The event offers riders several scenic loops at distances from 6 to 100 miles through Niagara County, starting and ending at Niagara County Community College, at 3111 Saunders Settlement Road in Sanborn. “The newest 30-mile ride will be a flat and beautiful trip along the Niagara River and a halfway point photo opportunity with Niagara Falls as the backdrop,” race organizers said in a news release.

“The Tour de Cure is a ride, not a race, with routes designed for everyone. Whether you casually ride around your block or cycle competitively, there is a route right for you,” said Kelly Arthur, Tour de Cure manager for the American Diabetes Association. “And we hope the new 30-mile ride, with the mighty Niagara Falls in the distance, will inspire even more riders to join in our fight against diabetes.”

Independent Health is presenting sponsor. This year’s fundraising goal is $420,000. Each rider is required to raise a minimum $200.

Carrel had lots of interesting things to say about the race and podiatry that I couldn’t squeeze into the print edition. Below are a few more excerpts

How many bikes to you have?

Three. One’s a recumbent in the basement that I stare at a lot in the winter. The other is my current, which is a road bike, and my previous is a hybrid which is still functional.

How do you prepare for the Tour de Cure races?

I try to get out two to three times a week in the good weather. I usually ride 10, 15 miles. My wife and I would do 20 miles on a Sunday, stopping for coffee at the Clarence Coffee House.

Is bike riding a good idea for a number of your patients?

Bike riding is good because it’s not as stressful on the foot as running or even walking on a treadmill at the gym. A recumbent bike at the gym is much easier on the foot. With many patients with specific foot problems, we take them off the treadmill and put them on the elliptical or bicycle.

You’ve tended to be one of the top five fundraisers for the race over the years.

One or two over the last five years. Single digits for many years.

What’s the secret?

I reach out to people on an individual level. I write a letter explaining what I’m doing and the impact it has on my patients, and I ask for their help and support. I send probably 200 to 250 letters out each year and I put a handwritten note on each one. ... I sign it. Friends who donate $50 or more get a hand-written thank you note by snail mail, with a real stamp on it, rather than an email and a quick thank you.

What are some of the more common procedures you handle at work?

Bunions, hammer toes, nerve problems of the foot ... things similar to carpel tunnel, growths on the nerve, and plantar fasciitis, which is a sort of heel pain.

What percentage of foot issues tend to be behavioral-based?

Probably only 30 percent. I would say 70 percent are genetic due to the bone structure of the foot. These people are predisposed (to problems). If the foot wiggles too much one way or another, you’re prone to ligament and tendon inflammation. Most of those are corrected with inserts in the shoes.

And you’re looking at one aspect, feet?

We’re looking at the whole body. We do a history and physical, which includes a lower extremity and complete medical history, and I would say today probably 70 percent of these patients are referred by primary care physicians or endocrinologists who then provide us with the background and history of the patient. Now, with electronic medical records, that information is transmitted and received almost instantaneously.

How often should they see you once they’re diagnosed with a diabetic-related foot problem?

The should get a foot examination once a year in the absent of any problems or symptoms. They’re encourage to call right away should anything develop and we squeeze them right in.

Are feet a window into overall health and, if so, how so?

They can be. Certain things that show up in the feet can be a sign that there are problems elsewhere. Since the foot is connected to the rest of the body, you can’t really separate it. We see changes that occur in the skin, changes that occur with circulation, all of which can point to systemic problems. So a decrease in the pulsations of the arteries of the feet, or a decrease of hair growth on the top of the foot, shiny skin – these kinds of things will point to more pervasive vascular disease. ... It can be a sign of decreased flow in the coronary arteries.

So it pays to pay attention to your feet?

That’s true.

Foot massages are helpful?

If it feels good, it’s fine. I don’t believe in reflexology because nobody has been able to demonstrate something significant scientifically, but I certainly can’t say it doesn’t exist because acupuncture, also from ancient Chinese medicine, has done some miraculous things and we can’t really explain that completely with Western medicine.

Can you talk about diabetes prevention?

The Type 1 diabetic is usually diagnosed early in life and that seems to be genetic. It’s a decrease mostly in the beta cell production of insulin in the pancreas. It can also be induced by a virus infection. Once that occurs, the patient is required to take insulin on a daily basis. The prevention part comes in Type 2 diabetes where there is a period of time where the patient is prediabetic. It used to be called borderline. Now, it’s defined as a fasting blood sugar between 100 and 125 (mg/dl). In the period of time when the patient is prediabetic, diet and exercise can decrease the onset of diabetes. So it’s possible to prevent the onset of diabetes completely through diet and exercise. The problem ... is the symptoms are very slight and people may not be aware of them (until it’s too late).

Do foot problems tend to get worse as you get older?

They usually do, because they’re progressive and usually attributed to the bone structure. Most of it is genetic. Your feet change over the years and that’s why your shoe size changes. Your feet stop growing when your 17 or 18, and your foot size tends to get longer and wider. This causes many patients problems because they’re not realizing it. We explain to them that there are 26 bones in the foot and they’re held together by ligaments, and as we age these ligaments loosen up and these bones start to spread, and they spread sideways and they spread length-wise. So your shoe size will slowly change in width and length as you get older. As these bones change, they also will produce small deformities, so a bone will start to stick up or a bunion will start to stick up. Metatarsal bones will move and this movement of the bones many times will create problems. ... Getting older is not for whimps!


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Lancaster breast cancer survivor now a Livestrong coach

Livestrong fitness instructor Marilou Owczarczak, right, pushes weight while talking to Livestrong Coordinator Sandra Keeney at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Amherst. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Marilou Owczarczak had just turned 48 when she learned in May 2012 that she had breast cancer.

“I was training for the Ride for Roswell when I got diagnosed,” she said. “The first thing I said to my surgeon when she gave me my surgery date – she said ‘How about June 18?’ – I said, ‘Oh my God, the Ride for Roswell is that weekend.’

“She said she wouldn’t put any restrictions on her patients, so five days after my surgery I rode 20 miles in the Ride for Roswell. It was the best day of my life.”

It was a challenging time for Owczarczak (pronounced O-zar-ZAK), of Lancaster, subject of the What are you Eating? feature this weekend in WNY Refresh.

After her lumpectomy at Roswell Park and fundraising bike ride, she underwent six weeks of radiation treatments – 36 in all – “which constantly reminded you that you had cancer and you’re trying to preserve your body.”

She said she worked at a women’s health and wellness club at the time, which let her go during her radiation treatments.

A strong support group – particularly her husband, Randy, and their sons Ryan, 20; Adam, 17; and Brady, 13 – was key to weathering such a storm, she said.

“I was left ... trying to rebuild,” she said. “I was active already, and after the treatment I was fatigued and my endurance was low. I was like, ‘So what do I do now?’”

A friend in Rochester told her about the Livestrong Foundation, founded in 1997 by cyclist Lance Armstrong to help others with cancer through their day-to-day struggles.

Shortly after the conversation with her friend, Owczarczak called Roswell and was told the Southtowns YMCA was about to start a 12-week Livestrong pilot program to help cancer survivors rebound.

“It was perfect timing,” she said.

The program was free, not only for herself but her immediately family. It involved twice-weekly gatherings and workouts for the cancer survivor, with other cancer survivors, as well as three months of unlimited use at YMCA Buffalo Niagara branches.

“It’s a gorgeous opportunity,” Owczarczak said. “It’s like a support group. The idea is to rebuild and get the cancer survivor into their ‘new normal.’ They’re scared, and now it’s time to bounce back.”

The program is for folks of all ages who’ve battled any form of cancer. “The relationships are instant,” Owczarczak said.

You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to register.

“It’s almost more advantageous to not be a Y member,” she added, “because if you’re a member you’re already paying for your membership. This is a free membership.”

The annual YMCA fundraising drive covers costs of the program.

The Livestrong program led to a part-time YMCA job for Owczarczak as a group fitness instructor for cycling, Silver Sneakers and laughter yoga.

Starting Wednesday, she also will be a Livestrong coach at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Amherst.

“Now I’m on the flip side and can help build their mind, body and soul after the journey they were on,” she said.

The programs at the Amherst branch and the Southtowns Y in West Seneca each have 12 slots; they start next week around the lunch hour. Participants gather twice a week for three months; Owczarczak and others will teach Mondays and Wednesdays at the Independent Health Y, just east of the Erie Community College North campus.

Register online here or call Kelly Standage at 674-9622.

Owczarczak said her role is to make cancer survivors “comfortable and confident, and help them build their self-esteem,” by helping to lead workouts, show participants how to use the YMCA equipment, “lend an ear and be their cheerleader.”

Here’s how she described the program:

“We work out together. Everyone gets to converse. We always have a little yoga session. Sometimes we have a speaker come in. We may introduce them to cycling or Zumba or laughter yoga, different things, as well as strengthening and toning their muscles, and getting into the happy heart healthy lifestyle they’re looking for.

“We meet as a group, introduce ourselves on day one. Everybody shares their stories, which kind of breaks the ice. Then we do assessments to see where they’re at. You see how strong you are, what your flexibility is. After the 12 weeks, we do a reassessment and they can see the progress they made. That’s stunning.”

Owczarczak said she feels blessed to work at the YMCA, participate in the Livestrong movement – she called Armstrong a hero to cancer patients despite his fall from cycling grace – and to have run the Buffalo half-marathon last Sunday, the second half-marathon since her cancer diagnosis.

She also praised her husband, who gave her 50 presents for her 50th birthday on April 24.

“He started shopping in February,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

 “The way I look at the Y is as my lifesaver,” she added. “The Y and that Livestrong program couldn’t have happened at a better time in my life. I’m so blessed I can work for them and help people be happy, healthy and well.

“Cancer is s a scary diagnosis. When you hear that word, you’re world gets turned upside down. Life as you knew it is no longer the same.

“I choose to believe it was presented in my life for a reason, and if it’s to share the Livestrong story, or share my story – if I can help someone else train for a half-marathon because I did it – that’s my goal in life.

"Live your life. Enjoy it. Because you just never know.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Race for Scholarships planned Friday in Alden

The ninth annual 5K Race for Scholarships will take place starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Alden High School campus, 13190 Park St., Alden

The finish line is in Town Park. A Kids’ Fun Run will be held at 5 p.m. in the park and a post-race Party-in-the-Park will take place after the scholarship run, featuring games and grilled food. A $250 cash prize will be awarded to the top male and female finishers. Proceeds benefit the Alden Community Scholarship Foundation, providing college scholarships to eligible graduates of Alden High.

To register, visit

ECMC Farmers Market at Grider renews its mission on Friday

Rita Hubbard-Robinson, leads the Farmers' Market at Grider as part of her job with the ECMC Lifeline Foundation (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Rita Hubbard-Robinson is one of those Buffalonians who might be called a civic activist.

She has worked in government and the private sector, but over the past five years has been charged with helping to develop staff at Erie County Medical Center and, in her work at director of institutional advancement with the ECMC Lifeline Foundation, forge closer ties between the hospital and its surrounding community.

She raved about her boss – ECMC, and now also Kaleida Health, CEO Jody L. Lomeo – during a recent interview for today’s What are you Eating? feature in WNY Refresh.

Hubbard-Robinson also pitched the benefits of the Farmers' Market at Grider, which opens for its fifth season from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

The fun – and meaning – of the market starts immediately, because opening day is “Plant Day,” in which those who register in advance will receive a “Garden in a Bucket” – plants that can help those who receive them start a small garden in their yard that, by the end of summer, will bear fresh produce to make salsa. Tomatoes, peppers and basil will be among the plants offered. To register, call Hubbard-Robinson at 898-3509 or email her at

The market and Plant Day are important in the 14215 ZIP code, which is considered a food desert because the nearest grocery stores are out of reach for many residents.

“This area has a number of challenges,” Hubbard-Robinson said. “Food is one of them. Poverty is one. Transportation is one. You put these together and it’s no wonder why people are ill.”

Because of the economic dynamics in the community, fast, processed, and packaged, high sodium foods are often the kinds the show up on the dinner table.

“Poverty has a major impact on what people find affordable and filling for their families,” Hubbard-Robinson said.

The farmers' market is an attempt to change that.

“Our market is local, seasonal and fresh,” she said.

When the market first opened, the number of hospital workers outnumbered those from the neighborhood when it came to customers. No longer.

And tastes have changed.

“We were offered Swiss chard at the market and it wasn’t moving,” Hubbard-Robinson said, “so we had a food demonstration and people loved it. Now, we can’t keep Swiss chard on the tables.”

The market also features exercise during part of the lunch hour, including tai chi, Silver Sneakers and salsa dancing, as well as cooking classes and other educational programs. One of the pastors who regularly attends lost 20 pounds, and plans to continue the weight slide. “She attributed part to the education and part to the access to fruits and vegetables – and she says she’s not finished.”

What are the top sellers?

“People love their leafy green vegetables, corn when it’s in season. People love their tomatoes when they’re in season, and strawberries, blueberries and apples.

“Some interesting things you can get at the market are Brussels sprouts, which are still on the horn. Otherwise, they’re processed, and our farmers don’t process them.

“We also have canned preserves and jams and chilis. One woman told us her father has fallen in love with the jalapeno jelly and he’s looking forward to the market reopening.”

Code Blu juicery also will be on hand for the first time. I wrote about the business, and owner DeChantell Lloyd, last June.

“Having her and her energy at the market is going to be wonderful,” Hubbard-Robinson said, adding that people will still need to buy fruits and veggies to get their fiber.

After Lomeo arrived at ECMC in 2009, she said, “we were engaging in growth on the hospital campus. What he did not want to see was a fantastic, beautiful hospital campus across the street from sick people living in poor conditions.

“We wanted to have an impact in this community, be part of something that would not just improve our campus but also improve the community.”

That meant providing more health care jobs for people in the surrounding community and engaging with neighbors in more meaningful ways.

A series of community meetings led to a community mantra: “Growing healthy together.”

“Our farmers' market is part of the initiative that reflects that,” Hubbard-Robinson said.

The goal of the market, she said, is to improve access to locally grown food, promote healthier lifestyles, increase the number of community gatherings, and provide more information and education when it comes to health and wellness.

The market opened in hospital parking lot in the spring of 2009 and moved across street, into its current location at 351 Grider, in July of that year.

Vendors provide fresh fruits and vegetables and “treats,” she said. Amy’s food truck or another healthy food option, also is available each week.

Hubbard-Robinson, a Queens native, is among those in WNY who came here for school – in her case, University at Buffalo Law School – and liked the area so much she planted roots.

She lives in the Hamlin Park section of the city. Her husband, Mark E. Robinson, will mark 30 years in the Buffalo Fire Department this fall. They have two children, Jason E., an Air Force retiree, and daughter Journee A., a mathematics education major who just finished her junior year at SUNY Buffalo State.

Along with her work at ECMC, Hubbard-Robinson is among the leaders of her neighborhood improvement group.

She relishes both opportunities to serve, and believes the market helps fulfill an important part of the Lifeline Foundation’s mission.

“People are becoming wiser,” she said. “We know we have an epidemic around obesity.”

If Americans, including those in our region, don’t change behaviors, she said, young people will be first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

“It’s going to take everybody,” she said, “doing what they can.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Hope Chest plans third annual festival

Hope Chest of Buffalo, a nonprofit agency that provides free exercise and nutrition classes, emotional support and paddling training for breast cancer survivors, will host its third annual Hope Chest Buffalo Niagara Dragon Boat Festival in a new location next month.

The festival will take place June 14 at Baird Point and Lake LaSalle on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst. Raffles, concessions and children’s activities will be available.

Registration is limited to 60 teams; corporate and community participation is encouraged along with those who have a connection with breast cancer. All proceeds benefit Hope Chest of Buffalo. To register and for more information, visit or the Hope Chest Dragon Boat Team Facebook page, or email Susan Gately at


Business owner rolls out first Buffalo Hoopathon on Saturday

Melissa Campbell looks to demonstrate the fun and health benefits of Hula Hooping Saturday, May 24, at the Hula Hoopathon at SUNY Buffalo State (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Melissa Campbell has a couple of confessions to make.

The creator of this weekend’s first Queen City of Buffalo Hoopathon wasn’t very good at jiggling a hoop around her midsection when a friend asked her to try one out four years ago.

She also admits she tries to eat vegetarian but sometimes gives in to bacon cheesecake, so you know she has her bad eating days.

But she’s eaten better – and managed to throw in some more exercise – since she took hold of the growing Hula Hoop phenomenon, which has become a new fitness niche.

“I couldn’t Hula Hoop at first and I felt bad, because I dance,” said Campbell, 33, owner of Filigrees Gallery & Boutique at Elmwood and Forest avenues.

“Once I figured it out, it was like defying gravity. I immediately got tuned into it and I wanted to get better. There’s a lot of room to improve and be successful.”

Her friend also showed her how to make one. “Now,” Campbell said, “I’ve made a couple thousand of them.”

She sells Hula Hoops in her store, along with clothing, fine art, novelties and “dharma goods.” She also sells them on her website,

“It’s been a growing business,” she said. “There’s a bit of a comeback with the Hula Hoop in subcultures as more of an adult form of exercise rather than a kids toy. Bringing it into the health and fitness area, there are opportunities to use it for stretching, muscle building, instead of just occupying the kids out in the backyard.”

It also brings adults back to childhood.

Campbell uses irrigation tubing and connectors from Lowe’s to make her Hula Hoops, adorning them with reflective tape.

“Now I’m looking to add a technology element inside of the hoop so it will communicate with a smartphone and it will give feedback about calories and losing weight.”

Campbell made the Hula Hoops used at Larkin Square and on the BlueCross BlueShield Healthy Cruiser.

The insurer, along with the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, are among the sponsors of the first Buffalo Hoopathon, which will roll into the SUNY Buffalo State Campbell Student Union from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 each for groups of five, $10 for kids 17 and under, and $20 for adults. Proceeds will support the Wellness Institute as well as Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and put dozens free of Hula Hoops into the hands of Buffalo school children. To order tickets, visit They'll also be available at the door.

Amy’s Food Truck will sell hummus and healthy snacks, and Ashker’s Juice Bar also will offer refreshment. Grace Turner and the Western New York Drummers will provide entertainment, as will several accomplished Hula Hoop dancers.

“The Hoopathon is sort of like my big give,” Campbell said. “I want to raise awareness of Hula Hooping and the benefits of it.”

For those who want to learn even more about the resurrected craze, Campbell also gave a shout out to the Buffalo Hula Hoop Group, formed in 2008 by Kristin Damstetter. The group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. every Monday from Memorial Day through Labor Day in front of the the Delaware Park Rose Garden along Lincoln Parkway.

“You can see us and the Buffalo jugglers group from the street,” Damstetter said.

For more info on the group, click here.

Campbell is among the regulars, and said Hula Hooping is a fun family activity and a welcome one for moms looking to burn off some of those extra pounds.

“This is a good fit,” she said. “It’s about feeling sexy and looking good. The Hula Hoop does that.

“I just went through a really dark winter and went back to it and I’ve lost 10 pounds” from eating better and Hula Hooping for 10 minutes four times a week.

“It’s working on the belly fat,” she said. You have to have your arms up, working on balance and endurance, “and you have direct contact around the area everyone wants to eliminate. Whittle your middle with a Hula Hoop.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

New UB sessions set to help quit smoking

The University at Buffalo’s anti-smoking QUIT program recently marked its first anniversary and announced upcoming sessions to help others kick the unhealthy habit.

“Our program isn’t a one-size-fits-all or a cookie-cutter approach,” said Lisa Germeroth, the creator, primary clinician of the QUIT program and UB clinical psychology graduate student. “We use a combination of nicotine replacement methods and therapy sessions, which research shows has the greatest likelihood of helping smokers stay quit.”

Upcoming sessions will run in June, July and August, and begin the first full week of each month. The three-week group therapy sessions run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and Friday of week two. For registration and information, call 645-3697. The program fee, which covers costs of the materials, is $65.

Hearing center offers free screenings

The nonprofit Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center is helping to raise awareness of National Better Hearing and Speech Month by hosting a series of hearing screenings at all four of its locations.

Screenings, free and open to the public, will check for early signs of hearing loss and related problems. Those interested in scheduling a screening are encouraged to call ahead.

Here is the remaining schedule:

• Amherst: Georgetown Square, 5225 Sheridan Drive, Williamsville: 8:15 to 10 a.m. Friday (204-8680)

• Buffalo: Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, 50 E. North St.: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday (885-8318)

• West Seneca: 2 to 4 p.m. May 29, Southgate Medical Group, 1026 Union Road (558-1105)  

For more information, visit

Unclaimed health insurance checks exceed $1.4 million

More than 10,000 people and health care providers statewide, including hundreds across Western New York, have forgotten about more than $1.4 million in checks sent by Univera Healthcare and its parent company.

The checks were issued in 2010 but were never cashed. If they aren’t claimed by the end of August, the health insurer is required by law to turn the money over to the state comptroller.

The state requires health insurers each April to make a list of unclaimed checks that are at least 3 years old. Uncashed checks often result from an insured member who misplaced or forgot about a check, moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address, or has died. A list of people and providers with outstanding checks, along with instructions on how to claim the forgotten funds, is online at

To claim a check before Aug. 31, current health plan members can call the customer service phone number on their member ID card. Former members, or those calling on behalf of an estate, can call Univera at (877) 242-9464. 

Contra dance free this evening in the Elmwood Village

Joe McCarthy, one of the regulars at the contra dances at the Unitarian Church at Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street, is picking up the tab tonight, in honor of his late wife, Mary, for those who want to participate.

"This would be a great chance for people to check out the dance group free," said member Carolyn Kerr.

A contra dance lesson starts at 7:30 p.m. and dancing starts at 8 p.m.

Dress is casual, no partner is required and all ages are welcome. There also are free snacks tonight, Kerr said.

Future dance nights take place at the same place and times on May 31 and June 7 and 19. The cost is $9, or $6 for students with ID. Children under 12 are free.

Kerr tells me this community dance group is a nice way to improve your health and dance away stress.

– Scott Scanlon

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |