Like so many previous monumental moments in her life, Ellen Czahar, assistant and surgical coordinator in the MGH Orthopædics Department, wanted to document it with a snapshot. The empty pack of cigarettes marked the last pack she would smoke as she embarked on a happier, healthier way of life.

“I smoked two packs a day,” says Czahar, who smoked for 41 years. “I was a big smoker. Back then, it wasn’t a bad thing and once you figured out that it was, it was too late. I was convinced that I was going to smoke until I died of lung cancer.”

Over the years, she tried to quit – albeit half-heartedly, she admits. It wasn’t until respiratory issues in the winter and a persistent cough began to terrify her to the point that she thought of seeking help. “Then an email blast came out about a smoking cessation study,” Czahar says. “And I didn’t delete it.”

She looked at the email again a few days later, and again for a third time. “Then I thought, ‘If you don’t do it now – you won’t ever do it.’”

Czahar reached out to the Partners in Helping You Quit (PiHQ) research study, led by Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of MGH Tobacco Research and Treatment Center. Open to Partners HealthCare employees, the study provides coaching and medication – available with no co-pay to those enrolled in Partners health insurance – to help smokers cut down on or quit smoking. Smokers who join the PiHQ research study are randomly assigned to one of two programs, both of which provide a personal tobacco coach and offer help that is private, confidential and tailored to employees’ needs. The study tests which program is most effective in helping employees quit smoking. 

With the help of her coaches, Czahar mapped out a treatment plan and picked a quit date – Dec. 18, 2016. She finished the pack of cigarettes she had and took the photo of the empty container before throwing it in the trash. “That was it,” she says. “I never looked back. I won’t say it was easy – but it wasn’t hard. Being ready to stop smoking was probably the most important part because once you make up your mind and do it, it makes it easier.”

Czahar says being a PiHQ study participant was instrumental in her being able to stop smoking and continues to be smoke-free, now five months later.  “They are always there for you – either by email or phone,” she says.

For more information about the PiHQ research study, call 617-724-2205 or email 

This article was originally published in the 05/12/17 Hotline issue.