2009 Women's Health Heroes Nominees


For background information, visit http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/heroes.asp

Thanks for participating in the first annual Women's Health Heroes.
We'll open nominations again in early 2010!

May 4, 2009

A Socially Conscious Professor: Dr. Diana Flannery

Entrant: Libby Schaefer
Nominee: Dr. Diana Flannery, Professor, Ph.D.

Dr. Diana Flannery, Ph.D., is my Women’s Health hero.

I took a Women’s Health course from Diana in college and absolutely loved it. Dr. Flannery is Professor in the Department of Health and Community Services at California State University, Chico. She has delivered presentations of her work both internationally and nationally to various organizations and has published articles on tobacco, sexual health, and service learning related topics. Dr. Flannery is involved with many different population groups and instructional methods, including service learning, feminist activism, K-12 education, and environmental education and justice.

For many years, her students have been engaged in fundraising and pesticide awareness programs to migrant farm workers and their families in Butte and Glenn Counties, and have created educational materials for women’s organizations and the local environmental health department. Her teaching style and classroom environment is politically driven, socially conscious, student centered and empowerment driven. I know that students appreciate her humor and her straight forward approach to education and communication. Dr. Flannery ‘tells it like it is’ and students really respond to this with passionate engagement and discussion.

It’s amazing how these things happen in our lives; I enrolled in Dr. Flannery’s course on Women’s Health as a junior in college and it helped spearhead within me an interest in Women’s Health and social justice that brought me to the Peace Corps in West Africa and to medical school and a residency in Family Medicine, where I am now providing full spectrum health care to my patients everyday.

I love what I do and I always think about Dr. Flannery when I talk with my patients, from childhood through pregnancy and menopause, we cover the entire life cycle. I thank her for that foundation that she provided to me and many other young women and men in college who are seeking honesty and education regarding their health care needs. I wanted to thank Diana for all that she does. Thank you for this opportunity.

May 2, 2009

Working for Child and Maternal Health: A.M.M. Samsad

Entrant: Self
Nominee: A.M.M.Samsad, CEO

dsc01833I am nominating myself because since 2000, I have been working for the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding. I am playing my role in many ways to reduce mortality and enrich and protect mothers’ health in Bangladesh. I am providing training on the issues to the community trainers who would ultimately ensure mothers’ health and promote breastfeeding in the community.

Also, I encourage local organizations elsewhere in Bangladesh to include MCH [Maternal and Child Health] programmes in their activities. I have formed a network in Bangladesh to support mothers(pregnant and postnatal). I have formed 74 MSGs (Mother Support Group) in Bangladesh for ensuring safe delivery and infant and young Child Feeding. I am relentlessly working along individuals and CBOs [Confederation of Bangladesh Organisations] to promote women’s rights in terms nutrition and good health.

May 2, 2009

Upholding the Highest Standard of Care: Sheri Skalsky

Entrant: Jalyssa Skalsky
Nominee: Sheri Skalsky, Women’s Health Nurse Practioner

Note: Sheri received two nominations at the same time from two different people. Both are included in this post.

sheriWhat does a Health Care Hero mean to most?  To me, it means someone who most of all puts her patient’s feelings ahead of her own, makes her patients feel comfortable every step of the way, is an advocate for women all over the country, and encourages women to uphold the highest standard of health care available.  I believe Sheri Skalsky does all of these things with a passion every day of her life.

Sheri is a fantastic wife, and the mother of two children, I being one of them, who she has raised most of the time while furthering her education.  She grew up in eastern North Dakota where she developed a passion for health care.  She started out her career as an RN mainly focusing her ten years of experience in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department as a labor and delivery nurse.  From there, she decided she wanted to further her education in order to help more women.  She received her Master’s Degree from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis online while tending to her teenage children’s constant needs, as well as maintaining her full-time position as a labor and delivery nurse.  She then accepted a position where she now works as a nurse practitioner for Great Plains Women’s Health Center in Williston, North Dakota.

I may be slightly biased as her daughter, but I think her achievements as a health care professional speak for themselves.  She is not only a wonderful mother, but I can tell you since I’ve worked beside her, she is a wonderful provider.  From the time I was very young she has made me comfortable talking about health care issues and even going as far as talking to my girlfriends as well.  She was able to convey messages that have stuck to all of us as we grew about being healthy women.  She has even inspired my career in medicine because she has been such a good role model.

I believe Sheri Skalsky should be your chosen Health Care Hero, because she is a fabulous provider who cares deeply about the needs of her patients, and women in general.  She has been an advocate to the care of women her entire life, and has truly been a role model to all she has come in contact with.  She has worked extremely hard and dedicated her life to her children and her career and is constantly trying to improve and better her patient care.  She is the best mother a daughter could ask for, and the best role model anyone could ask for, and I truly believe she is the definition of a Health Care Hero.

Second Nomination
Rebecca Parker

Sheri Skalsky, WHNP-C, is the true definition of a Health Care Hero. She is not only a wonderful mother and wife; she is also the most amazing provider a patient could ask for. She has been an advocate of women’s health care her entire life, and has dedicated most of her time and energy bettering the lives of women, while maintaining time for her friends, family, and community.

Sheri grew up in eastern North Dakota where she developed her passion for health care. She and her husband Dave made their life here where he tended a farm and she worked at a clinic. She attended college while raising her lovely children and received her RN, which she put to work in as a Labor and Delivery nurse at a hospital in western North Dakota. She put in ten years of experience here, helping women through the difficult task of childbirth, often working nights so she could spend more time with her children.  She even furthered her education becoming a Lamaze teacher, helping women with all facets of the birthing process. She decided, however, she wanted to do more.  She obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis online while attending to the needs of her teenagers and continuing to maintain her full time position as an L&D nurse, which are each full-time positions in and of themselves.  She has always remained a dedicated wife and mother, as well as a hardworking member of her community, despite the hardships of higher education.

After completing her Masters, she obtained a position and Great Plains Women’s Health Center, where she now works as a WHNP-C. She works extremely hard for her patients there, often working after hours and constantly updating her knowledge and education by attending conventions and classes. She recently took a side job working for the Upper Missouri Health unit, which provides lower cost care to the community where she provides women’s health care. She has an excellent repertoire dealing with younger women, who are often afraid to take care of issues of their health care and sexual health. As a friend of her daughters, I can tell you she frequently spoke with us about health issues most parents would be too afraid of, and it really stuck with all of us.  She was also a huge role model for her daughter, helping shape her future career. She was never afraid and always made us feel comfortable coming to her with any concerns.

Sheri Skalsky, WHNP-C is the true definition of a Health Care Hero. She is extremely dedicated to her patients and their well-being, as well as her family and community. She is passionate about the health of women and the advancement of this science, and dedicates her life to the study and advancement of it. She is a wonderful role model, wife, and mother, and is a true health care hero in her community.

May 2, 2009

HIV/AIDS Adovcate: Cynthia Callahan

Entrant: S. Omowale Fowles
Nominee: Cynthia Callahan Davis, Director of HIV Education and Outreach Programs

Mrs. Cynthia Callahan Davis, M.P.H. (UCLA) has been one of the key Health care professionals engaged in the fight to save the people of Los Angeles County, especially women, from the tragic effects of the HIV/AIDS virus. As the Director of HIV Education and Outreach Programs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles since the late 1980′s, Mrs. Davis has raised money for local community education activities, special programs and training seminars.

She has raised the awareness of local and national communities about the threat of HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them, while dispelling myths and misinformation about the virus and its consequences. Through her indefatigable efforts, she has raised the level of commitment of health care and non-health care activists to join this struggle.

In the Los Angeles Times article, “Soft Side of AIDS War” (25 December, 2008, The Region section), she has been recognized for her efforts to expand the struggle for women’s health and well-being from the Los Angeles metropolitan area in which Drew University is located to the world stage.

This shift started in the early 1990′s when she presented papers at two international conferences: the Women’s – AIDS Conference, held in Uganda in 1992; and the Fourth World Conference on Women, sponsored by the United Nations, which was held in Beijing in 1996.  Although her work was the subject of another article, entitled “On the Frontline of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic:…” in Black Issues in Higher Education (24 March, 2005), for the most part, Assistant Professor Davis has toiled, lectured and traveled for decades in quiet, yet effective, anonymity.

She has elevated the HIV/AIDS education, information distribution and fund-raising struggle from the national to the global community of women through the development of her “Dolls of Hope” project: cloth dolls that are hand-made by women in AIDS awareness groups around the world.  These and other hand-crafted items are often exchanged and sold to generate funds for “Dolls …” projects and education programs.

She has stretched the positive influences of the 1960′s African American saying “each one, teach one” and the empowering impact that it has had on young women– especially Black and Latina adolescents from South Central/Central metropolitan Los Angeles and Compton — to include women of all ages from Birmingham and Brooklyn, from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Cape Town, South Africa to South East Asia and Central America.

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May 2, 2009

Dedicated to Helping the Underserved: Sabrina Matoff-Stepp

Entrant: Morrisa B. Rice
Nominee: Sabrina Matoff-Stepp, Ph.D., HRSA Office of Women’s Health Director

smatoff-steppI am pleased to nominate Sabrina Matoff-Stepp as a 2009 Women’s Health Hero.  For the last two years, she has not only been my supervisor but also one of my best mentors. Sabrina is always willing to help others strive to be the best they can be. She is sought out as a mentor by student interns, fellows, and scholars because of her commitment to mentoring and giving back. She is a role model for many people looking for a strong and caring leader.

Sabrina has given me confidence in my ability to advance in my career goals, and help others who are beginning their Federal careers. Perhaps this is because she started her federal career almost 20 years ago as a clerk-typist and has worked every day since to be who she is today!

For the last six years, Sabrina has been the Director of the Office of Women’s Health at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). In this capacity, she is responsible for coordinating women’s health activities across HRSA programs, and building collaborations across federal, state, and local levels. One of the most amazing things about Sabrina is that she worked full time while in graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park!

She completed her Masters degree in 1998, focusing on body image concerns of African American and Caucasian women over age 30, and her doctoral dissertation in 2007, which focused on the impact of case management on outpatient visits for men and women living with HIV/AIDS.  Her ability to multi-task and stay on course is like none other! Besides her job and her school work, Sabrina is also a peer reviewer for a health education honorary journal, and the lead behind the creation in 2007 of an undergraduate scholarship award for minority students at the UCLA School of Nursing.

Sabrina is a passionate advocate for persons living with HIV/AIDS, particularly women. Last year, she helped organize a three hour learning institute focused on women and HIV/AIDS at the 2008 Ryan White All Grantee Meeting. In addition, she has led a HRSA effort to create a quilt recognizing the strengths of women living with HIV/AIDS.  She is a fierce and loyal advocate and community volunteer to help other underserved populations, as described briefly below.

Since 2000, Sabrina has volunteered for McKenna’s Wagon, a mobile soup kitchen program at Martha’s Table, Washington D.C.  The program operates seven days a week, 365 days a year. Teams go out into the Washington D.C. community and provide free sandwiches, soup, desserts and beverages to the city’s homeless population. Sabrina volunteers with a church group the first Sunday of each month to help with this activity.

More recently, Sabrina has begun volunteering at Calvary Women’s Shelter in Washington D.C., a nonprofit organization that provides housing and support services to homeless women. She has taught two classes on nutrition and emotional wellness to the women residents and has been asked to continue teaching on a monthly basis. On an international level, Sabrina has sponsored a young girl and her family in Zambia since 2003. Sponsorship provides for basic health necessities, medicine, and clothes. Sabrina loves writing to her sponsored child and receiving letters and photos back!

Sabrina remains dedicated to help the underserved, especially women, in her personal and professional life.  She is always willing to listen, to lend a hand, and to go the extra mile. Therefore I highly recommend Dr. Sabrina Matoff-Stepp for the 2009 Women’s Health Hero award.

Contest Administrator Note: Add 9 votes to the total below — entry was accidentally posted twice and we consolidated the votes and comments.

May 2, 2009

She Has Given the World Three Great Gifts: Mary Lou Ballweg

Entrant: Solina Marquis
Nominee: Mary Lou Ballweg, President and Executive Director, Endometriosis Association

My Health Hero – and all-around hero – is Mary Lou Ballweg, co-founder, organizer and President and Executive Director for the last 29 years of the Endometriosis Association, an international organization with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but an influence as wide as the world.

Mary Lou has carried the endometriosis torch for almost three decades, bringing this mysterious disease out of the Dark Ages and into the light, out of the closet and up for discussion and investigation, improving the lives of millions of women and their families and our global public health.

I would not be the least surprised if you are asking yourself, “Endometriosis – what’s that?” This disease is one of the most widespread conditions in the world, but one of the least-known and understood. In the late 1970s, Mary Lou didn’t know a thing about endometriosis either. She was a successful young career woman who had recently left the position of managing editor of Investor, Wisconsin’s Business Magazine to launch her own film and communications company.

She was a rising star with tremendous energy and a bright future when she suddenly became seriously ill with endometriosis. After numerous physician consultations, Mary Lou received an endometriosis diagnosis, but instead of being offered a cure, or even some viable treatment options, she was left with more questions than answers. Frustrated by the lack of awareness and the dismissive attitude she frequently encountered among medical professionals, in 1980 Mary Lou founded the Endometriosis Association (EA).

Today, it is conservatively estimated that 89 million girls and women from all racial and socioeconomic groups around the world have endometriosis. Endo, as it is often called, strikes those as young as eight and, contrary to popular belief, it can and often does continue to cause symptoms well past childbearing years. While doctors and health researchers once believed that endometriosis affected only a woman’s reproductive system – and only in “career women” – thanks to Mary Lou’s unflagging focus on the need to educate physicians, patients, and the public, we now know that endo is a challenging, widespread, and puzzling hormonal and immunological disease with proven links to toxins in the environment.

Despite its obscurity, this disease can and does bring dramatic and life-altering consequences to women’s lives, frequently causing debilitating chronic pain and infertility and a lifetime increased risk of allergies, asthma, and eczema, as well as a greater chance of developing autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, and many types of cancer, including ovarian tumors.
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May 2, 2009

Easily Accessible Birth Information: JoAnne Lindberg

Entrant: Nikki Demetriou, MSN, CNM, FNP-C
Nominee: JoAnne Lindberg, President/Founder – Birthlink

JoAnne stands out as a women’s health care hero due to her creation of BirthLink, a Chicago birth network.  Many expectant parents are overwhelmed with questions regarding their birth options and BirthLink helps them to link up with providers who match their needs and philosophies.  This network also helps to sustain the practices and livelihoods of these birth providers, and acts as a birth information resource easily accessible to anyone on the web.

May 2, 2009

Steadfast Determination to Help Women: Katherine Winkler

Entrant: Julie Cristol
Nominee: Katherine Winkler, Midwife, Southeast Health Center, Philadelphia, PA

Kate Winkler has been a midwife in Philadelphia’s health centers and hospitals for over 20 years. She represents the huge contribution that midwives make to the health of women and babies in the Philadelphia region. She worked at Booth Maternity Center, Temple Hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital and is currently at Greater Philadelphia Health Action’s South Philly clinics.

She provides health care that is infused with a sense of social justice and empowerment at a vulnerable time in women’s lives. She is guided by a strong inner sense of fairness that strengthens the women and families she cares for so tirelessly. She considers each woman’s individual needs and provides culturally sensitive care that honors the woman and her family. She personifies the “Midwifery Model of Care,” which is based on evidence and focused on the individual as part of a larger family and social system.

For the last three years, Kate has served a largely immigrant population in South Philadelphia. She spends countless hours advocating for her clients in large and small ways. She pays for phone cards so that women can try to get medical records from Mexico that would allow them to avoid unwanted repeat cesareans. She faxes information countless times, offers a shoulder to cry on and is always someone you can rely on.  She negotiates with physicians, county assistance case managers, family members, interpreters and managed care employees with great determination and always with a strong sense of what the woman wants and needs. She is quick to discard methodology that is proven useless and always questions new practices until she is really sure they are effective. Even on the craziest, worst day, she does not complain and maintains her wry, quiet sense of humor.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003 and has continued to work through a recurrence and its associated treatment for the last year. Her dedication to her work and her clients defines her. Even this horrible illness has not dimmed her enthusiasm and steadfast determination to help women.

Kate and I graduated from our Midwifery programs in 1988. We both began working in Philadelphia at the same time. Since the early 1990s, we have worked as colleagues in various settings. Currently, we work together at Greater Philadelphia Health Action. She joined my staff in 2005, which was when we began our Centering Pregnancy Program. This program offers group support, childbirth education and prenatal care in a culturally appropriate setting to uninsured immigrant women at the Southeast Health Center. It is a model program and Kate is largely responsible for its continuation and success.

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May 1, 2009

20 Years at Maternity Care Coalition: JoAnne Fischer

Entrant: Olivia Hamilton
Nominee: JoAnne Fischer, Maternity Care Coalition, Executive Director

joanne20fischer20color20headshotJoAnne Fisher is not only my Women’s Health Hero, she wears that cape for every birthing woman in Pennsylvania.  This year she celebrates her 20th year as Executive Director of the Maternity Care Coalition.

MCC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the needs of mothers and their families visible through policy advocacy and research, and meeting those needs in the community every day through the outreach of teams of Community Health Workers.

Since 1989, JoAnne has raised MCC from a fledgling neighborhood project with a staff of 3 to a statewide organization with staff of over 70, and a budget of $116,000 to over $4.5 million. MCC’s programs include the operation of MOMobile outreach sites providing services to at risk mothers right in their neighborhoods including one in the Riverside Correctional Facility,  two Early Head Start locations, The Cribs for Kids program which provides safe sleeping options to families in need, the Smoke Free Mom’s initiative, and an HIV/Aids prevention program for at risk women.

In addition JoAnne leads MCC’s efforts to advocate for policies that support the women served by these programs – most recently through the report “Insuring Healthy Births” which she will present jointly with area mothers impacted by the faulty insurance system at a rally in Harrisburg at the Capitol Rotunda on Monday May 4th.

JoAnne says of her work, “Birthing is a powerful experience whether it results in a baby or an organization. I am grateful to have been a midwife to MCC, to work with passionate and talented people and to advocate for women and children every day.” Joanne’s own talent and passion are evident everywhere I go, when I say I work for MCC inevitably someone says “Oh, you know JoAnne Fischer?” Her reputation, energy and warmth precede her.

At a recent staff meeting JoAnne’s anniversary was recognized by those who work with her every day.  We were all invited to stand and convey our own experience of that warmth and vitality.  It was evident to me, even as a new member of the MCC community, that she had made an effort to connect with every woman (and the two men as well!) in that room.

I had my own experience of this: at another meeting I had the chance to contribute some of my own ideas – and shook like a leaf the whole time I was speaking because I was so nervous. When I got home that evening there was a message on my Facebook page (yes, JoAnne is on Facebook!) complimenting me on my effort and my ideas. It is a small thing, but when you consider how large a job she has, and how many people she takes the time to connect with in that way in any given day it is no wonder that her name is known far and wide.

I literally found out about this contest ten minutes ago and today is the entry deadline. If I had the chance I could compile story after story just like those tributes I heard at the Maternity Care Coalition staff meeting about what a fantastic leader and mentor JoAnne is. I know there is no better, stronger, more dedicated champion of the health of childbearing women than JoAnne Fischer and no one is better deserving of the recognition of the Our Bodies Ourselves community. Celebrate with us at MCC by joining with us to honor her 20th Anniversary year of serving the women of Pennsylvania!

May 1, 2009

Creating More Fulfilling Lives: Susan Corrado

Entrant: Katherine Vaughn-Jehring
Nominee: Susan Corrado, Community Parish Nurse

I have served in communities for over 20 years and I have not met a more inspiring person than Susan Corrado, R.N. Susan is a deeply dedicated, hardworking, respectful, considerate and thoughtful individual willing to accept people in whatever circumstances they arrive, and assist them in creating more fulfilling lives.

Susan’s compassion for and commitment to her community gives me hope for our future. Susan works with residents of an extremely impoverished urban community, serving over 400 women (and over 200 men) annually. Her radiating smile, gentle encouragement and unflinching optimism are exactly what’s needed by the women she serves.

susan-corradoIt’s a challenge to quantify Susan’s greatest contributions to the women in this community. Susan has worked especially hard to inspire, nurture, support and encourage the women in this neighborhood. She has created women’s empowerment groups, women’s healing circles, women’s relationship safety programs, single mothers’ support groups, women’s community building groups, women’s personal growth retreats, and women’s leadership development programs, as well as focused programs addressing women’s health concerns.

All of these special efforts are above and beyond the individual, one‐on‐one work she does with area women providing holistic health care from a parish nurse perspective.

While there are hundreds of stories about her work, one stands out in my mind…
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May 1, 2009

Winner in My Eyes: Jeanette Preston

Entrant: Kath Mazzella
Nominee: Jeanette Preston, Founder of PANTS

mailgooglecomJeanette is an amazing woman. She is a Gyn Cancer Survivor, a nurse and a Methodist Preacher. She has all the experience in the world to share her wonderful experience and knowledge. She came to the Royal College of Gyn/Obstetrics United Kingdom with me to lobby for an International Gyn Awareness Day (IGAD) . From this meeting she picked up the banner – took back to her home city the idea of IGAD -where Dr. Lopez, Gyn and Jeanette celebrated the day in style – bringing in medical professionals and community together.

Bravo Jeanette – you are a winner in my eyes. Go Jeanette!!

May 1, 2009

Inspiring a New Generation of Caregivers: Abby Howe-Heyman

Entrant: Bree Wellwood
Nominee: Abby Howe-Heyman, CNM, RN, Professor, Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing

As a woman who has been an active participant in my own health care for a number of years, I know that the mainstream health system doesn’t always trust or respect me. Maybe I’m exaggerating about how bad my cramps are? Or underestimating the number of partners I’ve had? What is refreshing and inspiring about Professor Abby Howe-Heyman, CNM, RN, is her insistence that women be treated as experts in their own health.

Abby is a graduate of Smith College, Columbia University School of Nursing, and SUNY Downstate Health Science Center in Brooklyn’s Midwifery Education Program, and has been a midwife since 2000. She was a nurse at Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center, a midwife at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, and then helped start Clementine, a Midwifery Practice in Brooklyn.

Currently, Abby is a professor at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing (PBISN), where she teaches the OB and Women’s Health components of the Care of Childbearing and Childrearing class. Abby’s passion for women’s health and midwifery has inspired a number of students to consider Midwifery, or at least use a midwife for their own pregnancies.

PBISN is an associates degree program, and while most of the students have plans to continue on for advanced practice training, the main focus is on patient care at the RN level. It is here that Abby’s real contribution is evident. Whether we were discussing comprehensive birth control options, prenatal nutrition, or breastfeeding counseling, the underlying message was always to listen to our patients, to hear what they need and where they are coming from. There are so many opportunities for women to feel like a failure in the childbirth process (insufficient cervix?), but Abby taught us to accept each patient and support her however we can.

There are many lessons we will take from nursing school, and from Abby’s class in particular (like putting cabbage leaves on engorged breasts), but the simple act of respecting our patients will be the most lasting one.

May 1, 2009

A Wealth of Knowledge: Whitney Pinger

Note: Whitney received two nominations at the same time from two different people. Both are included in this post.

Entrant: Meryl Heyliger
Nominee: Whitney Pinger, Certified Nurse Midwife

whitneyI am writing to nominate Whitney Pinger, CNM, for the Women’s Health Heroes Award because she is by far a hero to me and to my family!

Before I met Whitney in person, I knew that she would be my midwife. We spoke on the phone several months before my daughter was born and Whitney shared her résumé, basically, with me on the phone. I was impressed! Throughout our conversation, Whitney emphasized the need for me to feel comfortable with whatever decision I made and to feel confident in my capacity to have a natural birth. As she shared her experiences, and encouraged me to share my views as well, I knew that I would be able to talk openly with her, in a way that differed from my regular doctor.

It was not an easy decision to switch from my obstetrician to a midwife, but what I’d been experiencing with my doctor felt so technical and matter of fact. After meeting Whitney, I knew my husband and I made the right decision to have her help us deliver our baby. My husband accompanied me to every appointment and through our visits, he also developed a trusting relationship with Whitney. She’d ask what we were thinking and feeling, what questions we had, and would always remind us that we needed to do what felt right to us in preparing for labor and delivery.

Whitney is a wealth of knowledge! Her experience and commitment to a research based practice helped us to quickly trust her, feel comfortable, safe and prepared. Even now, almost 5 months after my daughter’s birth, my husband or I will ask, “What would Whitney say about this?” I’ve contacted her with questions about friends’ birth experiences and she continues to be readily available and willing to help.

Whitney led my “team” during labor and delivery and I am certain that I would not have had the birth experience that I had without her! No matter what I was experiencing, I knew that Whitney was there to make sure I was okay. She held my hand, guided my husband and doula, gave updates, encouraged, was compassionate, ensured that my birth plan was followed, and gave the support I needed throughout my labor and delivery.

All while caring for me, I learned about Whitney’s advocacy work, experience in the field of natural childbirth, and leadership.  She works tirelessly to serve women and is an incredible advocate for us. Without question, Whitney is a hero for me, my family, and many others. I am extremely happy to submit this nomination; Whitney is truly an asset in our community and we have been very fortunate to have her in our lives!

Second Nomination
Entrant: Heather Wilson

Whitney Pinger is indisputably a women’s health hero.

Whitney, now a senior Certified Nurse Midwife in the Washington, DC region, began her midwifery training 30 years ago in Berkeley, CA.  She was attracted to midwifery as a high school student after reading “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and began a string of apprenticeships with lay midwives.

Whitney was at the forefront of the homebirth movement in the late 1970s and received her training at the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective.  She obtained her midwifery degree at Yale University and has been a staunch advocate for natural birth and the midwifery model of care ever since.

As a CNM, Whitney has run low-income clinics, established multiple private practices, and served as faculty at Yale, Georgetown University, and the Washington Hospital Center.  Several Washington, DC area midwifery practices have closed in recent years.  Whitney filled the void by creating a new private practice dedicated to natural birth in a hospital setting and opened her door to women who were shut out of these closing practices.  She continues to actively promote natural birth, women’s autonomy, and maternity care reform in an environment that can be antagonistic to low-tech, high-touch birth.  Whitney is currently touring regional hospitals with an educational presentation about evidence-based midwifery practice.

I am privileged to apprentice with Whitney and to see her in action, both as a birth activist and as an incredibly nurturing and intuitive midwife.  I see her, time and again, establish trusting, respectful relationships with her patients.  She encourages them to listen to and follow their instincts and empowers them to be active participants in their health care.  Whitney creates an environment that enables laboring women to dig deep and do their work without distraction.  She manages birthing women with patience, flexibility, creativity, and compassion and trusts the birthing process.  Whitney is an inspiration to me, her patients, and her colleagues and is our hero.

May 1, 2009

Fighting Against Heart Disease: Carolyn Thomas

Entrant: Self
Nominee: Carolyn Thomas, Founder of Heart Sisters

carolynjan09I didn’t realize that heart disease is the #1 killer of women – until I had my own heart attack in May of 2008.

I wish I knew before then what I have learned since.  Heart disease not only kills more women each year than breast cancer, it kills more women than all cancers combined. Heart disease kills more women than men each year.

We know that for the last three decades, virtually all cardiac research has been done either exclusively on men, or with women represented in  statistically insignificant numbers.  Because of this, women are shockingly under-diagnosed and under-treated compared to male heart patients.

I am, unfortunately, living proof of that. I was sent home from the E.R. – misdiagnosed with acid reflux – in spite of presenting with textbook heart attack symptoms (crushing chest pain, pain radiating down my left arm, sweating and nausea).  Two weeks of agonizing ongoing attacks later, I was hospitalized for an emergency angioplasty and implantation of a shiny new stainless steel stent in my left anterior coronary artery, which was 99% blocked.

In October 2008, five months after my heart attack, I became the first Canadian ever invited to attend the annual Mayo Clinic Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease in Rochester, Minnesota.  This life-altering five days was part world-class cardiology lecture and part community activism bootcamp!

Since returning home to the West Coast from Mayo Clinic, I have devoted myself to helping educate other women about their biggest health threat.  I volunteer to speak wherever and whenever my health allows – at Heart & Stroke Foundation events, at workplace staff meetings, at health care employee workshops, and at what has become my signature community education event: my ‘Pinot & Prevention’ parties!

I am passionate (some might say obsessed!) with helping to raise women’s awareness of heart disease from the unique grassroots perspective of a heart attack survivor and 2008 Mayo Clinic-trained community educator.

To this end, I’ve developed a website called Heart Sisters to help provide distinctive female-focused information about heart disease risks, prevention, and women’s heart attack symptoms that may surprise you.

Unable to return to work yet as Communications Coordinator at our local hospice/palliative care society, I feel like I have now found my life’s work through my voice while I am off work on medical leave.

I hope to prevent other women from going through what I did, to encourage other women to become their own best health advocates, and to demand equal health care, diagnosis and treatment to combat their most dangerous disease.

May 1, 2009

Educating the Public: Lisa Martinez

Entrant: Robyn Carey Allgeyer
Nominee: Lisa Martinez, RN/JD, Founder and Executive Director of The Women’s Sexual Health Foundation

lisa-martinez-rn-jdI am nominating Lisa Martinez RN/JD for her commitment to helping women become their own best advocate for their sexual health and her dedication to providing educational resources and a forum for healthcare professionals and women through The Women’s Sexual Health Foundation (TWSHF).

The Women’s Sexual Health Foundation’s primary mission is to educate the public and healthcare providers on how medical conditions can impact their sexual health. Lisa’s path to her establishing the foundation is a deeply personal one. Her own sexual health issues following surgery sent her seeking answers from the medical community.

“I hit a lot of brick walls,” she said. “My doctors tried to help but they admitted they were not very knowledgeable, so I went to the East coast for care.” There she not only found the proper care, but she was also validated for the first time. She realized that her problem was physiological – not “just in my head.”

While still a patient at Boston University, she was invited to speak at a conference on “How Hysterectomy Affects Sexual Function.” The response to her presentation was extremely positive.  She had clearly identified a need, and was encouraged to start an organization for women. She came home from Boston and within one week in March 2003, she decided on a name and a mission statement and launched a website, www.TWSHF.org.

An international advisory board of thought leaders in the field of women’s sexual health was selected, and in October 2003, Lisa was invited to Amsterdam to attend the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. She took TWSHF education brochures, which received tremendous attention from the doctors, researchers, and other healthcare providers at the conference.

“It was obvious to me after Amsterdam that a foundation was needed to support a multidisciplinary approach for the treatment of women’s sexual health issues and serve as an educational resource for both the lay public and healthcare professionals.”

As Lisa’s health problems resolved, she realized not all women have access to the care she received. She couldn’t stop thinking about those women who don’t know how to navigate the health system until they find the right care; those who were suffering in silence and the universal challenge of all women – how to talk about sexual health problems with your doctor.

Remember 20 years ago when we didn’t talk about breast cancer? In fact, we didn’t even say the word breast!

“For whatever reason, women and healthcare providers have not historically held appropriate, healthy discussions concerning sexual health, which is part of who we are as human beings,” Lisa says.  “Having a fulfilling sex life is part of having a full life.” She adds:

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May 1, 2009

Tending to Women’s Healthcare Needs: Fair Haven Midwifery Group

Entrants: Christine Halbig & Sita Bushan
Nominees: Kate Mitcheom, Melissa Lonergan, Ellen Wormser, Sherry Rinell, Laura Sundstrom & Priscilla Jencks from Fair Haven Midwifery Group

Fair Haven Community Health Center’s Midwifery group has been tending to the women’s healthcare needs of the community since 1971. This is a short profile of these women’s health heroes.

May 1, 2009

For the Love of the Work: Dinah

Entrant: Kat Kline
Nominee: Dinah, Sexologist at The Dinah Project

My hero is a woman who I have never met nor do I even know her full name. Dinah is a sexologist who I first came across through her website – dinahproject.com – about a year and a half ago. As a physical education teacher, one of my 15-year-old students approached me confidentially in a state  of panic and imminent depression about contracting an STD from a boy who no longer wanted anything to do with her. She was desperate, ashamed and confused, and I agreed to help her because she wasn’t prepared to speak to anyone else.

An internet search turned up the Dinah Project site and its advice column, which includes an entire section dedicated to STDs. At first I just sought advice to pass on, but I realized that Dinah had a very special way of speaking to people — and especially to young people — that makes them feel comfortable about their sexual feelings and even their sexual mistakes.

Ultimately she is doing outstanding sex education. She does not make people feel worse about things that already worry them, things like unwanted pregnancy, STDs, sexual dysfunction or sexual pain. Her personal answers are comforting and empowering and, not unlike a rape crisis center, manages to let the anxious questioners know that they are not alone.

Even without meeting her personally, you know that Dinah is imbued with patience and respect and these are very important virtues in a women’s health promoter. I have recommended her site to women of all ages and I have myself managed to learn about my body and its sexual function, and that impressed me because I have spent years specializing in physical anatomy and health promotion.

There on many levels on which people are working to improve the state of women’s health around the world, and it is usually the people at the top of the pyramid, or those who are highly visible, who get most of the credit. Dinah’s work really touched me because it appears to be done purely for the love of the work, not for pay or for credit. Furthermore, her support of disenfranchised young people deserves recognition, because they are the most vulnerable ones and the kind of problems that Dinah is dealing with are some of the problems that lead to dropping out of school, loss of education, conflict with family and friends, and most definitely short- and long-term health troubles.

April 30, 2009

Devoted to Women’s Pleasure: Dr. Betty Dodson

Entrant: Dr. Tuppy Owens
Nominee: Dr. Betty Dodson, Pioneer teacher, writer, and artist

internal-clitoris-copyBetty is the GrandMummy of female masturbation and the unsung heroine of the century. If she had been working in any field other than sex, and masturbatory sex at that, she would be world-famous, Dean of a University, international authority with her own her own sex castle, island and yacht. Glamorous mass media star.

As well as everything else, Betty is an extraordinary erotic artist. Betty is beautiful, warm and outspoken, and has devoted her life to women’s pleasure. After asking her mother if she masturbated to orgasm in the 70′s, Betty asked the rest of us. Soon her Manhattan flat was the home of workshops for pre-orgasmic women, and these workshops continue today, run both by Betty and by her disciples around the world.

Betty’s first book, “Liberating Masturbation: a Meditation on Selflove,” was written, illustrated and published by herself. She wants all women, including disabled women, to be able to read and learn about masturbation. Betty decided to have an EEG whilst masturbating and apparently, immediately when she flicked the switch on the vibrator, her brain waves went into alpha and stayed there all the way through the sexual build-up.

Then, just before orgasm, her brain waves dipped way down to theta, confirming what she intuitively knew, that masturbation is a delightful form of meditation.

After a long time of working alone, Betty got a book published, “Sex for One – the Joy of SelfLoving,” which sold over a million copies and was translated into eight languages.

“For partner sex to be good, the woman must know what she wants and be able to show her lover,” says Betty. “Women have to teach men about female sexuality, not pattern our sexual desires on what men want. That’s the opposite of what typically happens – young men who know little or nothing about sex end up taking the lead, and young women blame themselves when they can’t have orgasms.

Betty Dodson is now 80 and still pushing the boundaries. Two years ago, she made a film “The Internal Clitoris” which shows her drawing the clitoris from the long horse-shoe structure deep inside, all the way through the tissues to the external glans, which most people still think of as the clit. This film is free to view on YouTube, and became a finalist in the 2007 Erotic Awards as Independent Film of the Year.

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April 30, 2009

Unsung Hero for Women with Endometriosis: Shelley Houchin

Entrant: Colleen Carroll
Nominee: Shelley Houchin, Endometriosis Association Support Program Coordinator

Shelley is an unsung hero for many women who have endometriosis.  She is an angel, a blessing, and a friend.

Shelley is very compassionate, helpful, and genuinely cares about each and every woman who calls the Endometriosis Association (EA) and asks for help and support.

Shelley has been “the wind beneath my wings” for a long time and I do not know if I could manage my endometriosis and chronic pain without her.

I live in a small town in Northern Michigan and was looking for further treatment.  Shelley suggested a doctor in California.  Shelley also was able to arrange for my mother and I to travel to California at no cost to us.  There is a program through the EA that helps women receive free airfare if they can’t afford it.

There is not enough room and time to express my gratitude to Shelly.  She is simply amazing and I am honored to nominate her for this award.

Thank you very much!

April 30, 2009

Every Mom is a Hero: Carolynn Ernst

Entrant: Rachael Longo
Nominee: Carolynn Ernst, Associate VP of Health Center Operations, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

dsc00952Every Mom is a hero.

The love of a mother, the work of a mother, is enough for that title. My mom is not only a hero for raising me and my two siblings, but also for her lifelong dedication to women everywhere.

Carolynn Ernst has been working as an adult and family nurse practitioner for over 30 years. She is currently the Associate VP of Health Center Operations of a 26 health center, three-state affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She has been fighting for women’s rights her whole life. She is a life-long learner; never accepting that she has enough knowledge to continue in her field, she has continued her education throughout her career, even earning a post-graduate Family Nurse Practitioner degree at the University of Vermont, while raising three kids and working full-time.

She has marched in Washington to ensure a woman’s right to choose. She has been brave in the face of terrible threats from anti-abortionists who have called in bomb threats to her clinics or sent suspicious letters, possibly containing anthrax. And she has continued on, marching forward, never wavering in her belief and conviction that a woman should be in charge of her body, be able to feel proud of her body and her decisions and most of all, feel beautiful and confident, no matter what road they choose in life.

My mother gave me pride, self esteem and self worth, courage and determination. She gave me the freedom to dream big and never allows me to give up on myself or those that I love. She did all of this, while dedicating her life to women everywhere, educating and caring for them, teaching them how to care for themselves and prevent unwanted disease and pregnancy.

April 30, 2009

A Lifesaver: Jeannie May

Entrant: Ms. Steele
Nominee: Jeannie May, Founder of Living Sphere


Jeannie May has been involved in support for people living with herpes for over seven years. She runs a herpes support line, provides support and information on her websites, blog, social network and a variety of forums.

She is always available 24/7 for anyone needing support, assistance and encouragement in coming to terms with having this incurable virus.

Jeannie actively promotes awareness in the media whenever she has an opportunity, including appearing on TV and talking about the fact that she has genital herpes herself. Her passion, dedication, courage and bravery have made her respected and admired within the herpes community and beyond.

Her willingness to talk openly about her experiences living with this social taboo has encouraged and empowered others to open up about herpes – it does not mean the end of a person’s love life as so many fear it is.

Her achievements are many:

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April 29, 2009

Recognizing the “Big Picture” of Women’s Health: Dr. Barbara Keddy

Entrant: Josephine B. Etowa
Nominee: Dr. Barbara Keddy, Professor Emeritus, Dalhousie University

keddy_2521_I am writing to nominate Dr. Barbara Keddy of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada as a Women’s Health Hero. I have known her for over a period of ten years, in various capacities, including being my course professor, thesis supervisor, and more recently as a colleague, mentor and a partner in a number of research projects in the area of Black women’s health.

Based on my observation of Dr. Keddy in these capacities and from talking with other colleagues, I will describe Dr. Keddy as an exemplary health scholar and women’s health advocate. She goes beyond the call of duty to address the needs of the women around her, especially women from marginalized populations. This is evident in the nature of her personal research and those of her graduate students.

In acknowledgement of the need to promote diversity and social inclusion in nursing, Dr. Keddy has not only dedicated  her own research to addressing these issues, she has also encouraged beginning scholars like myself to engage in this area of research. Over the past few years, I had the opportunity to work with her on a number of research projects addressing the health needs of women with a focus on the health of Canadian women of African descent; a historically forgotten group in the health literature.

She has collaborated with women in the community to complete a number of capacity-building projects including two studies titled “Menopause and midlife health of African Nova Scotian women” and “Black women’s health in remote and rural Nova Scotian Communities.”  She has been an excellent role model, a great mentor and inspiration for many people including myself. My experience of doing research with Dr. Keddy has been one of the most positive. She makes me feel that my perspective is a vital aspect of the project.

Dr. Barbara Keddy is an outstanding individual who has great insights and shows exemplary integrity and leadership as a person, a professional nurse and as a scholar. I find her to be a warm and approachable colleague and mentor. Her exceptional ability to foster community capacity building and to recognize the “big picture” for the future of women’s health research is commendable. She has tremendous impact on my personal and professional growth, fostering an empowering environment that has enabled me to successfully develop a career as a university professor and a scholar from my early interactions with her as a minority student.

In conclusion, Dr. Keddy is someone I admire and respect for her personal integrity and many outstanding contributions to the nursing profession, women’s health movements and society in general. In particular, her collegiality, dedication to hard work, and readiness to encourage, mentor and support others into leadership roles is exceptional. She is a most deserving candidate for the Women’s Health Hero recognition.

April 29, 2009

Improving the Care Women Receive: Dr. Tito Lopes

Entrant: Jeannette Preston
Nominee: Dr. Tito Lopes, Lead Gynaecological Cancer Surgeon at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Truro, Cornwall UK NHS

a8pantscopyDr. Tito Lopes is the lead Gynaecological Cancer surgeon at the Royal Cornwall Hospital here in the UK. He heads an amazing team who work hard to deliver the best possible care in Cornwall, and we know we are blessed to him have.

Tito’s skills take him worldwide where he shares his knowledge with those who know him to be a master in his chosen field; they watch his surgery and learn. He has held extremely important posts in the UK, including being President of the Gynaecological Society. He is recognised as a pioneer in his work and held in high esteem in the world of gynaecology.

Not only is Tito an expert, he is also an inspirational man to the women he cares for, who all love him. I speak to many of the women he has performed surgery on, since they come to my website for support, or telephone me, or attend educational days where he, and the team, are guest speakers. They are fulsome in their praise of him and find his kindness overwhelming. He listens, and gives hope, and as a survivor of gynaecological cancer myself and one of his patients, I know how important that is.

When I began PANTS, a charitable organisation raising awareness of gynaecological cancer, Tito became involved and, along with his team, have been willing to take part in everything I have suggested to raise awareness. This included the entire team appearing in their pants for PANTS in the Calendar I produced for 2009. By doing this they showed empathy to the women in their care, and helped to sell calendars and raise much needed funds.

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April 29, 2009

Fighting Fatigue and Offering Hope: Sandy Robinson

Entrant: Self
Nominee: Sandy Robinson, Fighting Fatigue CFS/FM Website Owner

new-sandyI have been ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Fibromyalgia (FMS), and Interstitial Cystitis for almost 20 years.  As a chronically ill patient, wife and mother, I have had to learn how to balance life while being sick all of the time.  It has also been difficult emotionally trying to deal with these illnesses.

In order to keep myself sane, and to show support and to help others, I decided to start the Fighting Fatigue website over three years ago.  During that time, I have had over 300,000 visitors and I am currently receiving over 25,000 visits a month.  I respond to emails and offer advice and tips to others who suffer like I do, and I also try to share my personal life and journey with chronic illness.

I bear my soul at times in hopes of helping someone else realize that they are not alone.

April 28, 2009

Taking Back Birth: Ina May Gaskin

Entrant: Venessa Tarbell
Nominee: Ina May Gaskin, Midwife, Director of the Farm Midwifery Center

Ina May Gaskin has been a tireless advocate for midwifery and the health of women for nearly forty years. Her unyielding faith in the ability of a woman’s body to birth a child, her trust in the process of birth, and her courageous criticism of unnecessary interventions in a woman’s pregnancy and labor have inspired countless mothers to take back their births. Her books are an inspiration to all who remain fascinated by the mother-fetus relationship and the process of childbirth.

When I was pregnant, I began questioning procedures that have become routine and the commonly accepted myth that childbirth is unavoidably terrifying. Ina May’s words reassured me that birth can and should be empowering and beautiful. I know that I am only one of many, many women who found comfort and inspiration in her writing and activism.

Thank you, Ina May!

April 28, 2009

Quality of Life: Jessica LeRoy

Entrant: Mark LeRoy
Nomninee: Jessica LeRoy, Clinical Director

jleroyoutdoor1I want to nominate my hero and my wife, Jessica LeRoy.

She had quite the tumultuous childhood rife with abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse. As a teenager she fell into drugs, alcohol, and ditching of classes. She had a great time in high school since it was one big party to her. When she made it to her senior year she was informed that she would not be graduating because she had failed too many classes.

That was a very pivotal point in her life.

It was proof as to how she felt about herself on the inside: stupid, worthless, and a failure. She ended up just barely graduating from high school, and then went on to a community college. From there she transferred to the University of Southern California where she was on the Dean’s List every semester, graduating with honors and a GPA of 3.8. Although the entire time she felt like a fraud. Afraid someone would find out she was really the loser she felt like.

A few years later after working at an art gallery and then in the entertainment industry, she started to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter. She decided that this is what she was meant to do. She went back to school and received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. When she thinks back on her history she is shocked that she was a girl who barely graduated from high school and now has a Master’s Degree with honors.

From there she started her private practice as a psychotherapist specializing in the Psychology of Women (www.jessicaleroy.com) and had a full case load within the first 4 months of opening. Currently, she is the Clinical Director of a center for women that she created. The goal of her new center is to help empower greater numbers of women to experience the quality of life they are striving for.

What she realized through her history and career path was that the chaos in her childhood and her own struggles with failure made her who she is today. She would not be able to do the work she does helping other women had she not struggled herself. I am sure there are still times she feels that someone is going to pull back the curtain and reveal that she is “failure,” but that it is not who she is anymore.

I am very inspired by my wife and think her story will be inspiration to others as well.

April 27, 2009

Impacting Lives in South Florida: Carol Cohan

Entrant: Penny Kfare Jacobs
Nominee: Carol Cohan, Executive Director, Women’s Emergency Network

carol-cohanCarol is the pro bono executive director of Women’s Emergency Network (WEN), an abortion fund in Miami, Florida.  She manages all facets of the organization including client care, coordination with clinics, volunteer force, and all administrative and fundraising activities.

Under her leadership, WEN’s operating budget increased from $60,000 per year to $250,000 per year and WEN’s client capacity increased from 170 to over 900. She has built a coalition of reproductive rights advocates and organizations to prevent passage of 2004 parental notification law, and when that law was passed, organized the first attorney assistance for minor girls seeking judicial waivers, a project which developed into the Florida Path Project providing pro-bono assistance for girls seeking judicial bypass throughout the State of Florida.

She also spearheaded a coalition to improve access to emergency contraception for low-income women, developing a multi-media awareness campaign, including a dedicated website www.ecnow.org, which was adopted by 17 communities nationwide.  She has been an inspiration to board members of abortion funds throughout Florida and the United States.

In conjunction with her leadership of WEN, Carol sits on the board of the National Network of Abortion Funds, where she co-chaired the Emergency Contraception Task Force. She is also a member of the Ethics Committee of the Health Council of South Florida, the Florida Healthy Teens Coalition, and the Florida Prevention First Coalition.

In addition, she served on Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Health Care Working Group, the Steering Committee of the Low Income Access Program of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, the Florida State Coalition for Women’s Health, and the planning committee of the Florida Abortion Conversation Project.  She is a 2007 recipient of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Woman of Valor award.

Carol is a true Women’s Health Hero!

April 27, 2009

Vulvalutionary: Dorrie Lane

Entrant: Self
Nominee: Dorrie Lane, Vulvalutionary

bastSeventeen years ago, in the foggy, summer light of San Francisco, the very first Wondrous Vulva Puppet was handmade, by me. I was a 40-year-old woman. At that time, there was NO representation of our  vulvas in an honorable, beautiful and embraceable way that satisfied me. I began with drawings and playing with different materials; finally,  I chose velvet and satin.

The simple message I attached to the puppet, “Share A Story”®, inspired the Vulva-lution! Most notably, Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. By making the Vulva Puppet available, I want to change the way women feel about their own bodies. I want them to know the vulva is the source of life. I want them to know how exquisitely beautiful  and unique our vulvas are; I want to remind the world the vulva is the source of life.  Most of all, I want the puppet to challenge the stigma of  shame, disrespect and invisibility.

I have handmade over 4,000 puppets. They are all over the world, stories are being shared, women are healing, waking up, becoming friends and supporters of our common threads and our unique lives. We are letting go of the negative messages we have of our bodies.

The puppets are named after ancient goddesses to inspire us and because it’s a puppet, she speaks all languages, in YOUR words.

The Puppets are still handmade, now in a women-owned Fair Trade co-op in Peru.

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April 27, 2009

The Ears to Listen and Understand: Heather Corinna

Entrant: Stephanie Kline
Nominee: Heather Corinna, Founder & Editor of Scarleteen

When I think of the word hero, what comes to the front of my mind is someone who is present through all of the tough times. They are the people wanting to make a change, and willing to take the steps others are unwilling or unable to, because of what society, friends, family, and even strangers may believe or say. A hero is the one who remains when there seems to be no other place to turn, the one who offers the helping hand and guidance that was being searched for all along.

With this understanding of a hero, if I were asked to show the world who a true Women’s Health Hero is, I would without hesitation say the Scarleteen organization and its founder Heather Corinna.

Scarleteen is a comprehensive, feminist sexual education resource. Everyday Heather and her volunteers give their time, offer a listening ear, and most importantly offer accurate information to teens and young adults, a group that often receives information that is inaccurate or incomplete.

At Scarleteen, young women are given the knowledge that their sexuality and sexual desires are complete on their own, rather than an answer to, or product of, male sexuality and sexual desire. Here women are encouraged to not only learn about themselves on a holistic level, but also to recognize and respect that the body and genitals of all people are active, engaged parts of a whole, rather than passive or objects.

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April 27, 2009

Nutrition and Fitness Advocate: Sheila Fawbush

Entrant: Kathy McCardwell
Nominee: Sheila Fawbush, County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences (Shelby County, Kentucky)

sheilas-camara-147I nominate Sheila Fawbush as my “women’s health hero” because of her work for the improved health of women in rural Shelby County, Kentucky.

As an agent for the University of Kentucky’s Extension Services, Sheila works in daily direct contact with women—and men and children—offering classes and workshops on a variety of topics focusing primarily on nutrition and fitness.

Her services are particularly valuable because they are available at no or low cost and are thus accessible to low-income individuals. She has also made a conscious effort to reach out to Shelby County’s large and growing (im)migrant population, offering mini-sessions to ESL groups on, for instance, making healthy and cheap choices when grocery shopping.

She also makes available, when possible, a range of trial products and services, ranging from milled flaxseed to cooking utensils to one-day passes to the local fitness facility. Because she promotes the health of women and families of Shelby County, and because she does so particularly with regard to often-underserved communities, including lower-income individuals and racial, ethnic, and language minority groups, Sheila Fawbush is a “home-grown” woman’s health hero.

April 24, 2009

Ensuring Women’s Rights: Elisabeth Sowecke

Entrant: Beth Robins
Nominee: Elisabeth Sowecke, Board Member and Co-Director of Case Management, DC Abortion Fund


Elisabeth Sowecke changes the trajectory of women’s lives every day. Imagine finding yourself pregnant, sure that abortion is your best option, and unable to pay for the procedure. Each year, thousands of women in this desperate situation reach out to the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) for emotional and financial support. When these women call the DCAF hotline, Elisabeth is frequently the advocate they find on the other end of the line.

Through her tireless work with the DCAF hotline, Elisabeth fields about 100 calls a month from women throughout the metropolitan DC area who can’t pay for the abortion they urgently need. These women call from the most desperate and tenuous of situations, and Elisabeth invests hours in each case.

Women who reach Elisabeth through DCAF find a compassionate supporter, a tenacious champion,and a knowledgeable guide. With any given call, Elisabeth might advise a woman on circumventing restrictions limiting access to family planning services, reach out to area clinics to negotiate on behalf of a patient, prepare a woman for what the abortion experience will be, coach someone to find funds in the unlikeliest of places, and offer DCAF funds to make up the critical difference.

When not answering the hotline, Elisabeth serves on the board of DCAF, co-directs the case management program, leads a dozen hotline volunteers, and raises money to replenish the fund. Perhaps most incredibly, Elisabeth does this on a volunteer basis in between working two paid jobs. In addition to her essentially full time volunteer work at DCAF, Elisabeth is a key member of the communications team at the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and is a patient counselor at a family planning clinic.

Friends and colleagues marvel that the many hours Elisabeth invests in her reproductive justice work never seem to diminish her spirit. She is consistently a shining example of kindness, humor, and an abiding spirituality. She generously shares her gentle spirit and poetic talent with the world at large through the inspired musings that make up her blog. By tirelessly giving of herself to ensure every woman’s right to healthcare, Elisabeth is truly a women’s health hero.

April 24, 2009

Sex and Disability Educator: Dr. Tuppy Owens

Entrant: Zelda Plum
Nominee: Dr. Tuppy Owens, Founder of The Outsiders

tuppyDr. Tuppy Owens founded Outsiders 30 years ago, for disabled men and women to find partners. She has continued to run this group ever since, and within it runs the V-Group for disabled women with sexual problems. She also runs the Sex and Disability Helpline and campaigns for visually and speech impaired people to receive more understanding so they can find partners.

She recently launched the TLC, which is a website for disabled men and women to find responsible sex workers. She is now working to improve the sex education that disabled teenagers receive, so that it is relevant to their disabilities. All this work is funded by her own fundraising events – the Erotic Awards that honour the stars in the erotic universe, and the Night of the Senses which is an all-night ball to offer guests a glimpse of what a mature sexually free society could be like, and welcomes disabled and shy people.

April 23, 2009

Their Birth, Their Way: Nikki Macfarlane

Entrant: Lynne F.
Nominee: Nikki Macfarlane, Founder of Childbirth International

Nikki Macfarlane advocates for informed choice. She believes we have the right to make personal choices about our health and we make better decisions when we understand the implications – pros and cons – of the choices available to us.

Nikki’s professional work has focused for many years on pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. She helps women and their partners discover all their options and make informed choices that lead to their own best possible physical, emotional, and spiritual health as they go through perhaps the most important transformation of their lives: giving birth and then becoming parents.

Nikki’s work began as she trained to be a childbirth educator, helping women truly have “their birth, their way.” Nikki listened to women demoralized by impersonal and routine approaches to maternity care and developed tools to help women gain the skills and acquire the knowledge they needed to make their births personal, healthy and free of unnecessary and unwanted interventions.

Nikki’s approach to helping parents prepare for birth and parenthood was unique – she emphasized communication skills, decision-making skills, reflection, and assertiveness skills. These were unconventional topics for a childbirth class at the time, but stemmed from the realization that traditional classes were not enough to help women reach their goals. Women needed more than just facts and figures. They needed to take charge of their own health care decisions and work with their caregivers rather than just learn “what to expect.”

And so Nikki created Childbirth International (CBI). It offers the most comprehensive training and certification programs for birth doulas, postpartum doulas, childbirth educators, and breastfeeding counselors anywhere in the world. With CBI, Nikki’s vision of preparation for birth as a time for parents to discover their own power and abilities can reach many more women through each doula and each educator trained.

CBI’s message is that birth is about physical health as well as emotional discovery, self-reliance as well as developing a community, and personal growth as well as family connection. CBI’s students come from over 60 countries across the globe, helping each student connect her local birth culture to the traditions of the wider world. Her initiatives have already affected thousands of women globally.

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April 23, 2009

Wind Beneath My Wings: Dr. Cheryl Holder

Entrant: Marie Perez
Nominee: Dr. Cheryl Holder, Internal Medicine

Sometimes in our lives, when we most need it, but least expect it, we find the person who we never thought we would find, “Our Hero.” And that is who I met in April 2006 when I suffered a pulmonary embolism, was hospitalized, and sent to a primary physician at the North Dade Health Center in Opa Locka, Florida.

At that present time, I had no money, was living (and still am) in a room in the house of a family member. I was suffering from a bad depression and it got to the point where life had no meaning for me. Until the first day Dr. Holder walked in the examination room and started to treat not just my sickness, but took me under her care. She was an angel sent from above, lifting me up from the bad depression I was going under.

This is a person, a doctor, we all need in our lives.

Her first sad experience was at the age of 12 when she lost her father. Some ambulance attendants decided he was not sick and didn’t bring him to a hospital. Yet, this didn’t make her change her devotion, care and love for medicine and outreach to helping others. On the contrary, she is always developing new programs to help and educate our community.

She developed Project Care (Community AIDS Reduction through Education). She raised more than $350,000 in funding for the Care program. At the North Dade Health Center that had around 16,000 patients, she was the head and successfully managed to pull the system together providing medical care to all of us that have no means.

Another of her many other great merits is F.I.U. School Of Medicine, which opened its doors in 2009. Many people have benefited from her contributions to this program. There are so many other awards and accomplishments that I could list, but it would be endless. Dr. Holder is a person who has no limitations when it comes to reaching out to others, educating, no matter what a person’s race or sex, or even if they have the means for medical assistance or not. She is always there.

Sadly, money comes first in medicine. But medicine is supposed to save lives, give hope, never give up, and fight till the end. That’s why she is a HERO, because she never leaves your side, and I can say that. Why? Because she never left mine. Life had meaning when she became the wind beneath my wings. For this, I have made her a web page and invite those of you who wish to meet my HERO to visit.

April 22, 2009

Keeping Readers in the Know: feministing.com

Entrant: Amy
Nominee: feministing.com

I would like to nominate the great blogging women of feministing.com as my Women’s Health Heroes. I have been enthusiastically reading feministing for quite some time and I feel that it gives young women a space to voice their concerns, in addition to learning about other’s perspectives on important health issues. The women of feministing deserve recognition for always keeping readers up-to-date and for also sharing lighter and funnier news.

April 22, 2009

Dedicated to Women’s Lives: Mary Ann Sorrentino

Entrant: Cynthia Weisbord
Nominee: Mary Ann Sorrentino, Former Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island (1977-1987)

For decades she has fought fearlessly and fiercely for the health rights of women. Mary Ann Sorrentino has spoken out on women’s behalf through a time and in a place which were rife with hostility toward the issue to which she devoted her formidable energies and her powerful  heart.

Mary Ann spent 10 years of her professional life as the  Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. Respectful of the position of pro-life advocates she encountered as the most visible and vocal spokesperson for the reproductive rights of women in Rhode Island, she spoke clearly, repeatedly and forcefully working to secure the means for them to control their bodies and exercise  their reproductive rights.

Mary Ann’s resume reads as the biography of a woman dedicated to helping women (and men)  through a wide variety of roles. She began her professional life as a social caseworker, became an outpatient unit manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, then taught high school English and Italian. Her passionate commitment to the equality of women took her next to  Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island (PPRI).

She became the Executive Director of the agency in 1977. At a time when abortion was a heated national issue, Mary Ann spoke and acted to provide the medical services that would make reproductive freedom a reality for the women of Rhode Island, despite attacks, some vicious and personal, on her and her family. For five of the ten years Mary Ann headed the agency I worked as its Education Director and formed a close friendship with her.  That friendship and working relationship made me only too aware of the punishment to which Mary Ann was subjected by many groups and individuals.

During her tenure as Executive Director of PPRI, the statewide agency provided contraceptive and abortion services to a patient load of 10,000 patients annually. Mary Ann took a personal interest in the agency’s patients and played a highly visible and vocal role, speaking on radio, appearing on television and before the state legislature, and addressing groups throughout the state in a wide variety of settings.

She is indeed a role model for many Rhode Island women and was named the Woman of the Year in 1986 by the Rhode Island Business and Professional Women’s organization.  In that same year she was honored with the Margaret Sanger Award and  the National Organization of Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award.  Demonstrating her ongoing commitment to the cause of women’s health, her book  “The A Word – Abortion: Real Women, Tough Choices, Personal Freedom” was published in 2006.

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April 21, 2009

Fighting Personhood Bills: National Advocates for Pregnant Women

Entrant: Anonymous
Nominee: National Advocates for Pregnant Women

I’d like to nominate National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) for the Our Bodies Ourselves Women’s Health Heroes contest.

NAPW is currently working to educate people about personhood bills, which are being sponsored in at least five states. These bills are a concerted effort of an organization called Personhood USA, and if a bill should be enacted it will give unborn fetuses “full state constitutional rights from the moment of fertilization.” This is very dangerous ground, and I’m glad NAPW is doing something about it.

How Personhood USA & The Bills They Support Will Hurt ALL Pregnant Women from NAPW on Vimeo.

April 20, 2009

The Courage to Act: Sonia Murdock

Entrant: Linda Lisi Juergens
Nominee: Sonia Murdock, Co-Founder, Postpartum Resource Center of New York

Sonia Murdock co-founded the Postpartum Resource Center of New York and currently serves as its executive director.

She began her involvement in this issue when her sister needed her help after suffering a postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter. Sonia was willing to sacrifice her career aspirations, “made do” without her car, and put the health and well-being of scores of women who were unknown to her ahead of herself. She has worked tirelessly to affect change and offer very needed services and referrals to women and families affected by this critical mental health issue.

Sonia realized how few resources there were for women suffering from postpartum mood disorders, and how many professionals and para-professionals don’t know enough about these disorders or how to recognize the symptoms.

Scores of women have been helped with support and referrals at the Resource Center, and Sonia is tireless in getting the message out about these disorders and raising people’s consciousness so they know what to look for. She has done many speaking engagements to educate and raise people’s awareness of these issues due to a renewed public interest in the subject in the wake of the Andrea Yates situation.

She’s been featured on MSNBC, the Rikki Lake Show, Telecare’s God Squad, New York Daily News, and the Washington Post.  Sonia has also spoken to legislators about things that could be implemented to reduce negative outcomes.

With Sonia’s help, the Postpartum Resource Center of NY was also involved in a model Maternal Depression Outreach Project, along with other agencies (namely, LI’s United Way Success By Six, the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, the National Center of the Parent-Child Home Program and the Marks Family Right From the Start 0 – 3 Center of North Shore Child & Family Guidance) to offer a conference on these issues and to provide support groups for affected women.

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April 20, 2009

What Heroes Are All About: Susan Quilliam

Entrants: Laura Bates and Joy Haughton
Nominee: Susan Quilliam, Sex and Relationship Psychologist

Susan Quilliam is an author, relationship psychologist and broadcaster, and an expert in women’s sexuality. Throughout her career she has raised awareness of issues surrounding women’s health and particularly women’s sexual health, and has worked tirelessly to break the taboos surrounding it.

We, the undersigned, having worked with Susan for almost four years, are still continually impressed at the depth of her commitment to women’s health issues and the breadth of her knowledge. She is a born educator and uses her talents to bring greater understanding of women and women’s health to a huge range of people, including health professionals, counsellors, policy makers, pharmaceutical companies, charities and, of course, women themselves.

Reacting to a deeply personal experience, Susan wrote her first book, “Positive Smear,” to challenge the deeply harmful social assumptions surrounding positive cervical smear results, shattering the myths that a positive smear is a result of promiscuity. It was a groundbreaking book which provided emotional support for the first time to women going through this traumatic experience.

Through tireless work with the Journal of Family Planning, the Family Planning Association, Relate and many other charitable organisations, Susan has dedicated a huge amount of time and effort to the cause of women’s healthcare, from her long personal replies to every woman who writes to her with a problem, no matter how obscure, to her support of cervical cancer sufferers and women in abusive relationships.

For many women suffering from sexual or reproductive healthcare problems can be deeply traumatic, not just due to the condition itself, but due to the social taboos surrounding these problems. Often the women I’ve seen turn to Susan have come to her as a last resort, with nobody else to confide in, nowhere else to turn. Her response is always warm, compassionate, swift and encouraging, and the depth of gratitude and happiness in the replies we receive from those she has helped are the strongest testament to the importance of the work she does.

We have watched Susan bring rooms full of hardened pharmaceutical reps to tears as she impressed on them the impact cervical cancer has on women’s lives. We have sorted the piles of delighted letters and emails that flooded in after Susan presented a psychological model for dealing with pre-menstrual syndrome at a charity conference. We have seen the light dawn in the eyes of doctors, nurses and even patients as Susan explains that no, erectile dysfunction doesn’t just affect the man – it is a couple problem.

But perhaps what impresses us more than any of these, is that although we didn’t see Susan take on the medical establishment twenty years ago in London, to persuade them of the emotional significance of a positive smear (pap) test – we’ve heard about it… from the doctors themselves. And that, for us, is lasting impact. And that is what Heroes are all about.

April 20, 2009

Wild Feminine: Tami Lynn Kent

Entrant: Sarah E. Wylie, ND Midwife
Nominee: Tami Lynn Kent, Women’s Health Physical Therapist


Tami Lynn Kent is a scribe for those of us pioneering back into the frontier we collectively left behind, the Wild Feminine.  Tami’s gift is to illuminate, and create a specific language for us to communicate about the female energetic presence within our flesh.

Tami Lynn is a mother to three sons, and women’s health physical therapist.  Her hunt for the Wild Feminine, our divine femininity has brought us riches!  She has sat with us, hours with hundreds of women, who have complaints that would otherwise fall on deaf ears.  She is the healer who listens to the vagina, the sentient organ who never lies.  Tami has brought relief to hundreds of ladies who couldn’t enjoy sexual intercourse, or suffer with vague or specific feelings of pain and unrest, or struggle with post-partum hurts.

This year Tami has presented us with a book, “Wild Feminine: Finding Power, Spirit, & Joy in the Root of the Female Body,” that clearly connects us to what she has discovered in her uniquely defined profession.  This book brings together all that she has learned about the pelvic bowl, the wellspring of creative and healing spiritual energy, the place where spirit becomes matter.

This book covers the physical as well as the spiritual-energetic systems of the female body. It is written from a truly a unique perspective and will weave together the lessons we have learned from our great teachers, Dr. Northrup, Dr. Arvigo, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Caroline Myss and Ina May Gaskin — to name just a few. This book is also written in a way that all students of natural medicine and women’s health, regardless of experience or training can comprehend.

Tami’s pioneering work is also reflected in her way of being.  She is the least conflicted self-employed mother that I know.  From her grounded pelvic bowl, she seems to know exactly how and where to set limits upon her work in the world outside her family.  As a working mother, I reference her and then remember to connect to my pelvic bowl whenever I feel conflicted about the demands from my professional relations.  Mothering our children and our masterpieces comes from this core space in the pelvic bowl.  Tami, by way of her awareness, intelligent perspective and artful writing, is offering us the opportunity to dig in to our birthright, the divine feminine who lives within each of us.

Tami Lynn Kent is a true hero for the female body and the feminine within all bodies.  Let us make her book Wild Feminine a classic now, so that together we can heal the earth and her peoples, from this place of centered femininity.

April 20, 2009

A Doula in Full Bloom: Pat Neilsen

Entrant: Danielle Roderick
Nominee: Pat Neilsen, Doula, Childbirth Educator

Pat Nielsen is an inspiration. To me, she demonstrates both the high quality of care and empowerment that is available in the reproductive health community, and the influence that one voice can have in changing an entire community’s awareness.

I met Pat as part of a doula meeting, before I knew what a doula was. I was writing an article about doulas and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found a community of intelligent and engaged advocates for women’s health.

Pat was a childbirth educator at one of two hospitals in Athens, Georgia. The climate towards maternal health care in Georgia is quite conservative, and Athens easily met those standards. I attended the childbirth education classes taught by other staff of the hospital, and was surprised by how few options they offered patients. Instead of a class on the birth process, it seemed to be a class in how to be an ideal patient for the hospital staff to deal with efficiently.

And then I went to Pat’s class at the hospital.

Along with the standard classes, she offered an extra supplement called “Special Delivery” that was about pain management and preparing for the overall birth process. Everything that was part of her supplemental class seemed to be vital information that should have been the core of the standard classes. She encouraged parents, made them excited about their labors, and prepared them for the work ahead (epidural or none).  Her passion for healthy mamas was contagious, and everybody in the room seemed to pick up more confidence about their labors.

She also organized an infant loss support group, and is one of the best doulas I have ever met. In my own training as a doula, I often heard women hope or lament that they could secure Pat for their labors because of her calm, nurturing demeanor, and her immense knowledge. She did other wonders, like connecting women who need support with volunteer doulas, and bridging the gap between the hospital and doula communities in Athens, encouraging increased understanding between both groups (removing stereotypes that got in the way of working together to make better birth experiences for parents).

Besides all of this great work, a year ago, Pat left her position at the hospital to start her own birth and parenting resource center in Athens, called Full Bloom Pregnancy and Early Parenting Center. She has created a place that foremost offers support to new parents.  She offers information, childbirth education classes, support circles, doula introductions, breastfeeding workshops, cloth diapering information, and all sorts of things that never had a place to be discussed in Athens before.

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April 17, 2009

Volunteer Doula: Rose Marie Bertrand

Entrant: Amy Gilliland
Nominee: Rose Marie Bertrand, Volunteer Doula

As a society we place little value on caring for others, and render invisible those who are vulnerable and most needy of our attention. Rose Marie Bertrand has never said “no” to a woman who needed her services, even when it was in the middle of the night or in the middle of a family celebration.

For over ten years, Rose Marie has been a volunteer doula, staying with women continuously while they were in labor and several hours after they gave birth to their babies. She has attended the births of hundreds of women who could not afford her services, and has done so for free.

Rose Marie meets with women during their pregnancy, getting to know them, their complicated lives, and their dreams for their births.  “Doula-ing” a mother is about understanding that mother as an individual, and supporting her in the way she needs. Some mothers need a friend, some a sister, and some a mother. Offering labor support means being on call and available twenty four hours a day and seven days a week, for weeks on end.

Many of her mothers are teenage parents, poor, or in prison. But all have been grateful for her presence. Doula care is hard physical work! It means breathing with mothers, helping them into positions, and coaching them that they can do it. Often, giving birth is one of the most demanding experiences they have ever gone through. But Rose Marie is there with an open heart and hands to hold.

I’ve known Rose Marie for twenty years and admired her for almost as long. She’s served on boards of national birth organizations, and started a local chapter of the Cesarean Prevention Movement (now ICAN). It was active for many years and made a huge impact on women’s options, and birthing rooms were built at our local hospitals. They were part of the first wave in the nation to do so.

Rose Marie Bertrand did that. She championed women’s rights and prerogatives in labor in our area as a childbirth educator and consumer advocate. Finally, she founded Small Miracles Volunteer Doula Services about ten years ago. Now there are at least ten active doulas attending births for mothers who can’t afford to pay for their services.

But to me, Rose Marie is most deserving of this award because of her steadfast belief that no one should have to labor alone, with strangers coming in and out of the room. She quickly becomes a mother’s friend and serves her in the way that mom needs. Hundreds of mothers have had empowering birth experiences that would not have happened if she wasn’t there.

April 17, 2009

Real Courage: The Our Whole Lives Program

Entrant: Jane Ellen Teller
Nominee: The Unitarian Universalist Association’s ‘Our Whole Lives’ Program

Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a year long sexuality course for people of different ages run by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The course for 11-13 year old youth prepares them for the sexual decisions that teenagers must make. They must have their parents permission to do this, so perhaps the parents should also be nominated for this award also.

The year long, weekly classes cover the following areas: values, sexuality and body awareness, gender diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity, relationships, love making, preparing for parenthood, responsible sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse of sexuality.

The UUA shows real courage in developing and offering this program to youth. It is sometimes controversial in the current political climate, but having this knowledge has proven to be an advantage for the OWL graduates.

April 16, 2009

Students for Choice Founder: Kate Rodhenburg

Entrant: Julie Miller
Nominee: Kate Rodhenburg, Founder of Students for Choice at Northeastern University

April 15, 2009

Citizens for Midwifery: Susan Hodges

Entrant: Molly Remer
Nominee: Susan Hodges, President, Citizens for Midwifery


Susan Hodges was a founding member of Citizens for Midwifery in the early 90′s and continues to serve tirelessly as the organization’s President. CfM is the only national consumer organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the Midwives Model of Care.

Susan travels, speaks, and writes extensively on behalf of consumers seeking access to midwifery services nationwide. Susan is a treasure-trove of information about birth activism, women’s health, midwifery care, grassroots organizing, legislative efforts, and consumer issues in health care. She also has a special interest in violence against women in the birthplace (and how this is so often ignored/overlooked).

Susan has spent her life working for better birth options for mothers and babies!

April 15, 2009

Defying the Odds: Rev. Beverly Boyarsky

Entrant: Anonymous
Nominee: Rev. Beverly Boyarsky

Beverly Boyarsky’s life as she knew it came to a screeching halt in 2004. A true activist of animal rights, LGBT rights and woman’s issues, she was a strong force on Long Island for many years. A public relations exec and spokesperson, she received a lifetime achievement award, among other honors.

But in 2004 she was diagnosed with a rare, incurable muscle disease and became bedridden and totally dependent on others. Despite the odds, Beverly started keeping a blog and has touched thousands of lives. Additionally, she is now an ordained minister and is pursuing her doctoral degree with hopes to work with chronically/terminally ill patients and their families.

She raises money each year for The Myositis Association and is trying to have a large music fest to raise tons of cash to find a cure. As a musician and writer, Beverly continues to reach out despite her current health status. Her blog has saved many lives and her strength remains an inspiration to all those that she has touched.

Contest Administrator Note: In addition to the vote total shown, we’re including 32 votes that could not be tallied within the system. See comment below for more information.

April 14, 2009

Enchanted Makeovers: Terry Grahl

Entrant: Self
Nominee: Terry Grahl, President/Founder of Enchanted Makeovers

I am an award-winning interior decorator and mother to four children whose mission is to give hope to “at risk” women and children. Transforming the shelters that save people’s lives into beautiful sanctuaries that heal their spirit.

For my mother, making a home where her children felt safe and their spirits could soar was just as important as keeping them fed and clothed. Improving and decorating our modest home expressed  love for her family.  Through her example, I learned to envision possibilities, creatively shape environments, and the value of hard work involved in transformations.

From that seed came a love for decorating which began with family and friends, blossomed into a thriving business called Terry’s Enchanted Cottage, and ultimately became Enchanted Makeovers, an organization that changes shelters for women and children into places of peace and possibilities.  (Not just where basic needs are met, but spiritual needs for hope and beauty also).

The journey began in January of 2007, when the coordinator of a fund-raising event for a local shelter expressed that he would be grateful if I would agree to paint even a single wall.  As I viewed the depressing conditions, old prison beds, mold, decrepit paneling, the dingy, sad-looking area where women and children came to escape from domestic violence, or stayed to deal with drug addictions, I found my calling.  I vowed to create a space for those women and children that would revive their broken spirits and help them heal.

Operating from the belief that our environment affects the way we feel about ourselves, how we see the world, and our place in it, I undertook a two year transformation of Grace Centers of Hope Women’s Shelter in Pontiac, Michigan. Armed with vision and belief that we can act to make our dreams reality, family, friends and community volunteers were recruited and organized to transform the shelter’s bedrooms.  Donations of money and goods were solicited. Professional contractors and painters were invited to participate.

An extreme makeover replaced rooms of drab paneling, mismatched bedding and dreary, institutional colors, and in its place,  a bright, cheerful, caring space emerged, punctuated by positive affirmations and items meant to inspire faith, and belief in the power to make dreams a reality. To emphasize the connection between transforming your environment and changing your life, a motivational speaker conducted a workshop to encourage the shelter’s women to create their own vision of the future, how they would like to transform their own lives into something beautiful.

The work continues as we build a network of volunteers and donors nationwide. We have already begun work on our next “extreme makeover,” benefiting abused girls in our community. We are visibly demonstrating that people care, showing the girls they are worthy of something better than what they’ve had, creating a lasting lesson that transformations are possible, and that beauty can rise from ashes.

April 13, 2009

Founder of FORWARD: Efua Dorkenoo

Entrant: Tobe Levin
Nominee: Efua Dorkenoo, Founder of FORWARD (UK), Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.)

From Ghana but now a resident in London, Efua Dorkenoo is a pioneering activist against female genital mutilation(FGM) who began going public against this horror in the early 1980s. She founded The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD) and headed the organization until tapped to run the World Health Organization’s newly launched global campaign against FGM.

She is the author of Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, the Practice and its Prevention (1994), on the list of 100 best African books of the 20th century. Efua advised Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar in making the documentary Warrior Marks (1993); Efua appears in the video explaining her work with Somali women who wrote a play against FGM but decided not to put it on, for, they insisted, women fighting the practice can be killed.

Knowing that African women activists against female genital mutilation do indeed risk their lives, I think it would be wonderful to reward them for their courage.

Bibliography of publications by Efua Dorkenoo:
Cutting The Rose: Female Genital Mutilation the Practice and its Prevention (1994)
Report of the First Study Conference of Genital Mutilation of Girls in Europe/ Western World (1993)
Child Protection and Female Genital Mutilation: Advice for Health, Education, and Social Work Profession (1992)
Female Genital Mutilation: Proposals for Change (co-authored) (1992)
Tradition! Tradition: A symbolic story on female genital mutilation (1992)

April 13, 2009

My Sistah-Friend: Lula Christopher

Entrant: Zakiya Alake
Nominee: Lula Christopher, President & CEO, Boston Black Women’s Health Initiative


I first remember Lula Christopher sitting a silent vigil during my first mammogram after a clinical breast exam revealed some troubling lumps. I was impressed that she was there on a Saturday, at this special program for uninsured women.

I was so afraid and isolated among strangers. Seeing her calm, beautiful face had a tremendous impact on my well-being that day. Later she seemed as genuinely pleased to learn they were benign as I.

From that point in 1998, Lula Christopher has been my touchstone for Black women’s health issues and women’s health in general.  Lula gives freely of her time, talents and treasures to assist others to grow and mature.  She is a tremendous leader in that she invests in developing other women into leaders.

She’s my sistah-friend and a great friend to the community at large, keeping us abreast of developments in women’s health on a broad range of issues.

In 2000, Lula joined a very grassroots effort to organize a team of women to build a float for that year’s Caribbean Carnival with a breast health theme.  Although I didn’t seek it, I was appointed chair of the committee. I was still learning to cope with cognitive delays from a recent hysterectomy. Real or not, I felt my thinking process was extremely slow and that at times some of the women were making fun of me.

Though I wanted to resign and go home in defeat, Lula supported me to think through and process what was needed of me.  From budgets to crafting chants to inspire the crowd to support the women in their lives to get annual clinical breast health exams, to identifying sources for giveaways (including some Mardi Gras themed beads that teach women to identify what lumps feel like!), Lula was there.

When disaster stuck me during Carnival and I fainted from dehydration, it was Lula who gave up her day at Carnival to bring me to the Emergency Medical Team Tent. It was Lula who spent hours at her house nursing me back to health until I could be safely escorted home. Then, I learned later she had to go back home and prepare for a major presentation to a funder that was due the next week. Lula Christopher is a Servant Leader and deserves your award.

April 13, 2009

My Sister the Health Activist: Stephanie Herold

Entrant: Lauren Herold
Nominee: Stephanie Herold, Women’s Health Activist

This is an interview with my older sister, Steph Herold, a college senior who already has helped countless women with her passion for variety of different kinds of activism.

April 10, 2009

Lamaze Childbirth Preparation Method: Elisabeth Bing

Entrant: Harriet R. Barry
Nominee: Elisabeth Bing, Lamaze International Co-Founder

Elisabeth BingElisabeth Bing, co-founder of the Lamaze Childbirth Preparation Method in the USA almost 50 years ago, made a major contribution in achieving Family Centered Maternity and changed birth in America for the better  for all time.

Birth in the 19th and 20th centuries went from the home to the hospital and was characterized by routine intervention with women being heavily drugged, restrained and isolated. By 1960, with co-founder Marjorie Karmel, Elisabeth Bing developed a grassroots movement with the support of only a few obstetricians, and showed that medical management was not necessarily safer.

Training couples with the Lamaze Method, which encompassed support for laboring women.  She would say, “Physicians must learn to keep their hands in their pockets unless there are specific medical indications.”

Her contribution to public health, pregnant women, safety of the newborn, their partners and the family is monumental.

April 10, 2009

Rocket Woman: Robin Rothrock

Entrant: Deborah Serbanic
Robin Rothrock, Clinic owner and manager


I saw the announcement about nominating someone for a “Women’s Health Hero” on the website for Our Bodies Ourselves. My first thought was for Robin Rothrock. She is the owner and manager of the abortion clinic (Hope Medical Group for Women) in Shreveport, LA. She has dedicated her life to bringing abortion care to a part of our country that is not open to abortion or birth control. She has stuck with it through thick and thin: clinic assaults, fire bombs, protesters, and state regulations aimed at reducing access to abortion care.

In addition to the “everyday sacrifices” of running an abortion clinic, she has had to deal with her own serious health issues that may have side tracked another person. She continues to work with her staff to provide the best abortion care she can and to defend a woman’s right to abortion care services. She has been to court so many times to fight for what she knows is right and true.

We are so very fortunate that Robin moved to Shreveport, LA from Satellite Beach, FL to run our clinic. Also, that she continues to keep the clinic open while going through chemo and traveling back and forth between the clinic and her home in Florida. Bless her for being our Rocket Woman!

April 9, 2009

1960s Abortion Counselor: Michele Gregg

Entrant: Ashley E. Bowen
Nominee: Michele Gregg, Former Abortion Counselor (1960s)

Pictured below is entrant Ashley E. Bowen
Ashely E. Bowen

April 9, 2009

Always Care for Yourself: Jo Ell East

Entrant: Brittney
Nominee: Jo Ell East

My Mommy will always be my health hero. In more ways than one, she showed me, my sister and all my girl friends what it is like to be a healthy, sexually active and health conscious woman. I will never be ashamed of my body, and always care for my health because that’s the way my Mommy taught me to be.

She is a survivor of DV [domestic violence], the verbal and physical kind, and never never NEVER let that stop her from living or raising my sister and me in a safe (away from him) loving, body affirming home.

More then once she has taught and still teaches the women around us it is all right and perfectly healthy to be single, sexually open, healthy and safe from DV!

I’m going all teary eyed now…Thanks Mommy.

April 9, 2009

She is Amazing: Jessica Yee

Entrant: Peggy Cooke
Nominee: Jessica Yee, Founder and Director of Native Youth Sexual Health Network

Jessica YeeJessica Yee is the most active and inspiring young activist in Canada today, hands down. In addition to founding the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, she works tirelessly on behalf of women, youth and indigenous people in our country.

Jessica is a proud, self-identified indigenous feminist, and a strong warrior for reproductive rights. She tirelessly travels all over North America, educating young people on healthy relationships, campaigning for abortion rights, and advocating for better access to reproductive services.

Jessica is actively involved in many grassroots organizations and lives her beliefs every day. Personally she is down-to-earth, intelligent and warm. Everything she does serves to lift up and empower other young women in their struggles. She is a brilliant writer, and contributes regularly to widely read blogs like Feministing and Racialicious. She is never afraid to ask tough questions and to challenge herself and others.

Jessica Yee is amazing.

April 9, 2009

If You Own a Uterus: Caroline Baker-Drake

Entrant: Christine Nerney-Zapetis
Nominee: Caroline Baker-Drake, Adjunct Professor – Human Sexuality

Caroline Baker-Drake is an adjunct professor of human sexuality at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York, a small college in a semi-rural and very conservative area of upstate New York.

Ms. Baker-Drake is one of the most engaging and dynamic teachers I have ever had the pleasure to know. She has a phenomenal knowledge of human sexuality and sexual health, which, when coupled with her down-to-earth, common-sense approach and unabashed sense of humor, makes for a rollicking great class.

She stays up to the minute and informed in all aspects of human sexuality, her lectures are incredibly informative, plus she brings in guest speakers from agencies such as AIDs Rochester and Planned Parenthood. She is absolutely committed to providing her students with vital and potentially lifesaving information.  My favorite line from class…”If you own a uterus or know someone who owns a uterus, you need to know this.”

She’s very approachable, never seems shocked by questions or comments, and is always completely non-judgmental. She creates such a comfortable and respectful environment that a class of men and women, of all ages, ethnicities, orientations, and abilities feel comfortable asking questions, sharing, and discussing their own experiences. She is very sensitive to the needs of her students and respectful of their boundaries and, while she would never embarrass someone, she demands honesty and self-awareness from all her students.

Ms. Baker-Drake provides so much more than just facts and information; she provides a forum for sexual health, she encourages dialogue, she challenges assumptions and she promotes healthy and responsible relationships. I took her class as an adult student with what I thought was a fairly comprehensive knowledge of human sexuality and not only did I enjoy every moment, but I learned a great deal. In fact, I recommended my teenage daughter take the class, too.

Ms. Baker-Drake is an incredible asset to this college and she is exactly the type of educator young (and older!) people need. She is, in every way, a Women’s Health Hero!

April 9, 2009

My Mother: Nanette Therese Rawlins

Entrant: Augusta Rawlins-Rader
Nominee: Nanette Therese Rawlins, My Mother

It might seem odd to many of you that I choose to nominate my mother, Nanette Therese Rawlins, for a Women’s Health Heroes Award, but that is exactly what she is to me. While most parents dodge the issue of sex in relation to their children, especially in regards to young girls, and rely on school health teachers to teach their girls about their bodies, my mom never took that approach. Always honest, frank, and trusting, my mother has been a guide for my personal health for all of my life, making her a true Women’s Health Hero.

When I was just a little girl, I asked the question all little girls and boys ask their parents: “ Where do babies come from?” Some parents may, in response to this, launch into stories about storks and cabbage patches, and some may whip out the tried and true “I’ll tell you when you’re older!” However, my mother had faith in me and my mental capacity.

In a simplified version suited for a six year old, she explained the real way babies come into this world, no flying birds or vegetation attached. As I grew older, she gradually adjusted her explanations of this process as my maturity level and knowledge base increased. Having learned on the school bus about sex, my mother was forthcoming and sincere in her information to me; she did not want me to be her in her youth, running up the driveway to her home after school with tears in her eyes, asking her mother if the explanation of sex were “true”.
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April 8, 2009

Inspiring Professor: Dr. Alice Prince

Entrant: Misty Betancourt
Nominee: Dr. Alice Prince, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

Alice Price is an inspiring Women’s Health Hero. I remember forever being intimidated by her intelligence, assertiveness and her refusal to tiptoe around anything. As a Senior Biology major, I happened to enroll in one of her “Community Health” classes for elective credit. Her introduction to the discipline of Community Health prompted me to change my major a few weeks later.

Dr. Prince always had exceedingly high expectations. She enabled students to learn through non-traditional projects that provided a great understanding of how the real world works. I always enjoyed every one of her college courses. I left with a greater knowledge of my own health and how to better aid other’s in improving their health.

I am now a science teacher and hope that I am able to have the same impact on my students. I have talked to many former classmates over the last 10 years and one of the first people ever mentioned is ALICE. I have always wanted to tell Dr. Prince thanks for her many life lessons, namely reminding me to spell check, as heroin is not the same as heroine.

April 8, 2009

Canadian Clinic Manager: Simone Leibovitch

Entrant: Peggy Cooke
Nominee: Simone Leibovitch, Clinic Manager, Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic

Simone is the manager of the abortion clinic where I work as an office assistant and volunteer co-ordinator. I have worked with her for two years.

Simone is kind, humble and honest. She worked at a women’s shelter for twenty years, and her commitment to helping women is evident in everything she does. She recognizes every patient as an individual, with her own story and experiences, and her own unique decisions to make. Simone is always respectful of patients’ beliefs and feelings, and it is always clear that the final decision is up to the patient.

Over the last year, things have been difficult at the clinic. Along with the constant pressure from the (very strong) anti-choice organization in our city (whose headquarters are next door to the clinic), the flood last Spring did considerable damage to our building. Simone has dealt with this extra financial and emotional pressure with class. She always makes herself available to the patients and staff. She has been 100% accommodating to me in every way a boss can be.

I am very proud of our clinic, and I know that Simone is largely responsible for the atmosphere of professionalism and respect here. She is living proof that abortion can be accessed in a safe and caring facility, and it doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. Simone is my hero because she gives women in very emotional situations the room to vent, to express themselves and to be respected and cared for.

April 7, 2009

MA Senate President: Therese Murray

Entrant: Cheryl Bartlett
Nominee: Therese Murray, Massachusetts Senate President

I am nominating the Senate President for her strong leadership and support for issues and concerns that impact the lives of women across the Commonwealth. She has been a role model and mentor for women as a single parent who raised her daughter on her own and at the same time worked hard to develop the skills and experience to facilitate her rise to be the first woman senate president in Massachusetts.

She continues to help woman acquire the confidence they need to seek to improve themselves and is a constant source of encouragement for women she encounters in both her personal and professional lives.

She has hired and appointed women to staff and leadership positions within the senate and legislature, and she has provided internships and guidance to many women to help provide opportunities for individual growth. She stood up in the senate as a young, new senator and fought to give equal access to women legislators, for example there was no bathroom in the senate chamber for her and her female colleagues and she persuaded the leadership to provide equal access.

She promotes successful women to her male colleagues and business associates for positions of leadership in organizations dominated by men and is relentless with her advocacy for women from all walks of life.

At Christmas she hosts a party that raises funds for homeless children and throughout the year she attends endless charity events contributing both her time and money to support the many nonprofits that make a difference in the lives of women and children. In her free time she has worked in Russia to improve public health and the social conditions that increase risks for chronic health conditions.

Despite her jammed packed schedule she maintains a large and close circle of female friends who she generously gives time to listen to their concerns and to offer support however she can to make a positive difference in their lives. As one of those friends it is quite humbling to observe her level of commitment to many important causes, especially those that prioritize the issues of most importance to women wherever she goes.

April 6, 2009

A Changing Force: Carolee Dunivan

Entrant: Margie Levy
Nominee: Carolee Dunivan, Certified Nurse Midwife

Carolee Dunivan, Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), left a successful midwifery practice at UCLA to make many positive changes at one of LA’s largest and most protocol driven hospitals. She gave up being supported and appreciated as a CNM to enter an unfamiliar environment where some some may not have been too happy to see a midwife enter their domain.

Up until then, there were no midwives at this hospital, either on staff or with privileges. The hospital was not always an easy place to deliver for women wanting a birth experience free of interventions. Due to lack of choices in LA, women found themselves delivering there with care providers that they liked, but in a hospital that did not always support the choices they made to help them achieve an unmedicated birth.

It has been about  four years since Carolee began this mission and I’ll tell you, she must have the patience of a saint! She has ever so slowly made many changes for the better. As a doula, I used to be very concerned when going to a birth there, and now I look forward to it. One of the key changes is that the residents are now learning from CNMs about the process of normal birth.

I witnessed a resident catch a 9 pound, 8 oz. baby under Carolee’s instruction. She had him put the betadine away, and keep his hands out of this mother while the she delivered her baby onto the bed which was not broken down. Carolee had the resident gently support the baby as it came out and onto the bed without manual manipulation.

This mother actually chose to deliver on her back, but once the baby was out, Carolee told the resident to help the father put the baby on the mother’s tummy. She also stopped the resident from clamping and cutting the cord immediately (as the mother wished). The resident admitted that he had never done a birth like that before and I’m thinking that he did not even know it was possible.

I imagine that his faith in a mother’s ability to birth her own baby (even a big one) without intervention was completely changed that night. I can also imagine that if this is just one birth that I witnessed like this, how many other residents Carolee has impacted. I realize that these new residents will choose to practice how they will, but at least they have seen more of what is possible, and Carolee is responsible for that.

This is a huge hospital with many, many students and residents. And now, the residents have an better opportunity to learn that women can deliver their babies without medical interventions if they wish to, thanks to Carolee Dunivan.

April 6, 2009

Assisting Women with Obstetric Fistulas: Helen Weld

Entrant: Michele Chausse
Nominee: Helen Weld, Public Health Nurse

I do not know Helen personally, but I admire her efforts to assist women with obstetric fistulas in Africa, in addition to her other volunteer activities around the world.

Pictured below Helen (back row, center) and patients.

[Ed. note: Also see Helen's blog about her work and travels: http://www.hwph.blogspot.com]

Courtesy of the West Africa Institute

April 6, 2009

Breastfeeding Pioneer: Karin Cadwell

Entrant: Margaret H. Naylor, CNM, MPH, FACCE

Nominee: Karin Cadwell, PhD, RN, FAAN, IBCLC, Consultant – Healthy Children Project

Karin Cadwell is my new Heroine. Her dedication to mothers and babies has had a profound impact on me and I’m sure on all those she has taught and mentored.

Karin is a Breastfeeding Pioneer. She has worked tirelessly with patients, with care providers, with hospitals and health care agencies and with the public to promote Breastfeeding as the norm for women in the United States.

She is a leader who has motivated individuals not just on the local and state level, but also on the national and international fronts to protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers and babies.

From my point of view, she is one of those “unsung heroes” who never asks to be honored, but deserves to be.

Her enthusiasm for empowering women to reclaim breastfeeding in our country is both laudable and contagious. She does this work against obstacles that persist in our society that prevent women from realizing the full, potential benefits of breastfeeding for women, children, families and the health of the American public.

She has dedicated her life to this work and deserves recognition for all she has done and all she will do.

With all the evidence she has reviewed and all the time she has spent working with women and women’s health care providers, she continues to protect, promote and support a woman’s right to breastfeed her child.

I am very proud to nominate Karin Cadwell to be a recognized Women’s Health Hero by Our Bodies Ourselves.

April 6, 2009

International Women’s Advocate: Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng

Entrant: Meredeth Turshen
Nominee: Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, Executive Director of Isis Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange

Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng is the Executive Director of Isis Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange. Under her leadership, Isis-WICCE advocates for the rights of women in more than 50 countries through training and skills building, documents women’s realities, and urges governments and international bodies to recognize women’s voices.

Since 1997 she has coordinated documentation of violations of women’s human rights in situations of armed conflict in Uganda, southern Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. She writes about women’s human rights, conflict resolution, and gender based violence.

April 6, 2009

Women’s Bioethics Project: Kathryn Hinsch

Entrant: Anonymous
Nominee: Kathryn Hinsch, Founding Director and Board President, Women’s Bioethics Project

Kathryn Hinsch

Kathryn Hinsch has always been fascinated with technology; she joined Microsoft in 1986 because she saw the potential for technology to change how we work and live. The emergence of biotechnology has been particularly fascinating for Ms. Hinsch because of its potential to change the way we think about being human.

Ms. Hinsch founded the Women’s Bioethics Project in June 2004 because of her concern that the rapid advance of biotechnology is quickly outpacing our ability as a society to absorb the affect it will have on our lives. From stem cell research to the Schiavo case, bioethics has created a whole new world of issues and questions.

Ms. Hinsch was particularly driven to include women’s voices and life experiences in debate and policymaking on bioethical issues because of how directly women’s bodies and roles are touched by them. She believes that women bring a vital perspective to all issues that affect society, and therefore it is critical for their perspectives to be included in all bioethical public policy and debate.

To that end, the Women’s Bioethics Project promotes the thoughtful application of biotechnology to improve the status of women’s lives. It also seeks to protect vulnerable populations by anticipating unintended consequences, safeguarding women’s bodies from harm and ensuring that women’s life priorities are recognized.

Ms. Hinsch worked Microsoft Corporation for 12 years prior to pursuing her passion for bioethics and its impact on women. At Microsoft, she was focused on systems software, development tools, and new media.  Her last position was as Senior Director of Worldwide Marketing for Windows CE. Before joining Microsoft, she worked in a variety of public policy and political positions.

Ms. Hinsch has a B.A. in Political Economy from the Evergreen State College and has completed all requirements for the Master of Science in Bioethics, as well as a certificate in clinical ethics, from Albany Medical College. Ms. Hinsch is an alumna of the Stanford Executive Program, a member of the Association of Bioethics and Humanities and the Neuroethics Society. She was pursuing a Master of Divinity degree, with an emphasis on bioethics, at Harvard University before taking a leave to found the Women’s Bioethics Project. She currently serves as the project’s executive director and board president.

She is an inspirational leader and someone that I think serves as a wonderful role model.  I hope you will consider her for this award, as she has had a huge impact on the lives of many women.

April 6, 2009

The “V” Impact: Elizabeth G. Stewart

Entrant: Ione Bissonnette
Nominee: Elizabeth G. Stewart, MD, Director Vulvovaginal Specialty Practice, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Burlington site

Dr. Elizabeth Stewart is the author of The V Book, a book written for women about the vulva, vestibule and vagina and all the ways in which “the V’s” impact women’s daily lives. She is also a vulvovaginal specialist who evaluates and treats patients who have problems with these parts of their bodies.

The women who suffer from “V” problems suffer in silence, alone. Their lives are dominated by their conditions, but they can rarely talk about them. Dr. Stewart has educated women and their partners, caring for them, improving their lives. Her book, her lectures, her articles and research have enlightened clinicians who can begin to care for these women more appropriately.

I am a midwife and I came into the arena of women’s health with a mission to empower women and families during childbirth. I met Dr. Stewart in that milieu, but as her interest in providing care to women with “V” problems intensified, she taught me that learning how to diagnose, treat and care for those women was as fulfilling as the early days of supporting women in their childbirth choices.  Dr. Elizabeth Stewart is my hero in women’s health care.

April 6, 2009

Lichen Sclerosis Support: Dee Troll

Entrant: Rosalie Sartoretti
Nominee: Dee Troll, Founder of Lichen Sclerosis International Support Group

[This is] not much of an essay (I have a broken wrist), but one is not needed.  Dee taught me more about how to treat lichen sclerosis than any doctor, and I’ve been to quite a few.  She is knowledgeable, patient and as nice as can be.  I would write more wonderful things, but it takes forever with my left hand.

April 6, 2009

Making a Difference for Dutch Women: Marlies Bosch

Entrant: Els Smulders
Nominee: Marlies Bosch

Socutera spot over Vrouwen-zelfhulp from IIAV on Vimeo (in Dutch).

I want to nominate a special woman, Marlies Bosch, she was born in Amsterdam in 1942. Marlies Bosch has really made a difference for Dutch women, Tibetan Buddhist nuns and various healthcare issues. She did so much I can hardly tell, but below is an excerpt from her website.

“At the moment she is the chairwoman of the Foundation ICG (Information Centre Gynaecology), which organization she has helped to found in the beginning of the eighties in order to prevent unnecessary hysterectomies and to raise awareness of the impact of such surgeries on women’s lives. It now still provides support and information for women with gynaecological problems in Holland.”

“She photographed and documented her own process of hysterectomy and also made a photo book of her process with breast cancer, in that way helping women openly speaking about it.

“She also founded and is the secretary of the DFLN, Dutch foundation for Ladakhi Nuns, and as such initiated the adaptation of Ourbodies, Ourselves in Tibetan. With the support of this foundation Ladakhi nuns manage to become self-supportive.”

She is also a journalist and photographer who writes frequently about women and health issues for a series of magazines and newspapers. I hope to have given a bit of an impression of this woman.

Marlies Bosch
Ms. Bosch is pictured to the right.

April 6, 2009

Women in Nigeria: Bene E. Madunagu

Entrant: Meredeth Turshen
Nominee: Bene E. Madunagu, professor of botany at the University of Calabar, Nigeria

Bene E. Madunagu, a founding member of Women In Nigeria (WIN), is a professor of botany at the University of Calabar, Nigeria, where she is an active member of the Nigerian Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). A radical socialist and feminist activist since the 1970s, Bene founded Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) with Grace Osakue in 1993.

Currently, she chairs the board of the Calabar International Centre for Research, Information and Documentation (CIINSTRID), which executes a critical and anti-sexist program for male adolescents. She also chairs the boards of the International Centre for Reproductive and Sexual Rights (INCRESE) and Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, and is a board member of AMANITARE (African Partnership for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Women and Girls).

In 2003, Bene became the General Coordinator of DAWN (Development Alternatives With Women for a New Era), a network of women scholars and activists from the global South who are committed to working for gender justice, economic justice, and democracy.

April 6, 2009

Intensive Care Nurse: Toni Hoffman

Entrant: Tom McGlynn
Nominee: Toni Hoffmann, Bundaberg Nurse (Queensland, Australia)

I am nominating Intensive Care nurse Toni Hoffman because of my undying admiration for her persistence, against enormous odds, in doing the right thing, only to be openly treated as some kind of public enemy by her bosses and by “responsible” Queensland politicians.

Toni Hoffman was made an Australian of the Year Local Hero for working for two years to raise concern about patient safety at Bundaberg Hospital in the famous Dr. Jayant Patel case.

As Nurse in Charge (Intensive Care) at her hospital, Toni Hoffmann raised concerns about incompetent treatment of patients which finally led to inquiries. But before that stage Toni was attacked in private and in public — and even  in Parliament by governing party men for her actions.

Patel was continuing to maim or kill patients by performing operations that were inappropriate, or were ones for which he had neither training nor experience. That Toni knew all the details of these operations but was told by top health officials to shut up — and that the state authorities eventually funded Patel to flee to the  US (where he had previously been struck off for misconduct) – only made Toni’s bitter experience worse, as well as far more isolating.

An inquiry by  Supreme Court Judge Geoffrey Davies later found that Dr. Patel had negligently caused 13 deaths — and maybe 17.

Today, after lengthy attempts to extradite Dr. Patel from the U.S. (to which the Hospital Executive and State government had earlier funded Patel to escape) the accused doctor is back in Australia facing many serious charges relating to his years at Bundaberg Hospital.

You can read more about Toni Hoffman’s extraordinary work here.

April 6, 2009

A Historical Vote: Clemence Lozier

Entrant: Dana Ullman
Nominee: Clemence Lozier, MD

I vote for Clemence Lozier, MD.  She did more for women physicians and medical care than any other person in the 19th (and maybe 20th) century!

April 6, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight in South Dakota: Tiffany Campbell

Entrant: Chris Cassidy
Nominee: Tiffany Campbell, Surrogate, South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families

The above video was created by the South Dakota Campaign for Health Families in 2008. Its purpose was to educate people on the personal implication of Measure 11, the most radical abortion ban ever proposed in the country.

April 3, 2009

International Gynae Awareness Day: Kath Mazzella

Entrant: Hayley Solich
Nominee: Kath Mazzella, member of Women Can International Inc.

vulva-day-mar-2008-060My experience of Kath is that she is a tireless sex/gyn awareness educator, who following radical gyn surgery to remove her cancer, has given the past 15 years to helping women to be better informed.

She founded GAIN (Gynaecological Awareness Information Network), which helps to raise the awareness of women and to provide them with quality information, as well as providing a solid campaigning platform for lobbying the government.

In Australia, Kath represents the community on heads of government councils and has been successful in lobbying the government for funding for gyn cancer research.  She is also the inspirational visionary behind the International Gynaecological Awareness Day on 10 Sept, which is starting to be celebrated in many countries.

In my personal contact with Kath, and I have helped her with her campaign, I have been so impressed and inspired by her dogged determination, despite horrendous difficulties, to get the message out to women so that they can have a better quality of life.

Kath is approaching retirement age and I would love to see the community recognize and honour her for all of the many hours of tireless campaigning she has done for very little fiscal reward.

Kath has only recently started her public speaking business, Speaking Openly, in an effort to take the message further into the corporate arena.  I would love to see her win this award to help her further her campaign.

April 3, 2009

Taking on Menopause: Judy Bayliss

Entrant: Marie Demcho-Wagor
Nominee: Judy Bayliss, Web Host

Judy Bayliss has set up and hosted a menopause website and email group for a number of years.  Through thick and thin, this group of women has shared their experience and knowledge of how to successfully navigate menopause in today’s challenging health environment. You can visit the website at menopaus.icors.org and find further information on the email group as well.

April 3, 2009

A Hero in the Ukraine: Helene Lefevre-Cholay

Entrant: Alexander Golubov
Nominee: Helene Lefevre-Cholay, COP JSI/Maternal and Infant Health Project (Ukraine)

Helene with a Baby

Helene is a real Hero of the 21st century.

“Her heart has been burning for all Ukrainian mothers and newborns and she’s given pieces of her soul to every health care provider who skeptically believed in a change for better future of the Ukrainian families,” said Raisa Bogatyroyva, Head of Mother and Child (MCH) Department of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health about Helene Lefevre-Cholay during Coordination Meeting of USAID-funded JSI/ Maternal and Infant Health Project (MIHP) in January 2009.

Helene Lefevre-Cholay brought to Ukraine her 35 years of valuable experience in public health, especially in maternal and child health. As COP of MIHP, she devoted all of herself in making change in perinatal practices in Ukraine to improve the health of young mothers and their newborns in Ukraine and thus to reduce high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Time-spending in Ukrainian regions, convincing health authorities and leading health care specialists, practical help and training activities, mass-media involvement and fund-raising, bringing international expertise, development of national MCH policy and cooperation with WHO, UNICEF and many other agencies to adopt effective perinatal practices in Ukraine are some of her devotion for the benefits of Ukrainian families.


“Helene made the Ukrainian medical elite change the mentality towards progressive birthing technologies, she persuaded us by her persistent actions and hard work that women children and their families are the central point in our work,” said Dr. Leonid Markin, Professor, head of Obstetric Department of Lviv Medical University in an interview to Lviv TV channel in February 2009.

Thus, in all MIHP facilities (representing 30% of all Ukrainian births) the maternal mortality reduced by 2.5 times and neonatal mortality by 1.5 times compared to the rest of Ukraine.

Due to Helene’s personality and her devotion to improve the health of women and children,  JSI/MIHP, having demonstrated considerable achievements in MCH practices in Ukraine, closely collaborates with WHO Regional Office for Europe to disseminate MIHP informational and educational products all over the world.

For her contribution in International Health, French Government decorated Helene Lefevre-Cholay with highest French decoration — Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur (French: “National Order of the Legion of Honour”) in 2008. Helene is a real hero of the 21st century.

April 3, 2009

Kenya Activist: Agnes Pareiyo

Entrant: Rebecca Thomson
Nominee: Agnes Pareiyo, Women’s rights campaigner – campaigns against genital mutilation in Kenya

Everything I know about this woman comes from a feature in The Independent (UK). She runs a shelter for girls fleeing genital mutilation in the Rift Valley, Kenya, and she also travels around teaching people why it is wrong.

Below is an excerpt from The Independent article by Johann Hari.

“Agnes Pareiyo, a big, broad 53-year-old woman with immaculately coiffed hair: she looks like a 1950s housewife in Masai tribal dress. She is indeed a warrior – for women’s rights. She is here to get justice for Sision – and all the girls like her. Sision’s father glares at her with uncomprehending hate. For Agnes, this trial is the culmination of a fight that began when she was 14 years old.

“One day, my father told me I was going to be made into a woman,” she says, almost whispering. When he explained what this involved, she refused. She thought it was barbaric and cruel. But she was the daughter of the village chief; she had to set an example. “I tried to fight, I tried to resist – but they forced me. So I was determined not to scream. But because I didn’t scream, they cut even more out. They cut me very severely. And afterwards, as I was lying there, I resolved I wouldn’t let this happen to more girls.”

Agnes grew up to be a housewife and the treasurer for the local district. One day, 15 years ago, they discussed at the district council why so many girls were dropping out of school. Agnes pointed out that it happened after the girls were cut – so she began to tour the schools, telling girls they didn’t have to do it. “At first, people said I was a crazy woman. Who is this madwoman explaining what clitorises are to our girls? My member of parliament condemned me, saying I was trying to destroy Masai culture and corrupt our girls. But I kept to my course.”

She hit upon the idea of having a wooden model of a vagina carved for her, so she could demonstrate plainly what “circumcision” does to it. “That was when people said I was totally insane!” she says, with a great whooping laugh. They called her “the woman with the wooden vagina”.

But after her school tours had been going for a few months, something happened that Agnes hadn’t anticipated. Girls who were about to be mutilated began to run away from home to find her – and seek help. “They were terrified. What could I do? I let them stay with me, but soon I realised they couldn’t all stay with me.” So – with help from Comic Relief, and from Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues – she set up an organisation called the Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, and built a shelter for the fleeing girls. She takes me there, to a bright, airy centre filled with freed girls. They are cooking and reading and plaiting each other’s hair.”

April 2, 2009

Rest Ministries: Lisa Copen

Entrant: Kara Marks Valeri
Nominee: Lisa Copen, founder and director, Rest Ministries

I would like to suggest Lisa Copen, who is the founder and director of Rest Ministries, a non-profit organization for the encouragement of people w/ chronic illness and/or pain. She has done so much to help women with their health problems, as well as supporting men.

I don’t know if her personality has always been so optimistic and tenacious, but it certainly is now, and she has not only dealt w/ her illness and chronic pain admirably, but is also trying so hard to inspire others while working through the midst of her own physical pain and sometimes fog of her rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

We w/ chronic and often invisible illnesses deal w/ so much that others don’t recognize, understand, empathize w/ or even agree with. We often end up having depression to go along w/ our chronic pain and/or chronic illness and although I know that Lisa occasionally gets discouraged like we all do, healthy or not, I’ve never seen her be anything but positive. I know that her faith in God comforts her and that she benefits from helping others, but there is something in her that is so inherently choosing to look at the positive part of illness, looking for blessings in the midst of burdens and discouragement, etc.

I was first exposed to Rest Ministries by receiving email forwards of the free daily devotional in some yahoogroups. There are a lot of email devotionals we can choose to receive every day from various websites, but the RM ones are special because they’re written by people w/ chronic illness and/or pain, so they seem to speak more specifically to the things we deal w/ on a daily basis. Lisa used to write all the devotionals herself, but there is now a volunteer writing staff as well as many volunteers for the various areas of the ministry. When I would read the devotionals, I would be so uplifted and I felt so blessed just learning a little bit about Rest Ministries–I definitely knew that there was a big need for this type of ministry.

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April 2, 2009

Helping Those with HIV/AIDS: Nurit Shein

Entrant: Amy Levi
Nominee: Nurit Shein, Executive Director, Mazzoni Center

Nurit Shein

When Nurit Shein came to Philadelphia in 1993, the Mazzoni Clinic was a struggling nonprofit organization for those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Fourteen years later, she presided over the ribbon-cutting of the Mazzoni Center, a family practice clinic serving not just those affected by HIV/AIDS, but the whole LGBTI community of Philadelphia.

I can’t praise Nurit enough for the remarkable job she has done turning her organization into a leader in health care for all in Philadelphia. It might seem odd to have a women’s health hero whose organization first focused its resources on what was initially a health crisis affecting gay men. But Nurit quickly understood that HIV/AIDS was not just a gay men’s issue, and that sexual health needs of women were equally unattended by the health care community in Philadelphia.

Nurit is well respected by peers and colleagues, and is a shining example of what can be accomplished when passion is combined with commitment, courage, and managerial magic.

These paragraphs can hardly address her amazing accomplishment at transforming a besieged nonprofit into a national model for health care to an invisible and largely underserved population.  A peek at Mazzoni Center’s website (not to mention her infinite hits on Google!) speaks well to her role as the health care innovator I want to be when I grow up!

April 2, 2009

Chronic Babe Creator: Jenni Prokopy

Entrant: Cinnamon Cooper
Nominee: Jenni Prokopy, www.chronicbabe.com Creator


When I met Jenni 7 years ago I was in denial that I had a chronic illness. I didn’t like talking about my pain or my limits or even acknowledging that I had them because I didn’t want people to think I was weak. And when I sadly admitted to Jenni that I suffered from a chronic disease she smiled, gave me a high-five and said “Me, too, Babe!” And then I felt like I’d joined some cook-kids club where an illness is not the defining factor of me, but my attitude about myself is.

When she started talking about creating a website (www.chronicbabe.com) for women who were suffering from chronic illnesses but who wanted to focus on living life as a babe, instead of living life as a patient, I supported her fully since I knew what she’d done for my sense of self with one smile. I’ve seen her cry because she’s received touching emails from people who have let her know how she has affected them positively and given them the strength to: push their doctors for more information, convince a TSA official to not harass them for carrying a suitcase of drugs, bling out their inhaler and flaunt their asthma, and even just feel comfortable saying “I can’t do that today.”

She’s like a one-woman strength-based hurricane who has no qualms about squashing insensitivity, but because she’s a Southern gal she knows how to do it with smile and sass.

Pictured above is Jenni holding the handbag I made for her.

April 1, 2009

A Warrior for Women: Keleigh M. Lee

Entrant: Dyan Osborn
Nominee: Keleigh M. Lee, Researcher in Health Behavior Studies

My daughter is one remarkable woman.  She is 30 years old and the Mother of 3 very young children and pregnant with her fourth! She has a passion for helping woman. She crusades diligently in causes for health improvement.

She leads the way in her own lifestyle, from home births, tandem nursing and eating organic and sugar free. Her research for her Masters Degree was on Cancer and smoking in woman of college age.  She is studying to become a certified lactation consultant.  Her PHD work will be on improving breast feeding in  low income woman.

I am amazed at her drive and energy to help woman learn to take better care of themselves.  She continues to encourage me in my health struggles with a positive energy she omits to anyone she meets.

Please consider my nomination, not just because she is one of my daughters…but because she is such a warrior for woman of all ages!

April 1, 2009

A Tireless Advocate: Rachel Galgoul

Entrant: Patricia Whelehan
Nominee: Rachel Galgoul, Center Manager, Women’s Health, UCSF

Since 1993, Rachel Galgoul has been a tireless advocate who has been recognized, regionally, nationally and internationally for her leadership at Planned Parenthood and UCSF and her advocacy for competent, humane, accurate sexuality and women’s health information and services.

April 1, 2009

The HER Foundation: Kimber Wakefield McGibbon

Entrant: Penny Richards
Nominee: Kimber Wakefield McGibbon, founder of the HER Foundation

Registered nurse Kimber Wakefield McGibbon started the HER Foundation in 2000, after her own first experience with severe hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme and hazardous “morning sickness” that some women (including me) experience in pregnancy. HER Foundation and the website (HelpHER.org) came too late to help me through my own two rounds of HG, but not too late to give me a chance to offer peer support to other women.

Last year, I visited a woman before her hospitalization for HG treatment — we sat in her bedroom, talked, laughed, grimaced, and marveled that it took an international organization to bring us together, two mothers, two PhDs, two HG veterans, living in the same neighborhood.

I am so heartened to know that women with HG today have a place to go, and people who really do understand. McGibbon is also an advocate for research and awareness on the subject of HG.

For more information: www.hyperemesis.org

April 1, 2009

A Doula Story: Loretha Weisinger

Entrant: Joni Elihous
Nominee: Loretha Weisinger, Doula

You can see this courageous woman  for yourself.  She has done a documentary:

I was so impressed, I knew I needed to nominate her.

April 1, 2009

The Inspiration of a Professor: Dr. Carol Boyd

Entrant: Kate Weatherly
Nominee: Dr. Carol Boyd, professor at the University of Michigan

I am writing to nominate Dr. Carol Boyd for a Women’s Health Hero Award. I was lucky to be a student in Dr. Boyd’s Women’s Health course at the University of Michigan in 1994, and my life was changed by her teachings.

I was always a strong woman, and was inspired by Dr. Boyd’s course, which included reproductive health, childbirth, and many other issues. I was empowered by Dr. Boyd’s course, and when I gave birth as a single mom in 2000, I had a natural birth and knew that I had the knowledge to do what was good for my newborn daughter. I nursed her for 3 years and always felt confident that I had the education to do what was healthy for her.

If it were not for her course, I would not have been able to advocate for myself.  She was an inspiration and taught me to be confident in my own capabilities and to trust my instincts. Dr. Boyd changed my life.

March 30, 2009

Women’s Health Heroes: Your Heroes, Your Vote


Welcome to the Our Bodies Ourselves Women’s Health Heroes Awards.

For the next four weeks, through May 1, we’re accepting nominations for health heroes — activists, doctors, bloggers, midwives, teachers … anyone who has made a difference in the lives of women.

All the info you need to proceed, including submission guidelines, can be found at http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/heroes.asp

This page will feature the video and text nominations. Readers are invited to rate the entries by awarding stars; your vote will help determine the entry that receives the Audience Choice Award. OBOS staff will select the other winning entry.

Voting concludes May 8, and the winners will be announced May 11.

Both the winning entrants and their health heroes will receive a set of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” titles, including “Our Bodies, Ourselves”; “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause”; and “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth” — all of which will be signed by organizational co-founders, book editors and contributors. In addition, the health heroes will receive an engraved award for display.

Thank you for your participation! If you have any questions, please contact Wendy Brovold, OBOS communications and marketing manger: wendy@bwhbc.org or 617-245-0200 ×13.