The Nominees for Women's Health Heroes:

Welcome to the Our Bodies Ourselves Women's Health Heroes Awards, and thanks to everyone who voted for their favorite nominees! The 2010 inductees into the Women's Health Heroes Hall of Fame will be announced May 26. The votes for the Audience Choice Award were tallied and recorded on May 15 at 12:15 a.m. For more information, visit the awards main page. Thanks for participating!

May 27, 2010

Meet the New Inductees to the Womens’ Health Heroes Hall of Fame

On April 1, Our Bodies Ourselves asked, “Who’s your women’s health hero?

Dozens of you responded enthusiastically, sending in essays and videos describing the heroes who most inspire you.

Among them: a women’s studies professor who is a role model for her students; midwives and doulas who empower women to trust themselves and their bodies; activists and legislators pressing for real health care reform; numerous individuals and organizations advocating for reproductive rights and justice; a friend who provides a safe space for discussion; a mother “who cares for others whenever they are alone and in need”; community health workers who share information with their neighbors; and doctors who volunteer their time and expertise in other countries.

We couldn’t be more thrilled with all the nominees and the passionate submissions. A big thank you to everyone who participated!

Without further ado, Our Bodies Ourselves is excited to introduce the 20 newest inductees into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame and the two special mentions:

Audience Choice Award: Margaret Flowers, MD, health care reform activist and congressional fellow at Physicians for a National Health Program. Flowers received a whopping 891 votes. Go, progressive health activists!

Our Bodies Ourselves Honoree: Lynn Jackson, intake director at the Texas Equal Access Fund and national case manager for the National Network of Abortion Funds. Thank you for your compassion — and for inspiring the women you work with and serve!

Congratulations to the 2010 inductees and to all the nominees — all of whom are heroes.

May 7, 2010

Giving Her Students a Gift of Independence: Jill Wood

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here

Entrants: Nikki Hatza and Farnaz Farhi
Nominee: Jill Wood, Senior Lecturer in Women’s Studies at Penn State University

As our undergraduate educations draw to a close, and we reflect back upon the classes and people who have most influenced our lives, one professor stands out in particular.

Dr. Jill Wood, a senior lecturer in the Women’s Studies department at Penn State, is far more than the professor whose Introduction to Women’s Studies class inspired us to major in the area. Jill has empowered us, through her classes, her mentoring and her friendship, to be in control of our bodies and our lives.

Taught from an open-minded, inviting, and yet unapologetically feminist perspective, Jill’s eye-opening courses on women’s health and critical issues of reproduction have given us the tools we need to remove our blinders and see the ways in which society has objectified, over-sexualized, commodified and exploited women’s bodies — our bodies. In doing so, she has shown us the strength in understanding the power dynamics of our bodies as women, and has empowered us to take control of our lives through this knowledge of ourselves.

As starry-eyed, young freshmen in Jill’s Introduction to Women’s Studies course, (though today we are embarrassed to admit it) we had never even heard of home birth or midwives, while Diva Cups and home-made eco-friendly sanitary pads were foreign to us as well. Growing up in mainstream American society, we had never imagined an alternative to the institutionalized, medicalized vision of birth.

Learning about the cascade of interventions and disempowerment associated with medicalized hospital birth shook our foundations. We distinctly remember asking ourselves, if we had never heard of home births, what else is there that we don’t know? And what about all the other young women who won’t take this class with Jill and gain this integral knowledge of women’s health? We were at once captivated, shocked and inspired — driven to share the knowledge Jill gave us with the other women in our lives: friends, mothers and sisters alike.

This class was just the beginning. We dove into Women’s Studies, signing up for all of Jill’s higher-level women’s health courses. As we discussed politics of reproduction, issues of infertility and alternatives to medicalized birth, our understandings of women’s health within the context of our own lives grew exponentially. Informed with knowledge and empowered with a sense of agency, we took on the challenge of sharing this knowledge with fellow women at Penn State through activism projects that extended far beyond Jill’s classes and had lasting effects on our communities and ourselves.

Jill’s teaching style, a true embodiment of the democratic and open-minded nature of feminist pedagogies, has provided a unique and multi-dimensional educational experience. With her courses centered on the true stories of real women, Jill has invited us to reflect upon our own experiences. Connecting with our peers in understanding our own struggles with our bodies and our lives has validated our experiences as women. By highlighting women’s stories within an academic setting, presenting facts and encouraging students to reach their own conclusions and understanding, Jill has given us, her female students, a gift of independence in a way that our society has systematically failed to do.

Jill has shared her stories with us and has guided us as an academic and personal mentor, supporting us as we grew from uninformed freshman to educated, critically thinking, and driven young feminist women. Her influence on our lives is invaluable, and will be deeply reflected as we step forth into the word, armed with the information that will empower us to understand our bodies, our health and our lives.

As we carry her lessons with us, Jill’s dedication to women through her feminist women’s health teachings will span generations and touch many lives in tremendous ways. Our nomination for Jill Wood is in thanks to her, for giving us the knowledge we needed to control our bodies and live our lives.

May 7, 2010

Citizen Activist: Margaret Flowers

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Carol Paris
Nominee: Margaret Flowers, Citizen Activist

Margaret Flowers is a Maryland pediatrician who for the past several years has devoted all of her energies to speaking out and organizing for a truly universal and comprehensive health care program, one that goes far beyond the law just enacted by Congress.

Rebelling against the daily injustices inflicted upon children and their families by a profit-driven health industry – especially the big insurance and drug companies – she left active medical practice in 2006 and resolved to work full time for a health plan that guarantees everyone the quality care they need and deserve.

Margaret has since become one of our nation’s most prominent advocates for a single-payer health program, an improved and expanded Medicare for All. Unlike the health bill that was just passed, a single-payer plan would cover everyone without exception, allow free choice of doctor and hospital, and require no co-pays or deductibles. It would also cover the full range of women’s reproductive health services.

Margaret has shown great courage and determination in pursuit of this goal, and has inspired me and countless other women (and men) by her example. She encourages others to speak out and to take action because, as she often stresses, millions of lives depend on the outcome.

A year ago, at the outset of the health care debate, she and I were among eight persons who challenged the exclusion of the single-payer model – a model that is supported by a solid majority of the U.S. people – at a key congressional hearing.

Margaret writes: “On May 5, eight health care advocates, including myself and two other physicians, stood up to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the Senate Finance Committee during a ‘public roundtable discussion’ with a simple question: Will you allow an advocate for a single-payer national health plan to have a seat at the table? The answer was a loud, ‘Get more police!’ And we were arrested and hauled off to jail.”

Here’s some footage of her interview with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz shortly afterward (her appearance starts at 3-minute mark) and an opinion piece that she wrote about the experience that appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Thus began her long odyssey of speaking engagements, rallies, testimony before other congressional committees (Sen. Baucus never invited her back!), television appearances and travel from one end of the country to the other. A retrospective on how she views the past year of struggling for a truly humane health care system appears in the current issue of Tikkun magazine and in an interview on Bill Moyers Journal.

Dr. Flowers obtained her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and did her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She has worked as both a hospitalist in a rural setting and in private practice. In addition to her present work as congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, she is active in Healthcare-Now of Maryland and a co-founder of the state’s Conversation Coalition for Health Care Reform.

Margaret Flowers is a tireless advocate for her patients and for a humane health care system, often making great personal sacrifices to advance our common interests. She’s a women’s hero in my book and a women’s hero in the eyes of millions of Americans.

May 7, 2010

Tireless Advocate for Reproductive Justice: Lynn Jackson

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Merritt Tierce
Nominee: Lynn Jackson, Intake Director for the Texas Equal Access Fund

May 6, 2010

Building Coalitions & Serving the County: Duchy Trachtenberg

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Alan Trachtenberg, MD, MPH
Nominee: Duchy Trachtenberg, MSW, LCSW-C, County Council member — Montgomery County, Md.

Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2006. She is chair of the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee, responsible for county economic and fiscal policy; government administrative departments; cable and telecommunications; and technology issues. She also serves on the Health and Human Services Committee.

As MFP Chair,  Trachtenberg’s primary mission is the stewardship of the county’s fiscal health. She guides the yearly budget-making process to ensure the protection of the county’s long-term stability while funding essential priorities and protecting the vulnerable with transparency, equity and fiscal responsibility.

Upon joining County Council, Trachtenberg became a leader in creating the Family Justice Center to bring coordinated and effective government services to domestic violence victims.  The Family Justice Center is a one-stop-shop approach to responding to domestic violence, eliminating the burden on victims of time and travel to offices scattered throughout the county for different services, which can take days or even weeks to fully engage. The Montgomery County Family Justice Center opened in the summer of 2009 and in its first four months served over 500 families from 39 countries.

As a public health professional, council member Trachtenberg has a special interest in addiction treatment services and public health policy. Her landmark regulation prohibiting the use of artificial trans fats in Montgomery County restaurants was the first such action in the United States adopted on a county level.

She recently proposed new regulations to protect the environment and public health that requires a completed and evaluated Health Impact Assessment prior to the final decision-making on all county and state road construction projects in Montgomery County.

Council member Trachtenberg had been an effective grassroots activist for over 20 years on women’s equality, mental health concerns and public health issues. She offers a strong track record of successful community networking and believes building coalitions is an effective tool in bringing about political reform.

Her dynamic leadership style reflects her genuine commitment to full equality for all women. She sat for several terms on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women as the Mid-Atlantic regional director, and also for six years as a Progressive Maryland board member.

Trachtenberg holds a masters degree in social work. Prior to her election, she maintained a private practice specializing in adolescent addiction. She is a past governing councilor and chair of the alternative medicine section within the American Public Health Association (APHA).

She has received numerous honors and distinctions, including the Spirit Award for Humanitarian Advocate from the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF), the “Heroes” Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) of Montgomery County, and the “Ally for Equality” Award from Equality Maryland. Trachtenberg recently completed the program for senior executives in state and local government at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

May 3, 2010

A Beacon of Light: Katherine Stone

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Deborah Forhan Rimmler
Katherine Stone, peer advocate for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders

Katherine Stone was a beacon of light during the darkest time of my life. I suffered from postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (that is a postpartum mood disorder where you get terrible, scary thoughts that won’t go away) that began after the birth of my son Henry a year ago.

I was lucky to get professional help early due to the support system I had in my life, yet I still suffered tremendously. Not even the best psychiatrist in the world can help you heal totally from the horror of having had awful thoughts that sometimes involve images of hurting your own child.

One night in despair I stumbled upon Katherine’s blog, Postpartum Progress. Finding Katherine and the amazing community of postpartum mood disorder survivors she has created helped me find peace. I felt for the first time since my son was born (and not just from my therapist telling me) that I was not alone on my occasional forays to the dark side of this disease; in fact, I’m in the company of some pretty amazing women!

Unfortunately, not all women have the support network I had to get professional help to stop their suffering. Those tragic stories we hear on the news of women taking their own lives or harming their children are the result of a general lack of education about the many forms of this disease and its successful treatment.

Postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders will affect over 800,000 women this year in the United States alone, and Katherine Stone is a full-time peer advocate for these women through her blog and her other activist work, such as being a contributing blogger for PBS’ “This Emotional Life” site, and guest editor on postpartum depression for BlogHer, a popular community for and guide to blogs by women. Katherine currently serves on the board of directors of Postpartum Support International and the advisory board of the Perinatal Depression Information Network.

Some studies show that one in eight women suffer from postpartum mood disorders, and a majority of them go undiagnosed. Clearly many women are scared to admit to their family, friends or doctors what is happening to them, but many will turn to the privacy of the internet. And this is why I know in my heart that Katherine has created a forum to help new mothers like me find our way back to the joy of our families and even, for some of us, to save our lives.

Her website provides not just a comprehensive resource on the topic of these illnesses, but a personal sharing of her experiences and process of recovery; Katherine suffered postpartum OCD herself after the birth of her first child. The feelings of fear, isolation and shame she experienced inspired her to take create this blog, which is now the most widely-read blog in the United States on mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. And it was this fearless intimacy about one of the most shameful diseases that gave me the courage to truly stand up to it and that I’m sure has helped other woman to do the same, including getting the professional help and support from their families they desperately need.

Postpartum Progress now has more than 10,000 unique visitors each week from all over the world, and Katherine personally responds to the emails she receives daily from women who suffer, as well as from clinicians. She uses her voice every day, through writing and speaking, to ensure the voices of all mothers with postpartum depression are represented and to help eliminate stigma.

Postpartum Progress has a Surviving & Thriving Mothers Photo Album, the only public photo album displaying pictures of moms who have survived perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. This album combats the negative images of postpartum depression and psychosis shown in the media, and is a symbol of hope for recovery. I know when I’m feeling down about what happened to me that I will always feel inspired by logging on and viewing these beautiful families.

Katherine also leads the charge in speaking out assertively against unbalanced or misleading medical coverage of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In 2009, she wrote a letter and gathered the endorsements of nearly 50 clinicians, survivors, authors and advocates in response to a misleading article in Time magazine about postpartum depression screening. Time chose it as one of its 2009 Letters of the Year.

I am nominating Katherine Stone as my Women’s Health Hero as she is bringing light and truth to one of women’s oldest and most closeted diseases, and love and hope to those of us affected by it.

May 3, 2010

Tireless Advocate for Women’s Health: Wendy Chavkin

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Amanda Davis
Nominee: Wendy Chavkin, MD, MPH, Professor of Clinical Public and Family Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University

Wendy Chavkin, MD, MPH, is a tireless advocate for women’s health.

As a medical student in Chicago in the late 1960s, Dr. Chavkin occasionally loaned her apartment to the Jane Collective, an underground abortion network. She later said that her experience with the Jane Collective “pushed me towards becoming a doctor.”

Dr. Chavkin decided to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. She began practicing medicine shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, and has advocated staunchly and openly for reproductive rights ever since.

In her dozens of publications, she exposes the disparities in the medical care for women and men as well as the obstacles preventing women from obtaining reproductive health care. Much of her research has examined maternal health and mortality, especially for low-income women.

Last year, Dr. Chavkin joined forces with other public health experts to make the case for reorienting the U.S.  medical system so that women receive all of the care they need throughout their lives. That report, Women’s Health and Health Care Reform, was a touchstone for members of Congress as they shaped health reform legislation over the past year.

Dr. Chavkin has helped countless doctors and students use their medical expertise and experience to support reproductive health care in the legislatures and the media. As a founder and the second board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, she led her colleagues in a campaign against the so-called partial-birth abortion ban. In 2007, she co-founded an initiative called Global Doctors for Choice that so far has enabled physicians from 20 countries to share strategies for expanding access to reproductive health care.

Through her research, teaching of public health students, and organizing of fellow physicians, Dr. Chavkin ensures that women’s health remains a priority for governments around the world.

May 3, 2010

Reaching Out to Those with Fibromyalgia: Sharon Ostalecki

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Renae Kulas
Nominee: Sharon Ostalecki, Director, Helping Our Pain & Exhaustion

Fibromyalgia has been nicknamed “The Invisible Disease” because it is not perceptible to others. The face of fibromyalgia is every face, and unless you were told, you could not tell who has it and who does not.

Twenty years ago I spent my days searching for a reason for the pain that was taking over my life. My physician and family could not understand why I was in constant pain and lived with constant fatigue. It was difficult because I had begun to question myself, and then one day I heard a radio program about a condition called fibromyalgia.  The gal being interviewed not only seemed to understand but also lived with the condition. I contacted the radio station and made contact with Sharon Ostalecki — a patient, doctor and author.

Her story is similar to many of us who have struggled to understand and find answers of how to continue on through the pain and daily exhaustion. But Sharon reaches out through her books, support group, Facebook and endless phone calls to fibro patients to help them on their journey to wellness. She has been a tireless advocate not only for patients but spouses, as well.

Because the condition also affects teens, Sharon speaks to teachers and administrators at high schools, to help them understand the struggles these young adults face and to help them fulfill their dreams of graduating while enduring the pain and fatigue.

We all need someone to help us in our struggle with chronic pain, for it is not an easy road to travel. Sharon is that “someone” in the lives of many fibromyalgia patients.

May 3, 2010

Helping Others with Health and Wellness: Angela Shipp

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Sara
Nominee: Angela Shipp, Author of bluehealer diary

Having worked as regulatory affairs manager and managed care expert for more than 20 years, I have learned the importance of understanding connections between health and communicating with healthcare staff. Angela Shipp, author of the bluehealer diary, is an advocate for the power that personal health knowledge has in health care decisions. She believes that health knowledge empowers consumers to better manage their own health and as they interact with health care professionals when they need care.

Angela strives to maintain a healthy lifestyle for herself and is tireless in her efforts to engage more consumers in taking responsibility for their health and wellness. She works long hours at her full-time job, then contributes to a blog and other social media to share her message. She is also very active in the community and is passionate about helping others.

Having overcome fears about sharing her own bad experiences with managed care and a personal illness, Angela started a blog called health-e inspiration. Whether she writes about a personal experience with ulcerative colitis or posts a press release about other health and wellness issues, I always leave the blog feeling empowered and inspired.

Angela’s blog provides coverage of issues pertaining to general health and wellness, specific illnesses, domestic violence, and more. I’m confident that Angela is making a big difference in the lives of health care consumers.

May 3, 2010

Comforting Those with Fertility Challenges: Jenni Saake

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Crystal M. Wilson
Nominee: Jenni Saake, Author of “Hannah’s Hope,” Founders of Hannah’s Prayer ministry

Jenni Saake is author of “Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage and Adoption Loss.”

She and her husband, Rick, established Hannah’s Prayer, a ministry that has since reached tens of thousands of families worldwide with comfort, hope, encouragement and support in the face of fertility challenges.

She also keeps up a blog that offers further encouragement, bridging two very different worlds of 10+ years of infertility (including three miscarriages and seven failed adoption attempts), followed by motherhood of three living miracles.

“InfertilityMom” Jenni Saake shares about her daily life working at home, writing, homeschooling and juggling chronic health challenges including endometriosis, polycystic ovaries (PCOS), fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) / chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) / XMRV Associated Neuro-Immune Disease (XAND).

April 30, 2010

Providing Sexual Health Info: Promotoras de la Salud Sexual Community Educators

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Emilia Gianfortoni
Nominee: Promotoras de la Salud Sexual Community Educators

The Latino community experiences vast sexual health disparities nationwide. Latinos disproportionately experience high rates of teen pregnancy and STIs compared to other ethnic groups. In Massachusetts, Latinas have a teen birth rate that is six times higher than non-Latinas.

The communities of Holyoke and Springfield experience the highest teen birth rates in the state, at 95.4 and 84.3 per 1,000, respectively, compared to 22 per 1,000 for the state as a whole.

As studies clearly show, teen pregnancy and birth rates are much related to high school drop out rates. Holyoke and Springfield are no exceptions with the two highest drop out rates for Latino teens in the state (34.9 and 33.3 per 1,000, respectively, compared to 22.8 in MA overall).

In Latin American countries and culture, health care is often provided in a more personal and informal way than in the United States. Promotoras offer customized health information from volunteers with first-hand knowledge of the communities they serve and the experiences they have that effect their health care knowledge and access.

Through a partnership with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, the Promotoras, or community health workers, in Springfield, Mass., have been providing sexual health education to their community in group and individual settings to raise awareness and increase access to sexual health information and services.

In just four short months, and with strong leadership and dedicated guidance from Iris Coralí, the Latino community health education coordinator from Planned Parenthood, the promotoras have connected with over 1,300 individuals in their community through charlas, health and community fairs, and family and friends. Each person they connect with receives accurate information about sexual health from someone they can identify with, along with answers to questions they may have and referrals to health services in their community. The promotoras include:

* Maribel Cabrera is 32 years old and was born and raised in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. She recently moved to the United States, to Springfield, and is studying English at the Massachusetts Career Development Institute. For Maribel, being a promotora means being a leader in her community and a confident advisor. As promotoras, she believes she can access and attain knowledge, information and resources to advise the Latino community. Maribel has two sons who are her main reason to keep moving forward.

* Paola Figueroa is 25 years old and was born and raised in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. She came to the United States to achieve some of her greatest drams, which included seeing snow and having a better life – both of which she has achieved. Paola is studying English at the Massachusetts Career Development Institute to be able to have a better job in the future. She loves being a promotora de salud sexual because she believes it is a very important topic for our children and their future and to be able to give advice to the community. As a promotora she has the skills to give correct information and be knowledgeable about the health services.  For Paola, being a promotora signifies the confidence in her community. She has a very intelligent 5-year-old daughter, Lenalisse, and a wonderful supportive husband.

* Jessica Rivera was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and is 29 years old. She decided to come to the United States to find a better job and to give her sons a better future. Jessica has two sons who, along with her family, are her biggest love; they are 8 and 9 years old. She has a bachelors degree in Elementary English from Puerto Rico and is currently studying English at the Massachusetts Career Development Institute. Jessica likes to help other people, and to talk a lot. Being a promotora means she is an example for the community to give correctly information about sexual health and sexuality to help the community. Through her knowledge as a promotora she can help other people in need be able to have a healthy future.

* Sandy Soto was born in 1969 and raised in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. She completed her law degree from the Universidad Technologica de Santo Domingo and moved to the United States in 2006 after visiting a few times before. Sandy has always liked to work with people to help them and she believes that by being a promotora she can do that. Being a promotora means she can advise her community about how to protect their physical and mental health and how they can help their families. Sandy has three sons and one grandson.

So far, they have received very positive feedback, and it is clear many community members are appreciative of the information they are receiving.

A woman staying at a homeless shelter in West Springfield, where she lives with her two children, took a bus to the Center’s recent Three Kings Day Celebration. The woman was 35 years old and moved to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico six months ago after divorcing her husband and escaping domestic violence. As part of the process for signing up for toys at the Center, the woman attended a charla and filled out a subsequent evaluation. On the evaluation form, the woman mentioned having little knowledge of birth control options and STI prevention. She also listed that she had never had an annual gynecological exam.

After listening to the charla, the woman was very happy to have received such helpful information and commented that she felt many in the community could benefit from it. She also wrote that she would like to become a Promotora herself, and provided her contact information.

April 30, 2010

The Guiding Force in Perinatal Education in Canada: Kathie Lindstrom

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Bailey Delves
Nominee: Kathie Lindstrom, LCCE,CD,CDT Coordinator of Perinal Studies Douglas College

Kathie Lindstrom (pictured in the middle) has been THE guiding force in perinatal education in Canada.

She has been a doula and an educator for many years. She is a great teacher and an inspiration to anyone aspiring to make a difference in maternity care.

I cannot say enough good things about her. She is humble, she is strong, and she has truly made a difference in the lives of hundreds (maybe thousands) of women, babies and their families worldwide.

Ask anyone in Canada’s birth community, and they will all tell you — Kathie is fantastic.

April 29, 2010

Providing Safe, Supportive Space for a Friend: Emily Boyes-Watson

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Alexis Greeley
Nominee: Emily Boyes-Watson

I have known Emily since we were 5 years old. We met in kindergarten class and now, 19 years later, we are like sisters. While Emily does not work in the health field, she is my health hero.

Women’s health issues are often treated as matters that are not meant to be seen or heard, and women are taught to deal with such issues discreetly and quietly. This can lead to feelings of shame and isolation when problems or curiosity occur regarding health and sexuality. Women aren’t offered, and aren’t encouraged to seek out, very many safe spaces to talk and share about their health and sexuality. In addition, women can end up viewing their health and sexuality through only negative lens, rather than as parts of themselves to celebrate and explore.

Emily provides the necessary space for me to be open about issues regarding my health. It is truly invaluable to have a friend who I can turn to about anything and everything. I can confide in Emily about issues ranging from struggling with body image to feeling ashamed about relationship choices I have made. I don’t have to worry about judgment at all, and Emily helps me to work on my confidence and feel comfortable in myself. She doesn’t make me feel bad about mistakes that I have made, but rather helps me learn how to move forward and grow from them.

Many of my women friends have admitted lying to their doctors because they feel ashamed for choices they have made or they are too embarrassed to ask certain questions. This fear and shame can lead to mental, emotional and physical risks. When women are able to open up to one another and support each other, it usually is realized that a lot of the same themes, worries, experiences, etc., are shared in regards to health and sexuality. Emily provides me with a space to voice my concerns, share my experiences, and learn how to celebrate who I am as a woman.

April 28, 2010

Helping Incarcerated Mothers: Marianne Bullock and Lisa Andrews

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Vicki Elson
Nominee: Marianne Bullock and Lisa Andrews, Co-founders, Prison Birth Project

Marianne Bullock and Lisa Andrews founded the Prison Birth Project (PBP), which serves incarcerated mothers at the regional women’s jail in Chicopee, Mass.

PBP visits inmates prenatally and postpartum. PBP provides childbirth education classes or individual instruction, as well as time-intensive labor support (“doula care”).

PBP doulas ease transitions between jail and hospital, support single mothers and whole families, help mothers cope with labor, and help mothers to make informed decisions about medical care.  They’ve even made it possible for some incarcerated moms to breastfeed successfully.

I’m utterly moved by the two young women who saw a need, and just started going into the prison to serve these mothers. Marianne was all of 24 years old when she and fellow young mother and college student Lisa (whose background is in nutrition and organic farming) started going into the Women’s Correctional Center.

Now, in addition to childbirth education and doula care, they have taken theMotherWoman training, and they have created a program called Mothers Among Us — support groups for mothers inside and those who have been released.

Whether or not mothers and their babies are ultimately reunited, PBP believes that both mothers and children are served when pregnancy and childbirth are well supported with skill and compassion.  No matter what has come before in these women’s lives, PBP believes that there is nothing to be lost by adding loving kindness to the equation.

The collective members — especially Marianne and Lisa — work very long hours for very little pay, performing services and growing the organization. They are making a big difference in the lives of some of the most appreciative members of our community.

April 28, 2010

Leading the Charge Against Lung Cancer: Diane Legg

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Cheryl Bartlett
Nominee: Diane Legg, Co-Chair, Lung Cancer Alliance-Massachusetts

Diane Legg is a young mother of two children who was diagnosed with lung cancer over five years ago. With great determination, she is leading the charge to increase awareness and education about lung cancer, who it affects, and the status of research today compared to other cancers that all together do not have the mortality rates associated with lung cancer.

Fortunately, Diane is one of the lucky ones here to remind us that more must be done to better understand lung cancer and how to detect it early so that treatment can be curative.

With an 85 percent mortality rate, we need more people like Diane advocating for more funding to research diagnostic and treatment tools to increase the survival rates. In newly diagnosed cases, we are seeing younger and more women, espcially non-smoking related cases.

Despite her need to maintain a healthly lifestyle, she is tireless in her efforts to engage more leaders in this battle to reduce morbidity and mortality from this deadliest of all cancers.

April 27, 2010

Exploring the Safety of Breast Implants: Carol Ciancutti-Leyva

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Melinda Bartlett
Nominee: Carol Ciancutti-Leyva, Director of “Absolutely Safe”

I nominate Carol Ciancutti-Leyva as a Women’s Health Hero for the 2010 Our Bodies, Ourselves Women’s Health Heroes awards. She is the director of “Absolutely Safe,” a documentary exploring the safety of breast implants in the United States.

Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva has a personal connection to her project, as she believes silicone breast implants contributed to her mother’s decline in health. According to the documentary’s website, “Absolutely Safe” does not set out to prove that all breast implants are harmful to women, but rather it explores both sides of the argument and puts forth all information pertaining to the safety of implants.

I admire Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva’s bravery to question implant safety in the United States. I admire her conviction to question what we have been told about breast implant safety by medical professionals, plastic surgeons, and those set to profit from breast augmentations.

I believe that women deserve to know whether there is a possibility that breast implants could be harmful to their health, and Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva is making great strides in creating a new discourse surrounding the absoluteness of breast implant safety.

Made in 2007, “Absolutely Safe” follows the stories of five women and their experiences with breast implants. Some women are considering getting breast implants; others want their implants removed, or have had their implants removed and yet still feel ill.

While some women in the film are excited about their upcoming surgery, others share their negative experience with breast implants, as the women explain how they felt sick after getting implants, and how their health has steadily declined. Many of the women believe that their implants have been detrimental to their health.

“Absolutely Safe” explores these issues and speaks with doctors and advocates on both sides of the argument. I nominate Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva for her advocacy on behalf of women everywhere.

April 27, 2010

Feeding Massachusetts: Project Bread

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Anne Welch
Nominee: Project Bread

Project Bread serves the needs of Massachusetts families who struggle to put food on the table every year through the Walk for Hunger and other fundraising and advocacy activities. The Walk for Hunger is the nation’s oldest continual pledge walk in the country, and in 2008 raised an unprecedented $4 million dollars to help feed hungry families in Massachusetts.

According to its website, Project Bread funds over 400 food pantries, soup kitchens and food banks across Massachusetts and advocates for systematic solutions to prevent hunger. It helps put healthy and nutritious food in schools and on the tables of families across Massachusetts.

Additionally, Project Bread runs the only nationwide hunger hotline, and answers about 37,000 calls every year from families in need of food. Project Bread works in conjunction with many local schools, ensuring that children have a nutritious breakfast and lunch, even in the summer when school is not in session. According to Project Bread, too many families have been forced to choose between food or paying their bills, and they believe that no one should have to go hungry, or have to choose between eating and having a place to live. It is their mission to eradicate hunger in Massachusetts.

I nominate all the individuals involved with Project Bread, including the board of directors, walkers, volunteers, donors and anyone who advocates eradicating hunger, as it affects the health of men, women and children alike. The burden of caring for children and families so often falls on women, that in times of need it is comforting to know that there is assistance for those who need it. As a Walk for Hunger walker, I am very proud to have helped Project Bread with their mission.

April 22, 2010

Educational and Cutting Edge: RH Reality Check

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Jackie Flores
Nominee: RH Reality Check, sexual reproductive health and rights blog

I’ve been an avid reader of RH Reality Check for years. They provide accurate coverage of issues pertaining to sexual reproductive health and rights. But what I love most is the thought provoking commentary offered by their wide variety of contributing writers. Any time I want to learn more about abortion, birth control, global perspectives on reproduction, or whatever the hot topic of the day is I know I can rely on them.

Lately I’ve been following their Earth & Birth posts, which focus on the environment, reproductive health and how they’re connected. The conversations and viewpoints have been fascinating, and I’m glad this stuff is being discussed. It makes me feel more connected to fellow reproductive health activists.

So thank you, RH Reality Check, for making my morning coffee educational and cutting edge.

April 22, 2010

Saving and Changing Lives: Eugenia Lopez Uribe

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: A friend in Boston
Nominee: Eugenia Lopez Uribe, Mexican activist and coordinator of the MARIA Abortion Fund for Social Justice

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Eugenia last November in Boston. She was touring the United States speaking about the MARIA Abortion Fund and social justice issues in Mexico. I was totally blown away by her knowledge and dedication.

Eugenia helps women access safe, legal abortion and defends the right to abortion in Mexico. This is no small task. Abortion throughout Mexico has been restricted to cases or rape, life or health of the woman, or fetal malformations. Even when women “fit” within these restrictions, it’s impossible to find safe abortion care because most states do not have protocols to provide it. Finally in 2007, Mexico City became the exception and decriminalized abortion up to 12 weeks.

Yet, abortion continues to be a matter of social justice in most Mexican states. Upper class women can pay private providers or travel to Mexico City or leave the country. However, poor women continue to risk their health and lives by seeking back-alley abortions. This is why the work Eugenia does is so important. The MARIA Abortion Fund for Social Justice helps these women.

Eugenia works directly with women who don’t have the resources to access legal abortion services available in Mexico City. She and her fellow MARIA Fund members transport women to, from and within Mexico City, provide housing, help schedule the appointment, pay for part or all of the abortion procedure, accompany the women when they request it, and offer informative materials and counseling. By providing these services, Eugenia and her fellow volunteers are changing Mexico by saving lives. She is truly amazing.

April 20, 2010

A Civil Rights Leader: Dorothy Height

View all of the Women’s Health Heroes nominees. Who’s your hero? Submit here.

Entrant: Shailey Smith
Nominee: Dorothy Height

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Dorothy Height. I immediately felt the need to so something, so I am nominating her as my health hero.

Dorothy was an extraordinary woman who fought for racial equality through seven decades of this country’s history.

When people think of civil rights leaders, people like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and W. E. B. Du Bois easily come to mind. But Dorothy was a constant presence in the movement and often the only woman in meetings that included the easily recognized male leaders. Yet she didn’t care because she was determined that the needs of women and children were not lost in the daily struggle. She took that task upon her shoulders to make sure their needs were heard. Dorothy did this until her death at 98.

When I read Ms. Height’s obituary this morning, it was the the final quote that inspired me the most:

“We African American women seldom do just what we want to do, but always do what we have to do. I am grateful to have been in a time and place where I could be a part of what was needed.”

I’m grateful you were part of what was needed, Ms. Height. Thank you for shaping the world I live in.

April 20, 2010

Trust Women: Dr. George Tiller

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Zoe French
Nominee: Dr. George Tiller

Dr. Tiller was an abortion provider, one of only three nationwide who provided abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy. He was murdered at church by an anti-abortion activist on May 31, 2009.

April 20, 2010

Social Justice Activist: Rita Arditti

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Emma McGuinnes
Nominee: Rita Arditti

As a women’s studies major, I have learned the importance of examining and understanding connections when fighting for social justice. Rita Arditti, a feminist, a human rights activist, an environmentalist and a biologist, spent her life exposing these intersections and advocating for the need to develop a consciousness about such links that contribute to oppression.

Rita was born in 1934 in Argentina and studied biology in Italy before settling in the United States. She co-founded the Science for the People movement in the 1970s, which pushed to show the connections between science, the Vietnam War and politics. The movement, which was anti-war in spirit, was to raise awareness about how science can be manipulated to support certain political agendas.

In 1974, Rita was one of four founders of the New Words Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., a women’s bookstore that offered a space for words and voices of those who had been silenced to be showcased and heard. The bookstore also hosted several activism events bridging the gap between academia and the community.

Later in life, Rita also helped to found the Women’s Community Cancer Project, whose mission was to raise awareness about environmental exposures that contribute to women’s cancers. Rita herself lived with breast cancer for decades, and she was dedicated to showing the links between chemicals and the rise in cancer in women. Intersecting her feminist, environmentalist and biology background, Rita critiqued the medical world for being male-dominated and influenced by major chemical producers. She was not satisfied with the treatment-oriented approach to cancer research and advocated for looking at how to prevent women from getting cancer in the first place.

Rita Arditti passed away on December 25, 2009. She will be greatly missed and always be remembered. She raised a critical awareness about how fields traditionally taken as fact, such as science and medicine, can be misused to support certain political ideologies and to perpetuate oppression. Rita worked endlessly for social justice and for providing the space for those who have been marginalized to be heard.

April 20, 2010

Champion to Homeless Women and Children: Dr. Roseanna Means

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Meghan Ward
Nominee: Dr. Roseanna Means

Imagine having no roof over your head during the frigid winters. Imagine the pain and panic of not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Imagine getting sick, but with no health insurance or personal physician, having absolutely no where to turn for help.

These are issues that nearly all homeless women face at some point during their lives. However, one Boston-area physician and her dedicated staff of volunteer doctors and nurses are helping to dramatically change the health and well-being of homeless women in and around the Boston area for the better.

I nominate Dr. Roseanne Means as a Women’s Health Hero for the 2010 Our Bodies, Ourselves Women’s Health Hero Awards, as her dedication to poor and homeless women in and around Boston is truly admirable.

Dr. Roseanna Means, a Boston-area internist, has taken a special interest in the health and well-being of the city’s most vulnerable population: homeless women. Women of Means, first established in 1999, is a non-profit organization that serves the health needs of homeless women and children. Founded by Dr. Means, Women of Means operates under the notion that homeless women should not have to sacrifice basic needs to receive quality healthcare.

The organization works to improve immediate access to healthcare for Massachusetts’s poorest women and children and provide medical supplies and services to health care professionals and shelter staff treating homeless and poor women. Women of Means shares its alternative model of care with other medical professionals and advocates for women at clinical, social justice, academic and health policy levels.

Women of Means addresses and serves not only the physical needs of poor and homeless women, but the emotional and mental needs as well. Homeless women often face a barrage of physical, emotional and psychological challenges in regards to their overall health and well-being. This includes but is not limited to stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug and alcohol problems, lack of education, mental illness and feelings of guilt and shame — as well as myriad physical health ailments that come from lack of care, proper nutrition and harsh living conditions.

Furthermore, poor and homeless women face tremendous difficulties that so many of us take for granted, such as how to physically get themselves to a doctor, especially if they have no means or money for transportation. Dr. Means suggests that sacrificing scarce money that could possibly be used for food or shelter is certainly often not an option for homeless women. This is why Dr. Means and her staff personally visit shelters where many homeless women stay. The guilt and shame that often accompanies homelessness hinders women from seeking medical care or maintaining chronic illnesses or conditions, and by visiting them personally, many women receive care and companionship that they would otherwise go without.

Dr. Means and her dedicated staff truly respect and advocate for poor and homeless women, and are proof that despite times of economic hardship, one person can truly make a difference. Her dedication to providing quality healthcare to women who often go unrecognized by others is remarkable and worthy of recognition. I nominate Dr. Means on behalf of homeless women everywhere.


Dr. Means was nominated twice. The second nomination is below.

Entrant: Liza D. Molina ScD,MPH
Nominee: Roseanna Means, MD, Founding Director of Women of Means Inc.

It is with profound honor, that I nominate Dr.Roseanna Means MD, founder of Women of Means (WOM) Inc. WOM was founded in 1999 and Incorporated as a non-profit in 2000, with the single mission of providing access to free and compassionate health care to homeless and battered women and their children.

During the decade before establishing WOM, Dr. Means served as the Medical Director for Health Care for the Homeless. In that capacity, Dr. Means quickly observed that women were disproportionably less likely then their male counterparts to take advantage of clinical services. Her  female patients candidly cited avoiding using many of the same facilities frequented by homeless men for several reasons – the greatest being fear of using facilities to which men had free access – thus placing them at a higher risk of being located by their batterer and possibly violated. In addition, more culturally conservative women expressed a feeling of deep humiliation and shame on sharing clinical facilities and clinicians with men.

Realizing that women are more likely to suffer premature death as a consequence of homelessness, Dr. Means began providing free medical care to homeless women and their families in secure and familiar environments including safe houses, shelters, and drop-in centers.

She has since inspired hundreds of other clinicians to volunteer their services – growing what started as a singular heroic act of volunteerism into an organization which now consists of a team of rotating physicians,  nurses, medical, nursing, medical language interpreting students, interns and residents – all whom collectively over the past decade have provided a unique model of compassionate, patient-centered medical care to over 65,000 homeless, battered women and children.

April 20, 2010

Nurse, Mother & Friend: Kathleen Ward

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Meghan Ward
Nominee: Kathleen Ward, Nurse, Mother, Friend

“God couldn’t be everywhere, therefore He created mothers.” – Yiddish Proverb

Recently, I lost my grandmother after a period of failing health. She passed away in hospice care, in the hospital surrounded by family and friends. I have always believed that it is in times such as those that people’s true character is seen, and it was during this time that I came to know my own mother as a health hero in every sense of the word.

As my grandmother lay in her bed — sick, confused, and not knowing who was with her or what was going on — the one thing that remained constant was my mother’s presence. My mother was the one who sat with my grandmother in the middle of the night, just to hold her hand, making sure that she was comfortable and calm. It was my mother who sacrificed night after night of sleep to be with her in the hospital. It was my mother who recognized if she was in any pain, advocating for her and ensuring her that she was not alone. It was my mother who was with her when she took her last breath.

As my grandmother became sicker, the responsibilities of caring for an elderly relative weighed heavily on my family. However, it was my mother who was there, constantly. It was my mother who visited her in the middle of the night, during snowstorms and times of health crises. It was my mother who brought her dinner and made sure she ate, and it was my mother who was there during times of great sadness and loneliness. It was my mother who took her to the hospital time after time, before her final days. It was my mother who bathed and cleaned her when she could no longer do it herself, and it was my mother who held her when she died.

My grandmother who passed away was my mom’s mother-in-law; however, I believe my mother was more like a daughter than a daughter-in-law to her. Being married to her son, my mother was welcomed into the family by my grandmother, who herself was widowed with five children to raise on her own during the 1960s. Both women — strong, resilient and kind — exemplify the kind of woman I strive to be every day. I am incredibly proud of both my grandmother and my mother, and I feel this nomination as a women’s health hero does not begin to adequately thank my mother for all she done, for me and for my family. I am truly honored to be her daughter.

My mother is many things. She is a nurse, she is a daughter, she is a sister, she is a grandmother, she is a friend, she is a caretaker, and most importantly, she is my hero. She is someone who cares for others whenever they are alone and in need. She is the kind of woman who will simply sit with someone as they die, so they are not alone. She is kind, comforting, caring, selfless, and incredibly strong. She is the kind of woman deserving of the title of health hero, for herself and on behalf of mothers everywhere.

April 19, 2010

Teaching Midwives Sensitivity and Patience: Laura Zeidenstein

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Jennifer Shark
Nominee: Laura Zeidenstein, Midwife and Director of Columbia University School of Nursing’s Midwifery program

Laura has been the director of Columbia University School of Nursing’s Midwifery program for 10 years now. She was my mentor during my tenure as a student at Columbia, and I still consider her to be such. It is largely thanks to her that I learned to be a sensitive, patient midwife.

Whenever I am taking care of women, whether in the ambulatory setting or in the hospital in labor, I can feel her hands guiding mine. When I precept midwifery students, I hear her voice explaining how or why we do things the way we do, and how that makes us different.

Her love for her students and the women she cares for comes through in everything she does. She is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I have had the pleasure to learn from. These things, along with her commitment to the uphill battle that is improving women’s health, makes her my women’s health hero. I’d venture to guess that all of her students, past and present, share the sentiment.

April 19, 2010

Canadian Abortion Rights Activist: Norma Scarborough

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Christine Marton
Nominee: Norma Scarborough, Canadian Association to Repeal the Abortion Law founding member

Norma Scarborough was instrumental to the fight for abortion rights in Canada. I did not know her personally, and she is no longer with us, but I think the testimonial from Judy Rebick, herself an abortion activist, is very moving.

More about Norma from Science Notes, originally published June 2, 2009:

Norma Scarborough, was the sensible soul of the pro-choice movement in Canada, died April 2. A mother of five children, she had compassion and a helping hand for the unwillingly pregnant. She was a founding member of CARAL and its president for several very important years, 1984 – 92. Thus she was of of the people supporting Dr. Henry Morgentaler in his struggle to bring safe, legal abortion to Canadian women.  In January of 1988 Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the criminal law on abortion because it violated women’s right to life, liberty, and security of the person. In other words, the law coerced women and put them in danger.

April 19, 2010

Saving a Friend’s Life: National Network of Abortion Funds

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Sarah Wilson
Nominee: National Network of Abortion Funds

My women’s health heroes are the members of the National Network of Abortion Funds. They saved my friend’s life by helping her find the money to pay for her abortion last year.

My friend was trying to get out of an abusive relationship when she found out she was pregnant. At the same time, she got laid off from her job and her mom was diagnosed with cancer. I realize that seems like a lot, and I can assure you it was.

She turned to me for help, but I could only lend her $100 and she needed $600. We found the National Network of Abortion Funds on the internet and called them. The woman who we spoke with was SO nice and understanding. She gave us a list of numbers to call for help. I couldn’t believe there were people out there who could help. The thought never crossed my mind.

I’m so grateful for the National Network of Abortion Funds. They really are heroes.

April 19, 2010

Activist, Researcher and Educator: Karen M. Hicks

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Joan Z. Spade, Ph.D.
Nominee: Karen M. Hicks, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Lehigh University and Lafayette College

I am nominating Dr. Karen Hicks for her on-going dedication to improving women’s health and well-being, particularly as it relates to sexuality and reproductive health.

Dr. Hicks has been a sexuality educator for more than 20 years. She teaches Human Sexuality and Women’s Reproductive Health as an adjunct professor at both Lehigh University and Lehigh University.  In 1994,  Dr. Hicks authored one book on women’s health, “Surviving the Dalkon Shield IUD: Women v. the Pharmaceutical Industry,” and edited another, “Misdiagnosis: Woman as Disease.”

She started a kitchen table action grassroots action group of survivors of the Dalkon Shield IUD, which grew to 15 chapters across the United States and became the chief claimant’s voice in the courtroom during the A. H. Robbins bankruptcy case.  More than 200,000 women ultimately received modest settlements from the Dalkon Shield Trust Fund.

In 2004, she published an online Medscape CME course titled “Women’s Sexual Problems — A Guide to Integrating the New View Approach.” She also developed a successful online course titled “Ministry, Sexuality and Congregations” for the Center for Sexuality and Religion. She is currently a member of the New View Campaign, which advocates against the medicalization of women’s sexuality. She is also a member of the consortium on sexuality and aging.

Dr. Hicks is an activist, researcher and educator whose work has impacted the health and well-being of many women.  Her work on the Dalkon Shield IUD took her from the kitchen table to courtrooms and Congress. In addition to the classrooms and online courses noted above, she has also facilitated workshops on many topics related to women’s sexual well-being, including body image, teenage pregnancy prevention, menopause, and sexuality in aging and aged populations.  I believe she deserves to be called a “Women’s Health Hero.”

April 16, 2010

Ohio Campus Organizer: Shirley Kailas

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Kelsey Chapman
Nominee: Shirley Kailas

When I arrived at Kenyon College, in the middle of nowhere Ohio, I was another insecure freshman girl who hated her body and was afraid to speak out. Luckily, I happened to become involved with campus organizations filled with wonderful and powerful women who helped me find my voice and speak out against sexism and sexual assault, eating disorders and the thin ideal, and many other important feminist health issues. During this time, I met one particular woman who changed not only my life, but those of everyone around her.

At first I was intimidated by Shirley Kailas (left in photo), an outgoing, beautiful, smart and powerful feminist. She was the president of Epsilon Delta Mu when I met her, which, despite being a sorority, was one of the most active and most heard feminist groups on campus.

In addition, she was an important part of the Crozier Center for Women and the college’s women’s and gender studies department. I watched as she put together a “this is what a feminist looks like” campaign in response to sexism on campus, help organize Take Back the Night, and address sexual assault and eating disorders on campus.

It was not until I expressed my interest in starting a “Love Your Body” group that I got to know her personally. We began speaking about the increased amount of over-exercise and disordered eating on campus and decided enough was enough. The group flourished because of Shirley’s dedication and passion. She single-handedly brought Courtney Martin, author of “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters,” to speak on campus, and over 200 people attended. In addition, she helped to lead and promote “Fat Talk Free Week” on campus and was a main proponent of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

While her leadership in these campus-wide organizations and events is quite impressive, her personal influence is one of the main reason I am nominating her for this ward. I have watched her become a kind of respected counselor among friends. Women who have been sexually assaulted, who have developed eating disorders, or have friends with these issues, have begun to flock to her for guidance.

As an undergraduate, she has become a beacon of hope to women on this campus, and in her home of New York City — something that many of us cannot claim to have done in a lifetime. I have no doubt that she will one day be featured in the news for her accomplishments to women’s health, as she has already had a major effect on the attitudes and health of the women on Kenyon College’s campus. Thus, I nominate her for this award, to acknowledge what she has done and what she will do for women everywhere.

April 15, 2010

A Reluctant Hero: Betsy Ryan

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Steven Slosberg
Nominee: Betsy Ryan, RN

I’ve submitted a column I wrote about Betsy Ryan several years ago when I was a columnist for The Day, a daily newspaper in New London, Conn.

Betsy continues to work ardently as a nurse in the infectious diseases department at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, as well as in HIV/AIDS education and prevention in our community, and, as a breast cancer survivor, summons enviable energy in her commitment.

She is most deserving of this honor.

A reluctant hero on front lines of a long fight (originally published 10/01)

Knowing Betsy Ryan, I suspect the Alliance for Living first had to engrave and mail the invitations, post public notice in places beyond her reach and probably put a search party on standby before telling her she was going to be formally honored for her community service. There could be no way out of it.

Even then, says Peter Bowler, one of the Alliance for Living leaders, she tried to persuade the non-profit support group for people affected by HIV/AIDS in this region to give the award to more deserving folk or at least let them share it with her.

“I said, ‘Too late, Betsy,” said Bowler. “See you at the awards dinner.”

That would be next Wednesday night, at the Mystic Hilton, when Lizbeth Love Ryan, a registered nurse and longtime relentless advocate for HIV and AIDS education and prevention, is to receive the organization’s annual outstanding community service award as part of its Awards & Appreciation Night.

The thing is, Ryan, who works in Lawrence & Memorial Hospital’s infectious disease service, has yet to acknowledge that she will attend.

“If we have to track her down and hook her up to an ox and cart, she’ll be there,” said Bowler.

She is that modest, that reluctant to take a public bow, at least about her role in community HIV awareness, but absolutely not in her labors to make lives here better and safer.

There is Betsy Ryan, a slender figure, prim and proper might apply, standing in front of any group, demonstrating, step by step, the proper way to apply a condom, and candidly discussing spermicides and lubricants and why latex condoms are best because they’re man-made and the quality can be assured.

I saw her give such a demonstration for the first time before a roomful of politicians, educators, nurses and health care and human service agency workers at Ocean Beach one September day in 1989. She gave similarly straightforward demonstrations at Frank’s Place, a gay bar, in New London during the annual Celebration of Hope fund-raisers. She’s given hundreds and hundreds of them, all over the region.

She’s been admired as a caregiver and has served as an ad hoc spokeswoman for tracking HIV/AIDS here. Though not always the easiest person for a reporter to find at deadline, she has been consistently helpful in providing statistics, always protecting the confidentiality of those with the disease. She knows just what she can say and won’t be cajoled into saying more.

In her time here she’s coordinated the New London AIDS clinic, has been a mainstay of the AIDS care program at L&M and was president of the Women’s Center of Southeastern Connecticut. She moved here in 1972 and, except for a short time in Hawaii, has been a nurse at L&M. She started out in the emergency room. She’s in her early 50s, was raised in western Pennsylvania and for the last 15 years has lived with Ken Abrahms, who owns Art Unlimited in Ledyard. They have a home in Groton and one in Watch Hill.

Donna M. Greene, president of the Alliance for Living board, has known Ryan for nine years, since Greene was involved with Helping Our People Endure Foundation Inc. (HOPE), which, in April 1998, merged with the Southeastern Connecticut AIDS Project (SECAP) to form the Alliance for Living.

Greene, who works at Pfizer, has not always agreed with Ryan’s positions, notably Ryan’s opposition to needle exchange programs. But Greene admires Ryan’s courage of her convictions.

“She’s a very firm believer in what she stands up for,” says Greene. “She’s got all the facts. She really knows her business.”

She and Bowler and Michael Rosenkrantz, the executive director of Allliance for Living, decided it was time for Ryan to face facts, and receive the recognition.

“She’s one of the few people, out there in daily contact, in the front lines, who never loses her sunny disposition and always has her client’s best interest at heart,” said Greene.

Others will be honored at the dinner for volunteer work and Dr. Frederick Altice, an HIV specialist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, will be the keynote speaker.

Betsy Ryan will be recognized for her abiding dedication, and maybe the only way to assure her being there is the opportunity, with all those people gathered in one room, for her to unroll one more condom and deliver her unflinching AIDS 101 presentation, once again.

April 15, 2010

The Power of Female Beauty: Dr. Nick Karras and Dr. Sayaka Adachi

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Dr. Srividya Nair
Nominees: Dr. Nick Karras and Dr. Sayaka Adachi

A woman’s identity is indelibly linked with her sexuality; historically and currently, it is under attack in nearly every arena. We are left feeling inadequate and ugly no matter what role we are assigned by society. And yet it seems we are less aware of our sexuality and beauty now than in any other time. Told by endless number of pseudo pundits that we must look like her or have that body to be sexy, it is difficult to have confidence in our selves and our bodies.

The work that Drs. Nick Karras and Sayaka Adachi are doing as sexologists is profound and enduring. They have published a book, “Petals,” and an accompanying DVD that are transformative — not just in the realm of art and body consciousness, but also in medicine and health. And when combined with their counseling, their work truly has an amazing potential to change lives not just in the field of sexuality but also in the field of clinical medicine.

My life (amongst many others) has been enriched, and I have become more aware of the beauty of the female body by their work and their friendship. They deserve this award with no qualifications. Drs. Nick Karras and Sayaka Adachi have put the power over ourselves and our bodies back in our hands.

April 15, 2010

A Midwife for All Women: Whitney Pinger

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Abigail Golden-Vazquez and Heather Wilson
Nominee: Whitney Pinger, Midwife

Whitney Pinger is indisputably a women’s health hero. She is one of the few private-practice midwives in Washington, DC working to provide midwifery care to women desiring hospital birth.  She is a senior Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) in the Washington, DC region, who 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 home birth 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.

As C-section rates soar in the US, without necessarily better outcomes for women and their babies, the service she is providing the community is essential to empowering women to do what they were designed to do and know how to do, birth children, and she is doing it in a way that provides as many options as possible for a safe and healthy outcome to women and babies.

Heather Wilson has apprenticed with Whitney and seen 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.”

I can’t emphasize enough the battles this woman warrior has had to fight to be able to continue to provide this needed service. I can’t think of a more deserving candidate. I sincerely hope you will consider making Whitney your hero. She is definitely our hero, as any of the women who have worked with her will tell you

April 14, 2010

Raising the Volume of Women’s Voices: Lorenza Holt

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Randi Friedman
Nominee: Lorenza Holt, Executive Director, Boston Association for Childbirth Education

My women’s health hero is my next-door neighbor and dear friend, Lorenza Holt. Lorenza is passionate about empowering women during the childbirth process. She has devoted the past 15 years of her life to working primarily with multicultural inner-city women as a doula, community outreach coordinator, and childbirth educator.

When Lorenza excitedly describes her work helping women discover their strength, courage, and power during this significant moment in their lives, you can literally feel the depth of her passion and the intensity of her commitment. I have attached a short video/digital story, which will provide a sense of Lorenza and what has inspired her work.

Lorenza was born and grew up in Mexico; she is bilingual and began working as a community coordinator for the Cambridge Birth Center before it even opened in the mid-90s. Lorenza was instrumental in creating its doula program, which continues to serve a culturally diverse population.

As Lorenza explained to me: When a woman who may be an immigrant and who may not speak English has the support of another woman during childbirth, who understands her language and culture, it “raises the volume of her voice” and allows her to be heard.  Lorenza feels that helping women find their voice during childbirth can be a transformative experience for that woman in all aspects of her life — and can have a profound impact on society.

After working for a number of years in the Cambridge Birth Center doula program, Lorenza went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in public health at Boston University, specializing in maternal and child health. She studied maternal depression, using a multicultural approach. After obtaining her degree, Lorenza administered the doula program at Boston Medical Center for several years.

Lorenza is currently devoting her energies to working with the Boston Association for Childbirth Education (BACE). As its volunteer executive director, she is tirelessly working toward developing multilingual community-based childbirth education. She and BACE are trying to develop a workforce of community health workers who can provide a range of culturally appropriate services to help women make informed decisions about the birthing process and provide support to new mothers.

Lorenza’s work with women is her “calling.” There have been quite a few times when I am leaving my house in the morning and Lorenza is returning from a long night when she has been a doula at a birth. At those moments, Lorenza is full of energy and emotion and her excitement is palpable. Her birth stories have moved me to tears. They are amazing stories about women who were scared and sometimes alone and who found the power and courage, with her support, to trust themselves and their bodies as they bring promising new lives into the world.

April 12, 2010

Giving Survivors a Voice: Maggie Ginsberg Schutz

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Deborah Schutz
Nominee: Maggie Ginsberg Schutz, freelance writer and creater of Violence UnSilenced

Violence UnSilenced was created by Maggie Ginsberg Schutz in February 2009, to shed light within the blogging community on domestic violence and sexual abuse/assault by giving survivors a voice. From the mission statement:

One of the last hurdles to eradicating abuse is the culture of silence and shame that exists yet today. You very likely have people in your life that are being abused, you just don’t realize it. Victims are led to believe they are alone, that no one will believe them, and that people will think less of them. Heavy societal pressure generally falls on the victim (ie, “Why doesn’t she leave?”) instead of on the person committing the crime (ie, “Why doesn’t he?”)

Every situation is complicated and unique, and there is no stereotype. Every single survivor of abuse is different from his or her comrades, and by sharing stories here we can educate ourselves as to just how pervasive domestic violence and sexual abuse/assault is, and how it crosses all cultural, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic lines. This is our society’s collective issue, not simply a problem of those directly impacted. There are 70 million blogs out there, and one in four women will experience abuse in her lifetime. We who are active in the blogosphere have a responsibility to listen to our friends and to spread the word, so that we can strip abusers of this critical power. I also believe very, very strongly in the cathartic power of writing.

The video below was created in honor of the project’s 1-year anniversary.

April 12, 2010

Solar-Powered Solutions for Childbirth: Dr. Laura Stachel

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Cynthia Demsey
Nominee: Dr. Laura Stachel, Founder of We Care Solar

Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician, studying for her PhD in Public Health, founded We Care Solar to save the lives of mothers and infants by providing solar-powered solutions for skilled obstetric care.

Each year, over half a million women die from pregnancy complications in developing countries. Maternal mortality worldwide accounts for more than half a million deaths a year; 99 percent of these occur in underdeveloped countries. For every maternal death, at least 20 women suffer severe complications from childbirth.

While studying in Nigeria, Dr. Stachel observed firsthand that obstetric emergencies require prompt, appropriate, reliable medical and surgical care. Dr. Stachel saw how unreliable power and communication in health facilities results in life-threatening delays in reaching essential health personnel and inadequate lighting for obstetric and surgical procedures.

Upon her return from Nigeria, Dr. Stachel worked with her husband, Dr. Hal Aronson, a solar engineer, to develop a practical solution to the dire need for a reliable power system that can be transported anywhere in the world.

The solution is brilliant in its simplicity. That was the beginning of WE CARE SOLAR. A solar suitcase was the solution. WE CARE SOLAR designs solar-powered systems to meet essential maternity care needs. Their solar-powered systems are contained in portable suitcase-size systems that are immediately operational and expandable. It is designed to power, lighting, communication equipment and small devices.

The “solar suitcase” powers two overhead LED lighting, charges walkie-talkies and cell phones, and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries. The first deployment of these systems occurred in June 2009. Now these systems have been introduced in nine countries. Most recently, they were asked to send solar suitcases to Haiti, where they are being used by medical relief teams and maternity clinics.

These systems are designed to be user-friendly, robust, durable, and nearly maintenance-free. They can be reproduced and easily installed in existing hospitals and clinics that have unreliable/problematic power systems. Improved surgical lighting, enhanced usage of existing medical equipment, and the establishment of a sustainable telecommunication system is being shown to reduce delays in providing care, and to increase the capacity of health workers to care for patients with obstetric complications. In addition, workers report more confidence in performing skilled care, and no longer fear night duty.

WE CARE Solar promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and blood bank refrigeration using solar electricity.
The solar powered solution can make the difference between life and death by:

  • reducing delays in care;
  • increasing procedure safety; and
  • increasing hospital capacity to care for critically ill mothers.

Dr. Laura Stachel’s commitment to improving women’s health throughout the world resulted in a simple but brilliant design that will change the lives of millions of women and children. There is no limit to the positive impact that will be felt from her solar suitcase. I can think of no one who deserves to be called a hero more than Dr. Stachel.

April 6, 2010

Fighting Cervical Cancer Around the World: John Varallo

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Maureen Reinsel
Nominee: John Varallo, MD, MPH, Senior Technical Advisor

Obstetricians and gynecologists choose to dedicate themselves to women’s health, but that alone does not qualify them as a Women’s Health Hero. A hero humbly exceeds the average expectations to create true and lasting positive change. Dr. John Varallo, through his selfless and untiring contributions to women’s health in the United States, Guyana, Tanzania, Uganda, Belize, Guatemala, and Australia, is a Women’s Health Hero.

While I know him through his work on cervical cancer prevention and treatment in Guyana, it is far from his only contribution to women’s health globally. Dr. Varallo works with the most vulnerable women, and inspires others to join him through education and collaboration.

Dr. Varallo has contributed to improved prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, particularly among HIV positive women. Cervical cancer, caused by the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is a preventable disease that kills an estimated 253,500 women worldwide annually (National Cervical Cancer Coalition, The burden of disease is particularly onerous among HIV positive women, who have a more difficult time clearing the virus from their system and in whom the cancer moves significantly more quickly.

Dr. Varallo’s efforts have led to a considerable expansion in coverage of cervical cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. In Guyana alone, he has trained 23 physicians, advance practice nurses, and registered nurses in one year to detect and treat pre-cancerous lesions. His work in Guyana has led to the Ministry of Health instituting a national cervical cancer prevention and treatment program, and he was the principle author of the country’s cervical cancer prevention and treatment policy and guidelines.

Providers trained by Dr. Varallo have screened more than 5,000 women in one year, providing approximately 800 women with preventative treatment. In addition to his work in Guyana, Dr. Varallo has trained health care providers in cervical cancer prevention and treatment in five other countries, including the United States.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 5, 2010

Speaker of the House: Nancy Pelosi

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Sandra Gandsman
Nominee: Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman and Speaker of the House

There is no woman in the country who deserves this honor more than Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

By sheer strength of will, this woman has led an unruly Congress into passage of the most far reaching health care legislation in the history of our country.  She persisted when others might have folded under the stress of constant attacks both personal, ugly and unrelenting.

While there is much still to be accomplished in health care, this is a brave new start, and Congresswoman Pelosi should be applauded for her success.

While some women may argue that she gave in to the right wing and the anti-choice minority with regard to abortion rights, I, however, would argue that she understood the historic movement she was propelling forward and determined the greater good was in providing health care to the many.  I, and the millions of women who have found themselves with out insurance or with overpriced policies, who feared losing a job would mean losing insurance, who were denied coverage for preexisting conditions or who had to choose between food or medication, need not fear anymore.

Thank you, Congresswoman Pelosi.

April 1, 2010

A True Gem: Rachel Lloyd

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here.

Entrant: Meghan Ward
Nominee: Rachel Lloyd, Founder and Executive Director of GEMS

It is with profound admiration and respect that I nominate Rachel Lloyd as a women’s health hero for the 2010 Our Bodies Ourselves Women’s Health Hero awards. Rachel Lloyd is the founder and executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York City, also known as GEMS. GEMS helps girls and young women escape lives of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

GEMS provides counseling, shelter, educational services and many other services needed for victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. In addition to helping young girls and women escape lives of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, one of GEMS primary goals is to educate the public about the current attitudes and beliefs which treat victims of sexual exploitation as criminals.

Treating victims of child sexual exploitation as criminals is one of the worst possible things one can do. It does not help eradicate commercial sex trafficking. In fact, it does far more harm than good to those victimized by men who buy and sell young girls. Rachel Lloyd works tirelessly to change such absurd views, speaking out against these laws and sentences in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

March 31, 2010

Who’s Your Health Hero? Nominations Open April 1 for OBOS Women’s Health Heroes Awards

When Our Bodies Ourselves launched the Women’s Health Heroes Awards in 2009, we didn’t anticipate the outpouring of essays and videos we received (from seven countries!) or how incredibly difficult it would be to select two honorees from the close to 100 submissions.

We circumvented the second issue by selecting 20 Women’s Health Heroes — and addressed the first part by making it an annual event.

By making these changes, we are able to direct more attention to the challenging and rewarding work done around the world to improve the health and well-being of women. And, within five years, our Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame will include 100 people who have made a difference.

So without further ado, I’m delighted to announce the launch of the 2010 Women’s Health Heroes Awards.

If you have a favorite doctor, midwife, doula, blogger, activist, educator, family member, neighbor or friend who has made a difference in the lives of women, now is your chance to tell the world about her or his  impact. Submission guidelines and details can be found at

Here are the important deadlines:
* Nominations open: April 1
* Submissions deadline: May 7
* Voting opens: May 7
* Voting closes: May 14
* Winners announced: May 26

Submissions will be posted at Readers will determine which nominee receives the Audience Choice Award, and OBOS staff will select one nominee for special recognition.

Those two selections — and the people who nominated them — 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, these health heroes will receive an engraved award for display.

Then, because we can’t stop there, we’ll select 18 more nominees, for a total of 20 new inductees into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame.

Please feel free to share this information on blogs, listservs and with your own networks. If you have any questions, please contact Wendy Brovold, OBOS communications and marketing manger: or 617-245-0200 ×13

Thanks — and good luck!

P.S. You can help spread the word by adding one of these widgets to your website or Facebook. If you need other promotional material, just let us know!