Conference promotes women's health

Former Texas governor describes her success in fighting osteoporosis.
Thursday, October 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:43 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

When former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards noticed that the collars of her shirts no longer fit properly, she went to visit her doctor. She learned that her spine had compressed and she had lost a half-inch in height.

The diagnosis was osteoporosis.

"I don’t want my kids to remember my last year the way I remember momma’s," Richards said, referring to the osteoporosis that sapped her mother’s spirit. "I was totally ignorant about what was going on inside my body."

But that changed once she began taking medication. She modified her diet and incorporated more exercise into her daily schedule.

"I’m 70 years old and I’ve never felt better or been in better health in my life," she said.

MU was one of Richards’ many stops on a nationwide tour encouraging women to modify their diet and exercise regimes and get bone-density tests. Her travel is sponsored by Eli Lily, a pharmaceutical company that makes Evista, a drug Richards and many other post-menopausal women use to maintain bone density.

Richards and two other keynote speakers addressed more than 700 women during The Missouri Conference for Women held at the Hearnes Center on Wednesday. At the conference she signed copies of a book she co-authored with her physician, "I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle With Osteoporosis."

Sessions at the day-long conference included topics about leadership, strategies for success and health care.

Dr. Mary Lea Dohrman, a clinical associate professor at the MU Health Sciences Center, spoke about cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in women. The majority of heart disease is preventable, she said.

Dohrman encouraged women to give up smoking, which is especially deadly in combination with birth-control pills. "A single cigarette decreases coronary blood flow," Dohrman said.

She also advised women to get regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks and engage in various forms of stress management, such as exercise.

The medical community now feels that people ought to have a half hour of exercise every day. Eating high fiber, low fat foods is also important. "Cook for one and eat for two," she advised.

The conference developed from two pilot programs in California and Texas. "This was my wife’s idea," Missouri Gov. Bob Holden told the crowd during the lunchtime banquet. "We want this to be an affirmation of how much you contribute to our society."

Noelle Collins, an attorney with Stinson Morrison Hecker, found the conference inspiring. She was exchanging business cards with three other women she met while attending a session about starting and growing your own business.

Collins said you can always learn something from another individual, especially another businesswoman. Many women are forthcoming about their personal struggles and goals as well as their professional lives, Collins explained. "When men talk about business you don’t hear a holistic perspective," Collins said.

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