SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has taken the tradition of the Native healer and given it a new twist.
The program is called Yaa kudzigeiyi Shaawat, or WISEWOMAN, and it promotes dleen kwat sh.iltin, or healthy hearts and healthy traditions.
WISEWOMAN operates at four sites in Southeast Alaska - Juneau, Sitka, Haines and Prince of Wales Island, said LeeAnn See, WISEWOMAN health educator with SEARHC in Juneau. Each site is staffed with two people: A registered nurse who does patient education and a health educator. See handles the health education aspect of the program, while Lynda Koski is the patient educator.
The WISEWOMAN program is funded by a grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant was awarded in June 2001 and the program began in Juneau in the fall, See said.
"The grant is very specific," See said. "We are to serve Native women 40 to 64 years old, or non-Native women, depending on the site of the clinic, and help improve their cardiovascular health. We work closely with the breast and cervical cancer clinic and diabetes clinic to find potential patients."
Both See and Koski are part-time employees. Nevertheless, by the end of December they had enrolled 60 people in the program. Koski screens people new to the program, taking an hour to an hour and a half to do a thorough evaluation. Then she suggests interventions, such as smoking cessation, increased physical activity, or nutrition education. One-on-one counseling determines if the patient who comes in for screening wants to participate in programs or interventions.
"I do lots of education to acquaint women with the risk for heart attacks," See said. "Most women think the number one killer of females is cancer, but it's not. As women become more equal in the work place, they pick up increased stress. These days, cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death among women."
In fact, heart disease kills more women in Southeast Alaska than all cancers and injuries combined.
Risk factors are habits or traits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. Many heart disease risk factors can be controlled. Factors include:
High blood pressure.
High blood cholesterol levels.
The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the risk.
Among the activities that See handles is HUGS, a 10-week intensive program. It is designed to develop an alternate perspective to chronic dieting. The next class begins in May. In May she will also give four workshops called "Tailoring Your Tastes." Participants will taste different foods, and learn how to prepare heart-healthy meals for themselves and their families.
See formerly worked as a health service worker in Tenakee. Ten years ago, she enrolled as a freshman at the University of Hawaii and soldiered on until she had a master's degree in public health education. Then she taught human development and parenting for two years at the University. "I had the permission of my husband to take 10 years for school, and I did it," she said with a grin.
WISEWOMAN enrollees are encouraged to become more physically active by joining the 100-Mile Club, a contest in which they receive points for the number of miles they walk or run during a designated time period. Another activity program is 10,000 STEPS. Enrollees are given a pedometer to record the number of steps they take each day, with a goal of 10,000 steps. Ten thousand steps per day is the recommended number of steps for adequate physical activity.
For those enrolled in the program, WISEWOMAN publishes a monthly letter which includes a calendar of events (such as ongoing yoga classes and the annual, spring Eagles Vs Ravens inter-tribal physical activity contests), phone numbers to call, plus ideas to improve health and modify unhealthy habits. Enrollees are also provided with gym and pool passes.
"It's not a fast process; it's behavior modification," See said. "I never ask people to step on the scale. And, if they are smokers, and can cut back from two and a half packs to half a pack, that's an achievement."
For more information about WISEWOMAN, call Lynda Koski at 463-4042 or LeeAnn See at 463-4027. In Sitka, call Nancy Knapp, WISEWOMAN coordinator, at (907) 966-8746.