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The word cancer often evokes a sense of fear and uncertainty in people. About 38.5% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime so it is important to understand what you can do to help prevent this deadly disease. Though there are many known and unknown causes of cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer are due to exposure to toxins in varying forms. Avoiding exposure to toxins such as asbestos, radon, lead, tobacco, and secondhand smoke could potentially one day save your life as well as the lives of those around you.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals, often found in products commonly used in the construction industry, such as building materials, floor tiles, and insulation. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and can also cause asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural effusion, pleural plaque, pneumothorax, and asbestos warts. There are six types of asbestos; chrysotile, amosite, tremolite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. Each one carries a different level of hazard, but all commercial forms of asbestos are carcinogenic.
As objects containing asbestos begin to fall apart, the microscopic fibers become airborne. Someone who directly works with asbestos can develop mesothelioma by inhaling these rigid fibers, and he or she can also cause second-hand exposure to others by bringing asbestos home on items like clothing, skin, and/or hair. Once asbestos fibers are disrupted and become inhaled or ingested, they can be lodged in the lining of the abdomen, lungs, or heart to develop disease up to 10-50 years later. Those most at risk for developing mesothelioma are military veterans and occupational workers such as construction workers, firefighters, or mechanics. In fact, approximately thirty percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses occur among veteran populations.
Asbestos is generally safe when undisturbed, presenting a threat to health only when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested. Prolonged exposure to asbestos is particularly harmful, making it important to be aware of the symptoms of asbestos related disease as it can take up to 10-50 years to experience symptoms following exposure. If you are an occupational worker, be mindful of asbestos-contaminated clothing and the possibility of carrying asbestos fibers and particles on your hair and body. Inform yourself of OSHA’s asbestos guidelines for your safety and health. If you live in a house where you think asbestos might be present and want to do construction make sure to contact a certified and accredited asbestos professional so they can do an inspection of the house. Finally, though asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma as well as other deadly diseases, it is not yet banned from use in the United States, as well as in 70% of the world. Learn more about asbestos legislation and make sure your lawmakers know your opinion on asbestos and why it should not be legal to use.
In 1957, a clinic opened in the kitchen of Erie Neighborhood house on Chicago’s West Side. A volunteer staff provided care for community residents two afternoons a week. This was the very beginning of Erie: a collaboration between co-founders Carmella Jacob and her physician Dr. Robert Snyder to make health care accessible and affordable to everyone.
By the 1970’s, Erie had an annual budget of $38,000, and additional staff to provide specialized care for women and children were brought on board to address community need. At that time, a chance encounter between Dr. Roger Meyer, a pediatrician aiding the new clinic, and Dr. Ann Doege resulted in Dr. Doege’s coming to the clinic as a part-time pediatrician.
Dr. Doege attended medical school at the University of Rochester in New York, where she met her husband, Dr. Theodore Doege, an internist. Ann completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. After school, together the couple traveled to northern Thailand to help develop a new medical school and stayed there for three years, teaching and assisting with the training of doctors and nurses at Chiang Mai’s Faculty of Medicine.
Once they returned to the states, it was difficult for their children to adjust to American life. Dr. Doege stayed at home with them – but not for long. “When we returned to the Chicago area in 1970, our two children were old enough that the idea of helping take care of children on the West Side appealed to me.”
In those early days, Dr. Doege was witness to much of the groundwork needed to make Erie’s impact grow. She worked alongside Mary Burns, one of Erie’s founders and a Board Member. Burns was a community organizer and volunteer, just as passionate about expanding Erie’s services as she was about spreading the word about them. She brought in numerous grants, partnerships, and in-kind donations for Erie, organized large-scale events, and held classes and activities for senior citizens in the community. Dr. Burns retired after 50 years of service, at 86 years of age. Many called her “Mother Burns.” Mary Burns passed away in 2011, but she is remembered and missed by many at Erie.
“My first time at Erie, I was taken on a tour of the facility,” recalled Dr. Doege. “Mary Burns was closing the center for the day told me she would be back the first thing in the morning to mop the floors!”
Dr. Doege was also friends with Sally Lundeen, a nurse serving as a graduate faculty member of UIC and working on her PhD. Dr. Lundeen became Executive Director of Erie Family Health Center, and wrote the first government grant to increase Erie’s funding. “She was just our Mother Erie,” said Dr. Doege. “She is a remarkable person!”
Dr. Lundeen joined the University of Milwaukee faculty in 1985, and was appointed Dean of the College of Nursing in 2001, where she continued to encourage the use of nurse practitioners. She retired in 2016.
Dr. Doege herself served as medical director, managing the increased patient growth – and the ever increasing need for more exam rooms. “We were very short of space,” she said. “The first time I saw the space at Erie street, it was so dusty! There was sawdust and machinery everywhere.” With the help of an architect, that dusty space became Erie West Town Health Center, which eventually moved to Chicago and Paulina. Just over 10 years later, the site expanded again to Superior and Paulina, serving 15,300 patients in 2016 .
Dr. Doege and her husband have since retired and moved to Hinsdale, but she says she will always remember her time with Erie. They continue to donate to Erie in memory of their dear friend Mary Burns.
Erie is so grateful to founding members like Dr. Anne Doege, Dr. Sally Lundeen, and Mary Burns, who together increased health care access in Chicago. Throughout our 60th anniversary year, we will honor their hard work and commitment by continuing to build Erie Family Health Center into a positive force of change and health justice.
Do you have stories of Erie Family Health Center that you would like to see published in our 60th anniversary year? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your memories!
Working as the caregiver for a family’s two small children, Carolie knew that she herself needed care. During her visit to a nearby clinic, a doctor found nothing wrong with her throat.
Over the next months, swallowing became more difficult. The glands in her neck and behind her ears were painful and swollen. Nasal congestion interfered with sleep and her ability to smell or taste food. Her chest felt congested, and she eventually could only breathe through her mouth. Exhausted and worried about her health and job, Carolie considered going back to the clinic she had previously visited. Fortunately, a concerned friend suggested that she call Erie HealthReach Waukegan Health Center instead.
Dr. Frances Baxley, medical director at Erie HealthReach Waukegan, knew Carolie would need further diagnosis, and her lack of health insurance would be a major concern. She referred Carolie to a specialist at Northwestern Medicine under their financial assistance program for low-income, uninsured patients. Meanwhile, Erie navigators helped Carolie apply for Medicaid benefits to help cover follow-up and ongoing care at Erie.
After a referral for biopsy at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Carolie was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory autoimmune disease affecting lungs and lymph glands and causing chronic disability when left untreated. Symptoms can be controlled through medication and good health practices, including nutrition. Dr. Baxley referred Carolie for treatment to a pulmonologist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. She also provided nutritional guidance to help Carolie achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Carolie was relieved that she finally had a diagnosis, and grateful that it was something she could live with and control. With Dr. Baxley’s care and proper medication, the pain, swelling and congestion were gone within months. She was breathing, eating and sleeping normally. She soon regained energy and
was able to return to her job, attend family events, and spend more time with her two daughters.
Carolie’s experience has been a turning point in her life. “It’s such a relief to finally have my own doctor, and she is a blessing,” she says. “And I have made sure my daughters are Dr. Baxley’s patients, too.”
Your contribution ensures that Erie’s services will remain accessible and affordable for anyone who needs them. This holiday season, give families like Carolie’s peace of mind and hope for a healthier future.
Twelve-year-old Mia* couldn’t catch her breath. Her family had no primary care doctor, so they saw their only option to treat Mia’s breathing problems was to bring her to the emergency room time and time again. Each time she checked in to the ER, the doctor on duty would examine her lungs, diagnose pneumonia, and send her home with antibiotics. But Mia’s breath would leave her again – and her family would rush her to another ER.
This cycle ended when Mia’s family found Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center.
Erie’s full staff of primary care physicians provide consistent, coordinated, compassionate care to their patients. Through regular visits, Mia’s new pediatrician was able to catch the pattern, and correctly diagnose the asthma that was causing her recurring breathing problems.
Mia didn’t need antibiotics over and over again – she needed an asthma inhaler, training on how to use it, and routine care. Mia now breathes deep without panicked trips to the ER, repeated chest x-rays, and unnecessary antibiotics.
This holiday season, help kids like Mia breathe easy, and give your neighbors the gift of hope for a healthier future.
*name changed to protect patient privacy.
TJ’s summer break was interrupted when he started having seizures. When the new school year began at Laura S. Ward Elementary in Humboldt Park, the seventh grader lived in fear that a seizure could strike at any moment. This anxiety caused him to give up the sports he loved, like basketball. Seeking comfort and a safe place, he frequently wandered in to Erie Westside Health Center, one of Erie Family Health Center’s five Chicago Public School-based locations.
The nursing staff at Erie was concerned about TJ. They consulted neurologists and helped his parents schedule MRIs and other necessary testing. Test results revealed the source of TJ’s seizures: a 2.5 centimeter brain tumor.
This is devastating news for any family to face. Thankfully, TJ’s tumor was benign, and surgery successfully removed it. TJ was able to return to the seventh grade two months later.
Erie’s doctors were just down the hall from TJ’s classroom when he needed follow-up care. When the fear of being hit in the head near his incision site gave TJ anxiety, Erie’s behavioral health therapist was steps away from the gym and ready to assist with coping strategies. Today TJ is now free of seizures, full of confidence and back on the basketball court.
Like Erie Westside at Ward Elementary, each of Erie’s 13 health centers is located in an area that lacks medical resources for those in financial need. Before they found Erie, our patients faced barriers to health care like poverty, lack of insurance, geographic inaccessibility, inflexible hours, and language differences. Before they found Erie, many of our patients worried they had nowhere to go.
Your contribution ensures that Erie’s services will remain accessible and affordable for anyone who needs them. This holiday season, give kids like TJ the gift of a safe place, peace of mind, and hope for a healthier future.
Holidays are a time to spend in peace with our loved ones. It is also a time for giving and helping those who need it most.
The unfortunate reality is that 925 million people in this world do not have enough to eat. Sadly 2.6 million children will die of starvation annually. One child will die every 12 seconds from starvation at this current rate according to current statistics.
Is there anything we can do about this tragic situation? Fortunately, there is!
We can reduce the amount of animal products we consume. Many third and fourth world nations export meat and dairy products to the U.S. and other Western countries while much of their population starves. Why? It is because it is very profitable for these countries to raise and export animal products while being less concerned with feeding their population. This happened during the famine that occurred in the 1980’s in Ethiopia. More food was being exported than imported during that crisis. Of course, infrastructure affects how food is distributed also.
Much of the grains and soy that we feed these livestock can instead be fed to those that are malnourished. The U.S. is not immune to starvation either. It is estimated that 15 million children in the U.S. are malnourished.
In fact, 40% of corn and 67% of soy in the U.S. alone is fed to farmed and bred animals instead of people.
If we want to help eliminate hunger, it is estimated that we each need to reduce the amount of animal products we consume by at least 15 % of our daily calories to free up enough grains, soy, corn, etc. to feed larger populations (0 % animal products being ideal). There are other factors that impact global access to food including political and economic factors but the one action we can all take that will have a huge, direct impact is changing what we eat daily.
To put it in further perspective, it takes 13 pounds of grain to feed livestock in order to produce only 1 pound of meat.
Let’s give the greatest gift of nourishment and health to those who need it most this Holiday season!
Wonderful and delicious meat substitutes that many are trying nowadays are Field Roast, Tofurkey, Beyond Meat, Boca, and Gardein to name just a few companies. To learn about the health benefits of plant- based diets, please look at PCRM.org. My hope is we continue eating this way beyond the Holidays as this diet also helps our planet, preserves and conserves resources, mitigates climate change, helps save billions of farm animals from unnecessary pain and cruelty, and reduces health care costs.
Thank you for your attention and for caring. Let’s also remember that altruism is one of the most important ways to fight depression and anxiety.
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Dr. Ashok Nagella, Psychiatrist at Erie West Town
Do you have more questions about a plant-based diet? Read Dr. Nagella’s addendum to the article here.
The views and ideas in this article are those of Dr. Nagella do not necessarily represent Erie Family Health Center, its Behavioral Health Department or Erie staff.
References for the above article can be found here.
Deborah Wright-Powell has been an active, dedicated member of Erie’s Board of Directors for more than ten years, and brings her experience as both a teacher and an Erie patient to ensure that Erie provides the highest quality, compassionate care and health education to our patients.
Mrs. Wright-Powell was first introduced to Erie in 2003, when she worked as a teacher at what is now Laura S. Ward Elementary School. That year, she was tasked with sending letters to parents informing them that their children could not attend school if their immunizations were out-of-date – and she quickly realized that nearly three quarters of the children would be unable to attend their first days of school. As a teacher and a relentless champion for educating the next generation, she took it upon herself to find a nurse practitioner for the semester to immunize the children right there in the classroom.
But she didn’t stop there. She continued to work with her colleagues at the school to locate an accredited organization that would be able to provide these services permanently. It was because of Mrs. Wright-Powell’s belief that no child should be barred from an education because of their lack of access to health care that Erie partnered with the school. Erie providers are now able to do routine physical exams and administer immunizations to the students at Westside School-Based Health Center at Laura S. Ward Elementary School, making it easier for families to keep up with their child’s health.
Mrs. Wright-Powell continued to serve as the key liaison between the school and Erie, writing up reports on the progress of the integration of the health center for Erie’s Board of Directors. The Board was blown away by Mrs. Wright-Powell’s fierce commitment to the vulnerable communities Erie’s health centers serve. When she was offered a position on the Board, she accepted. “I decided that this community needed my voice,” she said. “This community, and the community that Erie’s health centers are located in, need a minority at the table to present a different perspective.”
Mrs. Wright-Powell now serves as a member of the Board Development Committee, providing guidance on establishing board strategies to maintain appropriate board composition an
d improve board functioning and performance. She is the leading spokesperson for education on the Board, encouraging current members to participate in further board training opportunities. “It’s important that we have a set of diverse, educated people on our Board to accurately represent those in the community,” she said. “Those voices should be heard.”
During periods of growth at Erie, Mrs. Wright-Powell worked closely with Erie’s executive management team to ensure that new health centers were located in areas where the need for quality health care is greatest. She has also traveled with Erie’s staff to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) conference, where she advocated for the important work of community health centers and spoke with members of Congress on behalf of Erie. She says when they took a side trip to see the Washington Monument, tears came to her eyes. “My ancestors were there when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his ‘I have a dream’ speech. My grandfather and my uncle were both huge activists. And me, being right there, it was like I was carrying their legacy.”
Mrs. Wright-Powell and her entire family have also been patients of Erie for several years. She says that she wi
ll always remain grateful to Erie’s doctors for diagnosing and moving quickly to treat her husband’s cancer, ultimately saving his life. “I will always support Erie,” she said. “It is because of Erie that I still have my family.”
It is because of her keen desire to see future generations healthy, educated, and engaged in improving the resources available in our community that we are so grateful for all Mrs. Wright-Powell has accomplished for the Board, for Erie, and mostly, for our patients. Like Deborah, you can help give back to our community by participating in #GivingTuesday. Give to Erie today.