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IRMC lifestyle change program helps women address health risks

| Friday, July 18, 2014, 5:51 p.m.
Tina Hooker of Blairsville, right, and her daughter, Christina Brumagin, walk along the Riverfront Trail July 7 in Blairsville.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Tina Hooker of Blairsville, right, and her daughter, Christina Brumagin, walk along the Riverfront Trail July 7 in Blairsville.

A fledgling lifestyle change program for women at Indiana Regional Medical Center is undergoing some big changes itself thanks to funding from an area charitable organization.

The “Small Choices - Big Change” program, set to begin this fall, was one of several initiatives that recently received community grants from Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh to help fund breast health education, screening and treatment advancements. The local program received $28,046.

Small Choices - Big Change is a revamped version of last year's “Boob Camp - Fit for Life” program, which had over 300 participants in its two sessions, according to Sue Majoris, women's health nurse navigator with Indiana Regional Medical Center's M. Dorcas Clark, MD Women's Imaging Center. Changes have been made based on problems encountered with last year's progam.

“We've taken all of these challenges and turned them into opportunity,” said Majoris.

Last year's camp was established to address community statistics from a 2012 Indiana County profile and behavioral study that indicated a 64 percent overweight and obesity rate among women in the county, Majoris said. “The research is very clear that the women who eat healthy, exercise, decrease their weight and BMIs (Body Mass Index) are healthier and have less chronic disease and less risk for cancer,” Majoris said. “So we feel it's very important to reach out to the community like that.”

Program planners also looked at IRMC data trends that showed women were not participating in health care screening opportunities as much as they could, she said, while other research showed transportation and financial issues could be a barrier to women receiving care.

Weight loss and lifestyle change goals were factored into the program because post-menopausal weight gain carries with it an increased risk of breast cancer for women, according to Majoris.

“In women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and treated, overweight and obesity places an increased risk for reoccurrence and mortality,” she noted.

All the research prompted IRMC to offer a free lifestyle change program based on a 12-week “Strong Women, Healthy Hearts” program developed at Tufts University near Boston. IRMC exercise physiologist Amanda Augustine is certified in the program, and registered dietitian Lori Smith was also familiar with it, Majoris said.

For IRMC's Fit for Life program, 24 video recordings based on the Strong Women, Healthy Hearts curriculum were made. Each included a human interest story related to breast health, information about nutrition and exercise and an exercise session. The intent was for participants to follow two recordings each week for 12 weeks.

Human interest clips were filmed by hospital physicians and oncologists as well as the director of radiology at IRMC and a female physician who works extensively in the local Amish community.

“But most were talking with women who had survived breast cancer,” said Majoris. “They were very poignant, very inspirational. They were the crux of it all.”

Educational topics included menu planning, cooking demonstrations and cardiac and general health issues. Also discussed were spiritual issues and meditation and yoga as a way to decrease stress levels.

“We tried to hit on the whole wellness, the whole being and overall wellness,” Majoris said.

The filmed vignettes were edited and uploaded onto the program website, which registered participants could access. A comment blog and appropriate links also were incorporated into the website.

Before each of the two program sessions last year, a kickoff event was held at the hospital where registered participants were weighed and measured and given pass codes for the website. Tests were also conducted on strength, endurance, agility and flexibility. Breast cancer risk was assessed and mammogram and peripheral arterial disease screenings were conducted for those who wanted them. Participants also were given a journal, a stretch band and a pedometer.

Participants had the options of engaging in a community setting twice a week at the hospital or completing the program at home.

At the end of the 12 weeks, the women again were weighed and measured to determine their overall success. Majoris said 30 percent of participants completed the program, a rate planners hope to improve on in the upcoming revised version. The groups last year saw an overall weight loss and improvements in all metrics.

“Even if women did not lose a lot of weight, they lost inches, lowered blood pressures and became stronger,” said Julie Yeomans, program coordinator. “These were the positives we tried to stay focused on to keep women motivated.”

Planners identified some problems with last year's program, including that the website didn't operate well without high-speed Internet service — something not found in many local rural areas.

Another reason many women didn't complete the program was they found the exercises were too physically taxing.

Also, following the kickoff event, the program had no built-in accountability to help motivate women to complete it.

In the revamped version, Majoris said, a ruler will be used to measure prospective participants' readiness for change.

“Some women came and didn't even think about where they were in terms of being ready to change,” she said. “When they come to the kickoff, they will have the opportunity to use a measurement tool to show them where they fall.”

The original Fit for Life program also was funded through Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh, with the majority of the money going to coordination costs, supplies and staff. Majoris noted IRMC and Indiana University of Pennsylvania provided in-kind services for the program.

With another year of funding in place through the area Komen affiliate, local staff are incorporating improvements in the renamed Small Choices - Big Change program.

Staff will counsel and coach participants along the way. Also, after every web or hospital session, each participant will be asked to answer a question to address accountability.

Social exercise sessions will continue, and monthly gatherings will be planned to help motivate participants.

To address the Internet issues, DVDs wil be provided to participants who would rather not stream videos online.

For those who found the exercises to be beyond their capabilities, half-hour chair yoga sessions with Indiana instructor Tiffany Chan have been filmed.

Staff also have been working with IUP's Media Department and the Department of Food and Nutrition to improve the educational vignettes and to edit the previous material with new music and graphics.

Tina Hooker and her daughter, Christina Brumagin, both of Blairsville, went through the Boob Camp program last year with successful results. Since last April, Hooker has lost 65 pounds, and Brumagin has lost over 50.

They heard about the program after seeing a flier in an elevator at the hospital.

“We're trying to find ways of becoming healthier, and the flier was promoting it as ‘Boob Camp,' and we thought that sounded funny,” Hooker said.

The mother-daughter duo watched the videos and did exercises together to lend one another support. They also walked the Blairsville Riverfront Trail several times a week to increase their activity levels.

Hooker said they enjoyed the program's exercise videos because they didn't cater to those with extensive gym experience: “They weren't things you had to be a bodybuilder or something to do. The normal, average person could do them.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, “It was fun to go and see the progress that we made,” Hooker said, noting that even her blood pressure improved.

They enjoyed the program so much that they returned for a second 12-week session offered last year and they plan to join the revamped Small Choices - Big Change program.

“We like the competition,” Hooker said. “We compete against each other.”

Because Hooker achieved the most overall improvement in the Boob Camp program, she won a year's membership at the S&T Wellness Center at IRMC.

With the changes made to improve from last year, Majoris is hoping Small Choices - Big Change will attract more women who will stay involved through the entire program.

For information about Small Choices - Big Change or to register for the upcoming fall session, call 724-357-8081. Registration is expected to begin in August.

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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