Credit: Paul Weaver/weaverphoto on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Call it a holiday makeover. As the centennial of Mother's Day approaches next year, more and more advocates for women's health are reshaping the heavily commercial spring celebration to advance an educational cause.
This trend transcends big nonprofit players like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood to smaller efforts not focused wholly on women but with particular relevance to women's lives.
This year the Peggy Lillis Memorial Foundation, on whose advisory board I serve, is part of this pattern. Its Thank A Mother initiative recognizes the role mothers often play in disease prevention and public health awareness.
And it helps turn a holiday I disdained for its traditional overtones into a teachable moment.
The foundation's namesake was a Brooklyn teacher who died three years ago this month, following a six-day bout with a prevalent but seldom discussed intestinal condition.
Clostridium difficile infections, or CDIs, strike up to half a million Americans each year and kill an estimated 28,000 people, often in hospital and health care settings, where the C. diff. bacteria is prevalent and where the prescription of antibiotics often knocks out other bacteria in patients' digestive tracts that might ordinarily keep C. diff. in check.
CDIs strike women disproportionately. Recent data from Virginia indicate that women are 30 percent more likely than men to be hospitalized with a CDI.
People most likely to contract a CDI are new moms and those in long-term care, where women predominate due in part to longer life expectancy.
The foundation has turned the anguish of many survivors and family members to advocacy. It has quickly become a national force in raising awareness about C. diff. symptoms, the importance of early recognition and the value of prevention measures, from hand-washing to training of frontline health care providers.
The foundation has also pushed for full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which includes incentives for eradicating C. diff. infections.
Hospitalization costs increase an average of 150 percent per patient with a CDI. But until recently, facilities with high C. diff. rates faced no fiscal accountability for billing Medicare or Medicaid for the added expense associated with treatment that enhanced prevention measures might have precluded.
C. diff. symptoms of painful diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever are not pretty. The foundation has strived for artful ways to tackle the particular taboos of women talking about diseases of the intestines and bowels. And mothers can play a strategic role in upholding or breaking through that silence. Those who care about C. diff. can go online and order a hand-stitched card or a box of chocolates to be sent to a mom or someone they care about. Both the card and chocolate come from female-owned businesses.
For much of the past century, official Mother's Day celebrations have extolled women, our sacrifice and our service, while ignoring the social, economic and even medical conditions that do us harm. As the holiday turns 100, women are correcting that oversight. I'm proud to be planning a day off this Mother's Day while making the holiday itself work for women's health.
Dr. Denice Hilty is a chiropractor in New York City and a member of the advisory board of the Peggy Lillis Memorial Foundation.
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