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February 28, 2013

HEART MONTH: Program helps people take care of their hearts

CLINTON — Providing a path to a healthy life is Dona Bark’s passion.

She knows the struggles women like her face every day. That’s what keeps her going, and people like Patrice Carter reap the benefits.

Carter had always been an active person, but as she was approaching 60 years old, she realized she wasn’t invincible anymore. A single parent devoted to helping others, Carter’s body began sending signals she didn’t recognize.

“I’ve always tried taking care of myself,” Carter said. “But when I hit a certain stage and looked at family history, I started paying attention a little more.”

That’s when Bark stepped in. Bark is the Iowa Care For Yourself coordinator for Clinton and Jackson counties. The program provides Iowa women between the ages of 40 and 64 a way to pay for screening for breast and cervical cancer, along with cardiovascular screening at no cost.

The program worked well for Carter, who lost her job and her health insurance two years ago, when she started the program. It was a difficult time for Carter, but Bark’s persistence on caring for Carter’s needs without judging her, offered the peace of mind eluding Carter.

“Thin-king about being healthy doesn’t have to be about big things,” Bark said. “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You just have to find a way to start.”

Carter began with the breast and cervical cancer screening, and recently started the cardiovascular screening, which includes testing of body mass index, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Testing is not the only advantage through the program. Participants are provided with material that offers information on healthy choices, and advisors discuss results and set goals for the future.

“You have the tools to pay attention, and to make better decisions,” Carter said. “The stuff you learn along the way, it’s nice to have reminders.”

Those tools are especially noticeable in the participants that receive surprises from lab results, Bark said.

“Some people are shocked by their lab work,” Bark said. “The people who set goals, when they come back the next year, their numbers are different and they’ve changed for the better. People sometimes need someone to bring the interest to them.”

The Care For Yourself program isn’t for everyone. Only women older than 40 can be admitted into the program. Also, women must meet income guidelines and not have Medicare Part B.

Income guidelines are set on household occupancy. In a household of one, a woman must make $28,725 or lower. With two people in the household, a person must make $38,775 or lower. The guidelines increase $10,050 with every increasing household member.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Carter said. “I was a little bit proud to go to a program, but I wasn’t taking care of myself and really couldn’t. This was the most compassionate and understanding staff. I never for an instant felt like I was getting assistance that wasn’t needed.”

Things are going better for Carter. She’s eating better and she recently got called back to where she previously worked.

And those results keep the passion alive for Bark.

“This is a great program, but the greatest payback, is being healthier,” Bark said.

For more information on the Iowa Care For Yourself program, call Bark at 244-4925.

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