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Wellness fair focuses on supporting women

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PABLO – About 1,400 people filtered through the Women 4 Wellness health fair on Thursday at the Salish Kootenai College campus, which is about 100 more than last year.

“Growth has really occurred with the number of health screenings we’ve been able to offer,” said Niki Graham, event co-coordinator. “And the number of doctors willing to spend their day with us to provide those screenings has increased.” 

The SKC Center for Prevention and Wellness hosts the event to increase health awareness among women of the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County. This year, about 130 vendors including healthcare providers set up displays in the Joe McDonald gym and offered diabetes screenings, thyroid tests, dental exams, breast exams, vision screenings, immunizations, skin exams, bone density tests, pulmonary function tests, educational information, and more. 

“Our goal is to provide a one-day event where women can access services, see things, and learn things to improve their health; men are also welcome.” 

Leland Rochte’ said he was waiting for a cardiac screening. This year was the first time he attended the event and he came along to support friends. 

Hundreds of health screenings were provided free to participants. Many sponsors across the valley from Missoula to Kalispell contributed funding and healthcare providers volunteered services to make the event possible. “We couldn’t do this without the contributions,” she said.

Graham said some of the health screenings have revealed life-threatening issues. “Every year someone finds out something that people generally don’t want to find out about, like cancer, but if they know about it, they can do something about it,” she said.  

Several healthcare specialists teamed up this year to provide the event’s first mental health screening service for depression along with information about getting help.  

“Past participants requested that service,” she said. “Mental health is a huge contributor to many struggles within our communities, and we wanted to provide this service to give people a way to find resources.”

Medical schools also provided information and support to help with the event including the University of Montana, Kicking Horse Job Corps, and SKC. “We were able to collaborate with medical schools to offer people more services,” said Elenaor Vizcarra, event co-coordinator.

At one of the booths, a large yellow mass, a bit bigger than a football, sat on the table.

“It’s five pounds of condensed fat,” said Rich Forbis, St. Joseph Medical Center community education spokesperson. 

He was sharing a few health-based facts with participants.

“Sugar and fat affect the brain and trigger a dopamine response similar to alcohol or drugs. There are better choices,” he said, pointing towards brochures about diet.

Disease can also come from environmental issues. CSKT Aquatic Biologist Georgia Smies shared information on zebra and quagga mussels. The mussels damage local habitats and allow toxic algae to form. “It can melt a dog’s liver in an hour,” she said. “Imagine what that would do to a person. We consider these mussels enemy number one, and we are doing everything we can to prevent them from coming here.” 

She reminds people to clean, drain and dry watercraft. For more information, contact the tribe or log onto the new website at 

Community Strong Drug Endangered Children’s Project Coordinator Melanie Smith talked about the effects of drug abuse on babies at another booth. 

“We need to have those discussions about substance 

abuse without shaming anyone. We want to encourage people to get help,” she said. Anyone wanting to volunteer to support children through the foster care program or needing help can call her at 406-675-2700 ext. 6112.

Polson Tribal Health nurses collected ribbons to put on a medicine wheel at another booth to bring awareness to the issue of missing or endangered indigenous women. Dozens of ribbons were added to the wheel.

The American Indian Cancer Foundation traveled to the event from Minneapolis to let people know that it’s possible to end cervical cancer in Indian country.

“Women need to keep up to date on screenings for cancer,” said Daanis Chosa, community outreach specialist. She said early detection could help women prevent problems related to the progression of cancer.

The U of M was at the event collecting blood samples for a genetic study. It turns out that genetics and diet can have an impact on a person’s response to medications. Researchers are working to figure out what genes are responsible for those differences. 

“Our goal is to give doctors that information so they can figure out the correct dosage or type of medication for a patient once the study is done,” Associate Professor Erica Woodahl said.

The U of M and CSKT Tribal Health finished a similar research study focused on how genetics influence a woman’s response to therapy for breast cancer. 

“We found that about 10 percent of CSKT women will not respond well to tamoxifen therapy,” she said. “This information can help doctors find a better treatment.” 

Graham said it was another successful year for the wellness fair, and coordinators are already planning for next year’s event.

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