By David Maricich
classes, wellness events and support
groups have been around for years.
But many people are still unaware
of the valuable healthcare information and lifesaving screenings these
community events offer—at minimal or no cost.
Ranging from childbirth classes
to cancer support groups to fitness
for seniors, these programs are
offered by hospitals, medical
groups, nonprofits and other organizations.
“Many patients find comfort and im-
proved quality of life after participating in
a health class or support group,” says Costco
member Charles Nguyen, a psychiatrist who
moderates a weight-loss support group at
Lorphen Medical in Anaheim, California.
He points out that people who have the same
medical condition can benefit greatly from
shared information. “There’s a tremendous
advantage in learning from the experience
In addition to professionally led support
groups, some organizations also offer valuable
health education online. The American Lung
Association (ALA), for example, offers an
online version of its Freedom from Smoking
program at www.ffsonline.org. It’s an adapta-
tion of the ALA’s group clinic that has helped
thousands of smokers kick the habit. And the
American Cancer Society helped develop the
WhatNext website, at www.whatnext.com,
connecting cancer patients with others travel-
ing a similar path.
But for many people, there’s nothing like
being in a room with others, learning from
experts and sharing with those who face the
same challenges. Community healthcare
education was first widely offered in the
1970s. Before long, researchers began con-
ducting studies on the effectiveness of these
educational offerings. The popularity of
classes and support groups grew
after an influential 1989 study sug-
gested that breast cancer patients
who participated in support groups
Today it’s a well-recognized
fact that health education can make
a huge difference in the quality and
length of a person’s life. Participants
in diabetes support groups, for example, learn from medical experts
and each other about how they can
avoid diabetes-related complications such as
kidney failure and stroke.
In addition to helping patients manage
their condition better, community health
education helps participants:
Lower risk of depression
Form bonds with others
Postpone or prevent certain conditions
“Occasionally, people may not respect
boundaries or keep the tone supportive. A
group leader who is skilled in managing dif-
ficult situations is key.”
New online tools have made it easier for
consumers to find nearby health classes, talks,
events and support groups presented by pro-
fessionals. Other excellent sources for health
class and support group listings can be found
on many hospital or medical group websites.
“I didn’t even know these classes existed
until I searched online,” says Costco member
Ann Melkonian of Laguna Niguel, California.
“I wanted to cook healthier meals for my
family and found a class on healthy eating
offered by a local hospital.” C
Costco member David Maricich is a healthcare
communicator and CEO of HealthyClass.com.
Classes and support
groups can improve
FITNESS FOR LIFE
SICKLE CELL DISEASE (SCD) is a
group of inherited red blood cell disorders. An estimated 100,000 Americans
have the disease, and about 1,000
children with SCD are born in the U.S.
each year. The disease most commonly
In someone who has SCD, the red
blood cells responsible for delivering
oxygen to the body become hard and
sticky, and look like a sickle, that
C-shaped farm tool. When sickle cells
travel through small blood vessels, the
cell shape causes them to get stuck and
clog the blood flow, resulting in pain
and other serious problems such as
infection, acute chest syndrome (a lung-related SCD complication) and stroke.
Normal red blood cells live about
120 days in the bloodstream; abnormal
sickle cells usually die in 10 to 20 days,
which causes a constant shortage of red
blood cells in those with the disease.
People with SCD usually begin
having symptoms in early childhood.
Children may be anemic (having a low
number of red blood cells) or experience
episodes of recurrent pain and common
infections that can lead to severe illness
and death. Anemia can cause shortness
of breath, fatigue and delayed growth
and development in children.
SCD is diagnosed with a simple
blood test. Babies get tested for sickle
cell at birth, and prenatal testing is used
to diagnosis SCD as early as the 11th
week of pregnancy.
Relieving pain symptoms and preventing infections and other complications is the focus of SCD treatment.
Blood transfusions that provide a
patient with healthy red blood cells are
a common treatment. People with more
severe cases of the disease can be
treated with a bone marrow transplant.
For more information, visit www.