Pauline Flaga, 71, is a professional sculptor from Clawson who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. After chemotherapy and 10 years of post-chemotherapy anti-cancer medication, Pauline survived the battle. But the long fight had left her with chemo brain, a side effect of chemotherapy that affects brain function, making it hard for her to do the things she had always loved.
“After being a sculptor for 40 years, I really couldn’t remember how to hold the clay,” she says.
Then, in 2012, Pauline’s life became even more difficult when her husband started having heart problems and had to undergo open-heart surgery. She would attend his meetings with doctors and help him get through Beaumont Health System’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. It was there that she met Megan Donnelly, a clinical exercise specialist and coordinator of the Women Exercising to Live Longer program, also known as W.E.L.L. Little did Pauline know that she would join the program, and that it would soon change her life.
What is W.E.L.L.?
W.E.L.L. is a free prevention program for women at risk for developing heart disease. The program was created in 2010 as a collaboration between the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center and the Preventative Cardiology and Rehabilitation department at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak with a generous $300,000 donation from John Hagberg.
Heart disease, which can cause heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications, is the No. 1 cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization. Those most likely to develop heart disease are over the age of 55, who have risk factors such as tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, as well as high blood pressure, cholesterol and stress. Having any one of these factors can qualify a person for the program.
After being accepted, W.E.L.L. members like Pauline sit down with medical professionals to develop and implement personalized exercise and dietary plans to prevent the onset of heart disease. Pauline learned how to read nutrition labels and monitor her heart rate.
Program participants commit to exercise three days a week for six months. “I was never told to do more than I could handle,” explains Pauline, who lost seven pounds and four inches around her waistline after her sixth month of W.E.L.L.
When Megan told her of the commitment expected of WELL members, Pauline was hesitant to join. “I was a little uptight, but I sort of relaxed into it,” she remembers. She is now in her eighth month of W.E.L.L., and counting.
“It was always easy with their support, because they start you wherever you are and you do what you can to gradually improve,” she says. “It’s amazing, I never expected to feel this well.”
Pauline’s health has improved so much since joining W.E.L.L. that she’ll be accompanying her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren on a trip to Italy. If it weren’t for the changes brought on by W.E.L.L., she says, she wouldn’t have been up for the challenge of watching over a 2 and 10-year-old in a foreign country. “Now I have no concerns. I can run faster than both of them!”
Living Longer, Happier
“Seeing the improvements and accomplishments in these women is why I love my job,” says Donnelly, W.E.L.L. coordinator. “I am excited for them when they start to notice they’re more flexible, stronger or have more energy -- small things that make a big difference in our quality of life.”
Pauline is now the president of the Sculptors Guild of Michigan and she no longer worries about her chemo brain “because it’s gone,” she says. Instead, she sculpts, travels and accompanies her husband on his bike rides – doing the things she has always loved with the ones she loves.
“I’m 71, and I feel fantastic,” she says.
The next W.E.L.L. program informational meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6:00 p.m. in the Beaumont Health Center in conference rooms 3 and 4. For more information, please call Megan Donnelly at 248-655-5781 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.