By Alexander Germanis
Trees have always been symbols of strength. The apparent ease with which their limbs stretch toward the sky, seemingly defying gravity, belies the sheer density and surprising weight of each linear foot of wood.
Even the most ancient oak or mightiest maple can succumb from within. Whether due to disease, infestation, or lack of proper nourishment, the limbs can rot from the inside out, and the once-dense cores can resemble brittle foam: frighteningly light in weight, crumbling, and splitting from the smallest pressure.
Unfortunately, from the outside, there often does not appear to be anything wrong. A tree may seem perfectly fine until a heavy snowfall or brisk wind causes a porous limb to crack and tumble to the ground, shattering on impact.
The disease osteoporosis oddly resembles this fragile state. From Greek, meaning passages or pores in bone, osteoporosis not only affects one in every two women after menopause and one of every four men of similar age, it often goes undiagnosed until it is too late.
To fight this frighteningly common disease is the entire purpose of the Bone Health Clinic at the Millennium Pain Center in Bloomington.
Ending the repetition
Before heading up the Millennium Bone Health Clinic, Shannon Laesch, APN, had a long history working with the elderly. While working in nursing homes, starting her own home care agency, completing various degrees in nursing and medicine education, Shannon has repeatedly seen the effect of osteoporosis on the aging generation; even worse, the fractures caused by their osteoporosis were going unnoticed.
Dr. Ramsin Benyamin, founder of Millennium Pain Center, quickly noticed how beneficial bone health would be for his own patients, so Shannon’s bone clinic set up at Millennium in 2015. “Again, over here it’s the same problem,” she says. “They kept seeing patients with fractures that weren’t getting treated.”
Shannon points out why osteoporosis has a tendency of going unchecked. “People kind of put bone health on the back burner,” she says. “It’s not like a heart attack or diabetes, where people are more worried. They’re not worried about their bones and osteoporosis until they fracture and there’s a lot of pain. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it’s not something that’s looked at before that happens.”
Treating a fracture once it occurs is only part of what the bone clinic is about. The main focus is on preventing the first fracture from taking place at all. Specifically, where Dr. Benyamin’s patients are concerned, once they have incurred a single fracture in the spine, the likelihood of a second spinal fracture is a frightening 80 percent.
They shouldn’t just break
Helping people understand they have osteoporosis is one major battle in the war against the disease. Unfortunately, both Shannon and her colleague Elizabeth Madlem, APN, see more than their share of patients who are not aware of it even after a fracture occurs.
Bones are not meant to simply break from normal, everyday activities, they point out. “I had a patient fracture multiple times putting their grandchild in the car,” Shannon recalls. “I’ve had someone who fractured when they were brushing their teeth. One patient fractured getting in and out of their car; another while simply turning over in bed.”
For anyone who thinks they are still far too young to worry about osteoporosis, Shannon has more experiences to share: “I had a patient in their 30s stand up at their desk at work and fracture. A person was walking their dog stepped off the sidewalk and fractured their ankle.” “That’s not supposed to happen,” she reiterates.
Elizabeth quickly concurs. “Think about kids; they fall all the time and they don’t fracture.”
“Any time you fracture from a standing height, it’s an osteoporotic fracture,” Shannon continues. “The body shouldn’t break with those kinds of things; it just shouldn’t happen.”
Knowing if you are at risk for getting osteoporosis is another battle. Low testosterone, sometimes called low T, for short, is also a concern for aging men. Furthermore, men whose mothers have or had osteoporosis and men with prostate cancer need to be wary of osteoporosis. “Physicians give them medicine to lower their testosterone,” Shannon says, “so those patients are at a huge risk because we’ve lowered their testosterone on purpose.”
There are also other secondary risk factors to take into account, such as smoking, family medical history, cancer, some medications, and other diseases.
“Osteoporosis is the silent disease,” Elizabeth states. “Many people don’t even know when it occurs. Now, there are signs of it showing in men ages 19 to 30. They are not getting enough exercise or calcium when they’re kids.”
Systems of support
The patients are not the only ones with whom the bone clinic is trying to work. That is the purpose of the Bone Health Clinic’s Fracture Liaison Service. “It’s about working with patients’ primary care physicians and their surgeons to make sure they’re getting their bone health covered: someone is watching it and someone is taking care of it,” Shannon explains.
“We want to prevent those patients from fracturing again,” Elizabeth continues. “We want to prevent them from hurting and needing more chronic pain medications because fractures haven’t been dealt with.”
“We want to take the stress off of the primary care physicians and everything they already have to manage. We want to work with them; it’s about collaboration for the patients’ well-being and for the good of their health,” Elizabeth adds. “[Osteoporosis] is almost getting to epidemic levels.”
To help curb the growth of this disease, Shannon has some simple suggestions. “A female over age 50 is to get 1200 milligrams of calcium every day. One glass of milk is 300 milligrams, usually. Lots of other things in our diet have calcium and people don’t realize it: cheese, broccoli, oranges, fortified cereals, breads, ice cream, yogurts, cottage cheese, etc.” Beside the calcium, vitamin D is also essential for strong bones.
Exercise is extremely important in treating osteoporosis. “Walking, golf, tennis, Zumba — any exercises while they’re up on their feet,” Shannon lists. “Those are the best exercises for bones, because their own weight on their bones is making the bones stronger.”
But for every woman or man who walks into the Bone Health Clinic, their support begins and ends with the personal commitment
of those who work there — commitments created by strong emotional ties. “When I was in sixth grade, my grandfather got into a really bad tractor/car accident. So, I decided then to follow a medical path,” Elizabeth says. After working as an ICU nurse and later becoming a nurse practitioner, she heard about the bone clinic and decided to join Shannon and carry out what she feels is a great service for the community.
Shannon feels a love for her patients in her, well, bones. “I love my patients. I love making them feel like they can get back out and walk and not be scared they’re going to break. They can pick up that grandchild; they can garden and do all those things they’ve been scared to do,” Shannon says. “My patients might come in on a walker, but six months later, they’re walking on their own; they’re healthy and they’re getting to do more things because we’re helping make their bones strong again.”
That is, ultimately, the Millennium Bone Health Clinic’s philosophy. As Dr. Benyamin puts it, “Healthy bones lead to healthy lifestyles.”
You may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center by calling 309-662-4321.They are located at 1015 Mercer Ave. in Bloomington. Shannon Laesch and Elizabeth Madlem are certified bone-health consultants. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
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