Tag: Meet the HAAwards Finalists

I’d like to introduce you to Hilarious Health Activist Finalist and MS Health Activist – Christie Germans! Christie blogs over at The Lesion Journals and brings humor along with her glimpse into life with Multiple Sclerosis. She balances lighter content with educational posts and resources for those in her community. It’s clear that she enlightens her followers simultaneously through her own courage and sense of humor (check out her video on Staying Positive With MS – hint: Christie’s answer is laughter). In true Health Activist spirit, Christie brings honesty and dedication to “explor[ing] what it means to live with this neurological disease” right alongside some really helpful factual information (check out the comprehensive navigation bar on her blog). We’ve enjoyed getting to know Christie and hope you will too. Now, let’s hear more about her in her own words…


How/why did you become a Health Activist? Tell us your Health Activist story!

I really became a Health Activist by accident. It was not my intention. Once I developed my MS symptoms, I began writing about it and I have found writing about it to be very cathartic. Turns out, it helps others too. The rest is history. I joined a variety of support groups, including the fabulous WEGO Health team, and participate in different types of projects including blog radio, magazine work and panels.


What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?

My goals for 2012 include the continuation of journaling my experiences on my blog and to start adventuring with video and photography as another form of expression and another way to communicate what living with MS is like.


Be sure to follow Christie’s work (if you don’t already) and “meet” her through the web on The Lesion Journals, her Twitter, and her video on WEGOHealth.tv.



I’d like to introduce you to TMI Award Finalist, and Health Activist – Wendy Holcombe! Wendy is a Chronic Illness Health Activist who blogs over at Picnic With Ants. Nominated for her honest approach to blogging, Wendy chronicles all her “ants” (chronic illnesses) with a unique voice that really resonates with her readers. She openly commits to telling “some of the most embarrassing and scary moments” that come into her life and is determined to “break down the 4th wall.” Her approach helps make invisible illness not-so-invisible. Her readers (and nominators in particular) love her blog because she describes things that they, too, experience but may be too shy to say it. Her artistic flair has also been known to inspire (check out her art here and her Create To Heal blog here). Wendy’s candid approach (and humor) inspires many and I’m so happy to have learned of her blog through the HAAwards. Now – let’s learn more about Wendy in her own words…


How/why did you become a Health Activist?  Tell us your Health Activist story!

After being misdiagnosed with different disorders/illnesses I realized I needed to be a better health advocate for myself.  I couldn’t put all my faith in the doctors to figure out what is going on with my body.  No one knows my body better than me.
Becoming a better health advocate for myself led to my wanting to help others learn to speak for themselves.  To know more about their illnesses.  I reached out.  I started a support group, for a disorder I later found out I don’t have, it was very successful.  I may not be involved any longer, but I’m happy to say the group is still going strong approximately 9 years since I founded it.  I also made some life long friends from my time with this group.  One thing I really took away from this group, most people feel alone in their struggles.  It was then that I decided I would always be available to anyone who needs to feel like they aren’t quite so alone.

I have a number of chronic illnesses.  With each new diagnosis I would dive in trying to find out as much information as possible.  Again, meeting new people who felt they were so alone.

I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease years ago.  Meniere’s disease is a vestibular disorder causing fluctuating tinnitus, aural fullness, sudden and severe attacks of vertigo, and fluctuating hearing loss often leading to complete hearing loss.  Meniere’s is progressive, some progress more than others.  I’m in the advanced stage. In late 2009 Meniere’s took over my life.  Before then I only had it in my right ear, in 2009 it started to effect my left ear.  Early in 2010 I started a new blog, Picnic with Ants, detailing my journey living with chronic illnesses, and determined to live the most productive, healthy, and happy life possible.
Since that time, my blog has mostly been about living with Meniere’s disease.  I talk about the good, the bad, and the very ugly.  I also talk about my other illnesses, but I will admit for the past few years Meniere’s has ruled my life.

My blog is very honest, and forthcoming.  I’ve found that people do not understand just what goes on with most chronic illnesses.  This causes many people to feel alone, even though they’ve met others who have the same illness.  We do not talk about what goes on behind closed doors.  How our illnesses destroy many aspects of our lives, and how we can deal with that.  I’m trying to open those doors and help people realize it’s alright to talk about the nitty gritty ugly details.  If it helps one person feel less alone, it has been worth all the embarrassing stories I tell.  I’ve also found that others who read these post who do not have the certain illness, like Meniere’s, or may know someone with the illness, can finally understand what we go through.  After writing a very detailed post about a vertigo attack, one reader stated, “This is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read.”  This reader has many issues of her own, when I read this comment, I cried.  I felt validated.  This one person understands now, I hope other’s do, but just knowing one person understands means I will continue to write about it, until I can reach another and another….

To summarize, there are 3 main reasons I’m a health activist, to help people realize they are not alone, to help people understand they must be an advocate for themselves, and to help people understand more about the details behind certain illnesses.  

What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?

Personally, I’m looking forward to having less vertigo.  I had surgery on my left ear in December, I had the same surgery on my right ear in 2010.  This surgery should reduce the vertigo by 70 – 90%.  After being mostly bed bound for nearly 6 months in 2011, because of daily vertigo, I am looking forward to doing things.  I want to continue my promise that I will never take a good day for granted.  Everyday I feel well enough to do things I will take advantage of every moment.  

My goals for being a better Health Activist in 2012:

I want to reach more people, help them learn more about certain illnesses, support those who feel alone, and (perhaps most importantly) help people accept their chronic illness and feel more positive about their future.  This last point was a very hard one for me to come to terms with, I hope I can help others do the same.  Including encouraging them to seek professional help to deal with the loss of independence.

I also want to give back to the caregivers.  To acknowledge them and hear their stories, how we can help them and let them know how very important they are.

Due to Meniere’s I’ve lost the majority of my hearing.  I plan to be more active in the deaf community, learn ASL (American Sign Language) and help others who are losing their hearing later in life.  

If my health permits I hope to attend conferences for health activist, and one specific conference for the deaf and hard of hearing.

As I often say on my blog, My life may not be what I expected, so I will change my expectations.  One day at a time.  For example:

When I was confined to my bed I tried hard to be as productive as possible, through the vertigo attacks and the migraines.  I started a second blog called Create to Heal, all about how creating can help you feel better.  Accomplishing just a small thing, can make the day seem worth while.  I’d like to further this venture.  Trying to create something every day, even if I didn’t complete it in one day, it made me feel more productive than I have in a very long time.


Be sure to follow Wendy’s work (if you don’t already) and “meet” her through the web on Picnic With Ants her TMI-nominated blog, her art healing blog Create to Heal, on Facebook, and Twitter.


I’d like to introduce you to Best Kept Secret Finalist, and Health Activist – Regina Townsend! Regina has made it her personal mission to raise awareness for African American Infertility and Reproductive Health by starting not-for-profit organization and community, The Broken Brown Egg Foundation. Started “on the belief that there is a vast misconception and lack of information and awareness in the African-American community regarding infertility, conception, and family health” Regina has some great goals. (read the About page for more.) Nominated for Best Kept Secret seemed apt for Regina as someone who works in the community that, itself, is considered rather “secret,” or, as she puts it, “Being a black woman, I quickly found, was a very quiet life in infertility. I believe that should change, so that no one else will have to feel like the lone wolf of their family. Infertility is lonely enough without feeling like a minority inside of a minority.” Her candid approach to a topic that is particularly difficult is appreciated by those within her community and made a great impression on the judges during HAAwards. I look forward to seeing Regina’s impact continue to expand as more people discover her gem of a community and join in her personal mission. Now – let’s learn more about her in her own words…


How/why did you become a Health Activist?  Tell us your Health Activist story!

I started the Broken Brown Egg as a personal blog at first, to begin the dialog I wasn’t seeing on other blog sites.  I am a member of the online community at ChocolateBrides.com, and there were a few discussions about infertility, but no real in depth talk, I suppose because many of us saw those rare instances as flukes. As I started researching, though, I found that infertility was extremely common, 1 in every 8 couples, which then made me wonder why none of the blogs, websites, or even advertisements showed black couples.  I figured it was out of shame and fear, and decided to fight that stigma head on. As a librarian, I began to use my research tools to try and gain more information to share with people of all backgrounds.


I share my own stories, the good and the bad, in the hopes that someone who is feeling like they are the only person these crazy things could possibly be happening to, will know different.  I can’t be the ONLY black woman who suffers from PCOS, or menorraghia (extreme menstrual cycles), or even just health frustrations.  I try and think of what I wish I‘d heard or the thing I need to hear, and Isay it so that someone else who needs it can get it.  I try to be as brutally honest about my fears, my frustrations and my journey so that others will hopefully glean a little courage from me.  It has also made the more mainstream infertility advocates and groups take notice!



What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?

I’m so glad you asked this question!!  This year marks what I’m calling The Broken Brown Egg’s 2012 Season of Support!  We will be rolling out as many initiatives as possible to get people the best possible personal support.  First on our list, launching on March 3, will be our Waiting Room Buddies program.  Through this initiative, Eggshells, as I call those who interact with my site, will be able to text me when they have upcoming medical appointments.  I will then pair them with another Eggshell who agrees to just be their virtual friend in the waiting room, texting back and forth to keep them calm, to go over goals for the appointment, and to be a listening ear.  I know firsthand how frightening and lonely waiting rooms can be, and how important it is to have someone there with you.  My hope is that friendships will be formed, and also that people will be more comfortable making and attending appointments.

Aside from this first phase, I’ll be rolling out a few more goodies as the year goes along.  I cannot WAIT.


Be sure to follow Regina’s work (if you don’t already) and “meet” her through the web on her site, her Twitter, and her Facebook.


but if guys are “turned on” by the same thing (gay sex or straight sex) that discounts bisexuality in men and also where does

I’d like to introduce you to a Rookie of the Year Finalist, and a Health Activist who has made a huge difference by “giving a face” to hundreds of people living with AS, Cookie Hopper of Faces of Ankylosing Spondylitis. Through her work in creating a site that focuses on giving patients living with Ankylosing Spondylitis the opportunity to share their stories, she has created a true community that has touched so many. There is really no better way to describe her project than how Cookie has, on her Vision page of Faces of AS (which you should read in full – it’s beautiful and gives some shout-outs to fellow AS Health Activists). Cookie writes, “I wanted people with Ankylosing Spondylitis to have a place where they are honored for having the courage to share their lives with us. I wanted people to understand that this disease isn’t just about Ankylosing Spondylitis, it’s about destruction of lives and the courage to fight for a life of quality and the Hope to continue to live the best life that you are able to and finding the faith to do so. I wanted to show the reality of this disease and the courage it takes to live our lives. I wanted to honor those who have Ankylosing Spondylitis, who I admire and respect.” If that’s not a powerful testament to the power of community manifest in the online space – I don’t know what is. Congrats to Cookie on her many heartfelt nominations and the wonderful job she is doing for the AS community at large. It will be so exciting to watch Faces of AS continue to blossom. Cookie is giving so many hope with her community – if you haven’t yet, definitely check it out. Now – let’s learn more about her in her own words…


How did you become a Health Activist? Tell us your Health Activist story!

My name is Cookie and I have a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, it is an autoimmune arthritis. My symptoms began around the age of 12 and my diagnoses came at the age of 43. I was heartbreaking to be diagnosed with an “invisible disease”, but was devastating to learn that this disease was also “invisible” to the medical profession and the world I lived in. Six years after my diagnoses my doctor suggested joining the Spondylitis Association of America. Finally instead of being “invisible” I was upgraded to a shadow. I became friends with people who understood me and was inspired to do my part. I just wasn’t sure what my part in all of this was. I have always been a straight shooter and realistic person, so I knew whatever it was that I was going to do to make my life with Ankylosing Spondylitis have a purpose. It was going to be real. My inspiration came from the “Scar” project and a vision was born.




The reason I decided to make my vision a reality is because of two people. A young man by the name of Stuart was on our support forum. A bright young man who had his whole life ahead of him and lost his battle. A battle with Ankylosing Spondylitis that is often thought of as just a “bad back” He death, his pain and depression haunted me. I carried him inside of my heart thinking one day I will know what it is, that I am meant to do. Time passed and my life became full of other issues and then I came across a young girl by the name of Sara who was dying. She had ankylosing spondylitis and was under hospice care. I read her blogs, watched her change the world from inside her home, bedridden and knew that I wanted to make an impact as strong as she had. One day while speaking with Kevin Andrews he showed me a picture of himself. At that moment I knew the only way that people were ever going to take Ankylosing Spondylitis seriously was to understand the impact that this cruel invisible disease does to people. We suffer from the stigma of you don’t look sick, but also fall into the pitfall of I don’t feel that bad. I wanted people to know who was behind this invisible disease, who were living in pain, depression, isolation. I wanted people to understand what it is to live with a chronic disease and be invisible, even to the doctors treating you. I wanted to make sure that my lessons, hardships and understanding while living with this disease made a difference, in someone’s life. I am not out to change the world. I am out to change one person’s life and someone’s opinion of Ankylosing Spondylitis. I want to know that my life with this disease was not wasted.


What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?

My goal for 2012 is to have collected 1000 stories for http://thefacesofankylosingpsondylitis.com

I am working on a site that honors each of the stories in their own native language. http://internationalfacesofankylosingspondylitis.com

I am working on a website to help show the world that Anylosing Spondylitis is no longer a man’s disease http://ankylosingspondylitisasallsexes.wordpress.com

My dream is to be able to complete my personal mission of sending out 1000 wristbands uniting these brave and wonderful people who trusted me to be the guardian of their souls and share their stories.

I am working on showing that we are not alone and it is a small world after all. I have all the faces and support groups on a Google map. (Click here to see the map.)

I am working on a support board that offers information on doctors, medicines and assistance, by state. There are so many wonderful sites to get information but it is difficult to always find what you need close to you. http://thefacesofas.proboards.com

I have also set up two online stores to buy products for The Faces of Ankylosing Spondylitis. One store the profit will be donated to the SAA and research, the other is going to a fund being set up to help people who are approved for help with medical cost.

I started The Faces of Ankylosing Spondylitis on Oct. 8, 2011

My mission is to bring awareness to an invisible disease.

My hope was to put faces to the awareness ribbons.

My  goal is to collect 1000 stories by World AS Day 2012

These are the steps that each face take when arriving at my door.

I put the Face on the page AS HAS A FACE

I then put the Face and story on a page Name then Number because it is important to me for us to not be a number.

I then put the Face and story on a page AS Face Number and Name to keep the amount collected in sight.

I then add the name to the Picture and put in a video page called AS Has A Name

I manually link each story to the previous story.

Then I make sure to put a comment on both pages.

Then I copy and paste the story to a website called.

http://ankylosingspondylitisasallsexes.wordpress.com Ankylosing Spondylitis =A.S.=All sexes

to show that AS is no longer a man’s disease.

I then add the story to the WEGO health blog and Daily Strength blog sites.

We are also on network blogs and blogspot and blogger.com

I then twitter the story @facesofas

Then I put it on our support forum http://thefacesofas.proboards.com

My goal is to list support groups, doctors and pain managements and information by states

I then put it on our FacesofAS Google map http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=214105950539833975863.0004b192142abdcb13a1e&msa=0&ll=51.533007,-0.275919&spn=0.000908,0.002714

I have listed on the map each Face story, plus support groups, and crisis hotlines

I mail a link to every person so they are able to share their stories with everyone.

I then post the story of Facebook on the ASAP page SAA page The Faces of AS page

The AS all Sexes Page and the Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes

I also run a closed support group called The Faces of Ankylosing Spondylits

I also run a closed room called Laugh Your AS Off that allows people to laugh and forget their troubles.

I also have two online stores I am working on at this time to be able to raise funds for research.

Today is Feb 3, 2012 we have 213 faces and 81,886 views on our webite. (Editor’s note: And today is February 13th and there are already 90,088 hits!)

My goal is when the day comes to meet my maker I will know in my heart that I did the best I could to my ability to make a difference.


Be sure to follow Cookie’s work (if you don’t already) and “meet” her through the web on her blog, her Twitter or Facebook, and the Faces of AS community.



I’d like to introduce you to Rookie of the Year Finalist, and Diabetes Health Activist – Kim Vlasnik! Kim is no stranger to the web, blogging at Texting My Pancreas and drawing hilarious cartoons – but her new project started in 2011 the You Can Do This Project brought a fresh idea to the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) centered around videos of support under the aptly titled mantra “You can do this.” A true testament to the power of online community and patient-to-patient support, YCDTP was created around the idea that: “Validation and community have the ability to lighten the emotional load that diabetes can place on us.That’s where this project comes in. Tell us your stories. Show others what living with diabetes is really like – no sugar-coating. Talk about the tough stuff.” To learn more about the Project – you should read the whole About page (it’s an awesome idea). Congrats to Kim for her nominations and for making a real impression on the judges and being a Finalist. Now – let’s learn more about her in her own words…


How/why did you become a Health Activist?  Tell us your Health Activist story!

Kim: I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 25 years, but for most of that time I felt very alone in living with it. When I found the diabetes online community in 2009, I felt like I had finally found people who “got it”; who were dealing with all of the same frustrations, struggles, annoyances, and apprehension that I was. That feeling was so liberating!
I started with forum-based communities like Juvenation and TuDiabetes, and eventually started my own blog, Texting My Pancreas, in 2010. Connecting with others with diabetes online had changed my health and well-being so drastically for the good, and I hoped that sharing my own story could do the same for someone else. Letting others know that they are not alone, and laughing with them about the parts of diabetes that really suck (disclosure: that means “pretty much all of it”) is important to me.


What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?

Kim: I’d like to look back on 2012 as the year I had the confidence and courage to take some bold steps in my life, both personally and professionally. I want to keep spending time on the things that make me a happy and healthy person, and learn how to say “no” when I need to. I want the You Can Do This Project to find a wider audience in 2012, and I’ll be working on ways to make that happen.


Be sure to follow Kim’s work (if you don’t already) and “meet” her through the web through her blog, her Twitter, or the You Can Do This Project.



In the spirit of Health Activist Matchmaking Month, we will be doing one of my favorite things here on the blog: introducing new Health Activists! Meeting people is a huge part of online community (and the best perk of social media as far as I’m concerned). These Health Activists work alongside you in the landscape of “online health sites” but, because the internet is huge – it can be difficult to find out who these fellow health leaders are. That’s where we happily come in!


Though, they may raise awareness for different health conditions than you or work in a different medium than you –  they are awesome, inspiring, and run into the same highs/lows of being an online health leader just like you do. Here at WEGO Health, we work to find those unique places where all Health Activists have things in common. Because, no matter what condition or community you focus on, you have  teach each other and can collaborate on big ideas (healthcare social media, among others!).


The Health Activist Awards, in particular, were the perfect opportunity to connect the dots and make connections. So – let’s continue with that! I asked each of the Health Activist Awards Finalists two open-ended questions about how they got started as a Health Activist and what they are working on this year. And – no surprise – they offered great answers that I’m excited to share with you here.


If you haven’t yet, be sure follow these folks (and “like” them) and keep them in mind when you’re looking for inspiration or ideas. Each and every Finalist is doing amazing things for the people they reach.




Hilarious Health Activist
You swear you’re at a comedy show.  This Health Activist brings the funny with the advocacy.


Christie Germans – The Lesion Journals

Chato Stewart – Mental Health Humor

Rick Green – Totally ADD

Jaquie Wojcik – Bad Pancreas

Jenny – The Bloggess

Jackie Zimmerman – Blood, Poop, & Tears

Doug Ankerman – My Odd Sock

Paperboy Award
The Health Activist who always brings you the latest and greatest news and research.


Amy Tenderich – Diabetes Mine

Mark Stecker – Wheelchair Kamikaze

Brigid Laurito – My Rheumatoid Arthritis Journey

Rookie of the Year The Health Activist who came on the scene in 2011 but has inspired the entire community.

Erika Hanson Brown – Colontown

Kim Vlasnik – You Can Do This Project

Sara – A Girl With Guts

Cookie Hopper – The Faces of Ankylosing Spondylitis


Health Activist Hero Award
Who has changed your life? There are some people who can change your entire outlook on life just with their story, their dedication, their words, and their encouragement. Who is your Health Activist Hero? Who would you like to thank and why? This award is an emotional one but will yield some incredible camaraderie.


Kelly Wahle – Fly With Hope

Jason Leitman – Crohn’s Disease Support Network

Max Szadek – Divabetic

Ellen Schnakenberg – Migraine.com

Christine Miserandino – But You Don’t Look Sick

Patty Hagler-Verdugo – Dr. Patty

Laura (Collins) Lyster-Mensh – F.E.A.S.T (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

Best Affirmation Post

The best single post that explains, outlines, or affirms the Health Activist mission.


Wil Dubois – I love you guys (and maybe the girls a little bit more” | LifeAfterDx–CGM Chronicles

Christine Miserandino – The Spoon Theory” | But You Don’t Look Sick

Timothy Ringgold – A New Day +1?” | Bella’s Blessings

Kymberli Barney – The Truth About Trying” | The Smartness”

Advocating for Another Award
Award the dedication of someone who raises awareness for the condition of someone they love.


Penny Williams – A Mom’s View of ADHD

Andrea Hardaway – Voice Matters

Laura (Collins) Lyster-Mensh – Laura’s Soapbox

Alexis Nicole Newell – The Chronicles of D-Boy and Ribbon

Scott Benner – Arden’s Day


Best in Show: Blog
This Health Activist dominates the blog platform and is a great model for taking it to the next level.


Kerri Sparling – Six Until Me

Maisie McInerney- Lyme Chick

Jenna Dye Visscher – The Feeding Edge

Pandora – Serial Insomniac

Natasha Tracy – Bipolar Burble | Natasha Tracy Online

Best in Show: Community
This Health Activist dominates a community or forum platform and is a great model for taking it to the next level.


Jason Leitman – Crohn’s Disease and My Experience

Max Szadek – Divabetic

Jeffrey Roberts – IBS Group

Jenni Prokopy – ChronicBabe

Paul Gileno – US Pain Foundation

Best in Show: Facebook
This Health Activist dominates the Facebook platform and is a great model for taking it to the next level.


Jeffrey Roberts – IBS Self Help Group on Facebook

Katie Brown – LUNGevity Foundation on Facebook

Niki Wyre – RA Chicks on Facebook

Best in Show: Twitter
This Health Activist dominates the Twitter platform and is a great model for taking it to the next level.


Nate Osit – @NateOsit

Cherise Shockley – #DSMA and @Diabetic_Iz_Me

Jason Leitman – @CrohnsDiseaseSN

Best Kept Secret Award
Who is a hidden gem of the Health Activist world?


Selena MKI – Oh My Aches and Pains

Rick Pescatore- Little White Coats

Lee Horbachewski – SimpLee Serene

Heidi Skiba – Ostomy Outdoors

Offline Crusader Award
This Health Activist did amazing things offline this year. Tell us about your favorite.


Regina Holliday – Walking Gallery 2010 | Regina Holliday’s Medical Advocacy Blog

Erin Smith – NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group | Gluten-Free Fun

Jennifer Pettit – Disability Mentoring Day and UII Events | MY UII Blog

MJ Train & Michelle Litchman – Diabetes Mixer | Sweet Advice

TMI Award This Health Activist always goes there – no matter how personal or embarassing the story.


Mo- Mommy Odyssey

Jacquie Wojcik – Bad Pancreas

Sara – A Girl With Guts

Jenni Schaeffer – Jenni’s Guts

Brynn Hultquist – Lupus Interrupted

Wendy Holcombe – Picnic With Ants