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Annual blood screening program set for Saturday

November 11, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Marie Byers is health conscious. So when an annual blood test indicated high levels of sodium four years ago she sprung into action.

She altered her diet, stopped cooking with salt.

Subtle changes? Maybe, but they took hold.

"With those corrections I'm fine," Byers says. "I've tested fine since then."

But without the initial blood test the Washington County Commission on Physical Fitness chair would not have known there was a problem.

Saturday, Nov. 16, Byers will once again roll up her sleeve to give blood and gain peace of mind.

"Our goal is fitness for life; one body, one life," she says. "(The test) gives you a heads up, a benchmark of where you stand."

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Sponsored by the commission, the Annual Multiphasic Blood Analysis (AMBA) Blood Screening Program provides an affordable way to test plasma 38 ways.

From cholesterol and triglycerides to calcium and magnesium, the tests allow participants to be proactive about their health.

"You can monitor your own health indicators," says Hagerstown dietitian and commission member Cindy Held. "If your blood cholesterol went up 20 points and you were borderline (high) anyway, maybe you would want to see a dietitian or your doctor."

Between 6 and 10 a.m. at Western Heights Middle School, blood will be drawn from those who have obtained permission from their doctor. It is a fasting test, requiring 13 hours' abstention from food and liquids like tea or coffee.

Held says during the fast period existing medications should be taken as prescribed.

For 12 years, the Commission on Physical Fitness, a local group dedicated to promoting healthy living, has sponsored the yearly screening.

Supplementing the $36 test are optional PSA (prostate cancer screening), T4 (thyroid function) and colon rectal tests available for additional fees.

Hagerstown M.D. Robert Brull has taken advantage of the screening for at least a decade, as much for its affordability as its probative value.

A fan of all community initiatives to create citizens more self-aware of their health, Brull says the blood screening gives him a chance to get a handle on how he is doing.

"If you're a person who doesn't get these tests done regularly through your physician, it's very wise," he says. "Sometimes it's the first sign that you need to see a doctor. Any abnormality that shows up in this broad screening test can steer you to see a doctor if you don't see a doctor on a regular basis."

Each year the screening attracts roughly 200 people. But the population taking advantage of the service is aging, Held says, and the commission is trying to lure new residents to the event.

She sees more families making appointments, and hopes the trend continues.

The commission's goal is simple, organizers say. Nothing is more personal than the body, and awareness of its efficiency can reap benefits that far outweigh a needle's prick.

"We want to reach out to more people and give them a real opportunity to have an early warning or red flag about a problem," Byers says. "Or have them be reassured that they're taking good care of their bodies."

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