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Gail Lemieux, Canada

She was not tested for osteoporosis, even though her mother has the disease and is confined to a wheelchair

Gail Lemieux's working life was ended prematurely by osteoporosis.

A home care coordinator for a medical laboratory in Barrie, Ontario, Gail enjoyed her job working with people who could not come to lab for medical testing, just as she enjoyed playing golf and gardening in her free time.

In March 1980, at the age of 40 she slipped on ice in front of her home and fractured two vertebrae. She was hospitalized for two weeks and spent about six months recuperating. Gail eventually recovered, but she was not investigated for osteoporosis, in spite of the fact that her mother has the disease and is confined to a wheelchair.

In 1990 Gail slipped on the stairs at home and fractured another vertebra. Within a year she broke another vertebrae and suffered a compression fracture of the spine, a common "cascade" effect among people with osteoporosis.

In almost constant pain, Gail would have to leave work early and lie flat on her back at home until heading off to work again in the morning. "I didn't really have a life at that time, certainly not of any quality," remembers Gail.

Gail was put on Long Term Disability (a combination of private, employer and government insurance coverage) because of her constant pain, inability to do her job, and the likelihood that some of her fractures may have happened at work. "It is difficult to pinpoint when and where the later fractures had occurred," says Gail. "And employers need to be concerned about possible liability issues for on-the-job injuries."

Still in pain, and frustrated by the lack of assistance from her physician, Gail changed doctors and began to get some answers. Eleven years after her first fracture, Gail was finally diagnosed with osteoporosis.

"I had a dual reaction when I was diagnosed," Gail says. "One reaction was thank goodness I have a diagnosis. My other reaction was what do I do? You know, I really don't know anything about osteoporosis. I thought because my mother had it that was just something that happened to her and it never crossed my mind it would happen to me."

"I still get a lot of pain if I do things I shouldn't do," says Gail. She cannot vacuum or dust. "Well, who likes housework anyway, you might say." But she can no longer garden or golf. "So it makes for a restricted life," she says.

Equally frustrating is the fact that her physical limitations can mean depending on others for help with activities she used to do herself. "Your independence can certainly be jeopardized," says Gail.

Today Gail spends a lot of her time spreading the word about osteoporosis prevention. She advises women to look at their risk factors and discuss them with their doctor.

"I often wake up in the middle of the night and think oh my goodness am I going to wind up like my mom in a wheelchair in a nursing home requiring 24 hour care? That's really scary.

"I think I was in denial a lot too. I thought, so I have osteoporosis but I'm okay. But I wasn't okay. I actually sat for three months in this chair thinking I'm okay, I'm okay, but I wasn't able to get going. I was depressed. All the time I was telling myself I'm okay but I wasn't okay, I was far from being okay."

Gail has not returned to work since 1991. Her husband Jim retired two years ago and the couple try to spend the winter months in sunnier climes away from the treacherous snow and ice of Canadian winters. Battling additional health concerns today, Gail does her best to stay busy, active and positive. "I'm not about to give up now,"she says.

*Gail Lemieux is a former member of the Board of the Osteoporosis Society of Canada and appeared in the WOD 2001 video.

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