CHICAGO – First Lady Patti Blagojevich today recognized the efforts of two health care professionals, by giving Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s People Are Today’s Heroes (PATH) Award to Dr. Olufunmilayo I. Olopade for her dedication to breast cancer research, and to Dr. Marilyn Miller, a pediatric ophthalmologist for her devotion to the children of Illinois for over 30 years. The First Lady presented Dr. Olopade with the PATH Award at the State’s first “Pink Potluck,” a social event that promotes breast cancer awareness, where women were offered various screenings including mammograms and cervical cancer screenings. The First Lady, also highlighted the Governor’s All Kids health insurance proposal, a landmark program that will make Illinois the first and only state in the nation to provide comprehensive, affordable health insurance to all the state’s children.
At the Salem Christian Academy on Chicago’s South Side, Mrs. Blagojevich brought a dish to the State’s first “Pink Potluck,” and presented the PATH Award on behalf of the Governor to Dr. Olufunmilayo I. Olopade for her dedication to breast cancer research. Mrs. Blagojevich created the “Pink Potluck” campaign as a way for women, particularly African American women, to get together socially to discuss the health concerns, experiences and information related to women’s health and to get breast screenings and mammograms. The potluck also encourages women to keep their health in check by talking with their doctors about risk factors and preventative practices. A number of free services were made available to the women of the Salem Christian Academy at the Potluck, including mammograms and pap tests, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol readings, as well as self- breast exam instructions and demonstrations.
“Breast cancer is the most frequent type of cancer among women. We must do all we can to fight this deadly disease, by expanding access to healthcare for working families, raising awareness of how important it is to be screened for cancer and by funding critical medical research,” said the Governor. “But we also need help from doctors, physicians, and researchers so that eventually, we can find cures for these diseases. Doctors like Dr. Olopade, who are committed to trying to find a cure for this horrible disease, are part of today’s heroes, and I’m proud to give her this award.”
The PATH Award recognizes groups or individuals who, through their hard work and commitment, have improved the lives of people in their community in the areas of health care, public safety, education and economic development.
“Breast cancer is a deadly disease that can affect any one of us women. We are very fortunate to have a person like Dr. Olopade in Illinois who has allowed us to take great steps forward in trying to find a cure for breast cancer,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “Hopefully one day, our mothers, sisters, and daughters will not have to endure this potentially deadly disease.”
Dr. Olopade is a Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and the Director of Cancer Research Clinic at the University of Chicago. An international leader in breast cancer research,
Dr. Olopade continues to help scientists gain a greater understanding of the disease. Dr. Olopade serves on the medical advisory board of the Young Survival Coalition, a network of breast cancer survivors and supporters, which seeks to provide education and resources for young breast cancer patients. In 2004, Dr. Olopade organized an international conference to promote breast and cervical cancer awareness in Nigeria. Dr. Olopade authored a study that found significant differences between breast cancers in Caucasian women and in women of African descent. In 2005, Dr. Olopade was named a MacArthur Fellow and awarded the Foundation's prestigious "genius grant."
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women 20 years of age and older, with an estimated 9,000 women expected to be diagnosed in Illinois this year. Dr. Olopade has a special interest in women of African descent. While African-American women are not diagnosed with breast cancer as frequently as Caucasian women, the mortality rate among African Americans is 39.3 compared to 25.5 among White women.
The First Lady presented a second PATH Award today at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting. Dr. Marilyn Miller, Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Section at the University of Illinois, Chicago received the PATH Award for her devotion to children for over 30 years. In addition to her research and clinical responsibilities, Dr. Miller participates in children’s health fairs in the Chicago area, has a major commitment to international ophthalmology, especially in children’s eye programs, and has taken many trips to developing countries around the world (Nigeria, India, and Pakistan). She has served on the Advisory Committee of World Health Organization (WHO) and now is an American Academy of Ophthalmology representative to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).
“The extraordinary commitment that Dr. Miller has made over 30 years to help children, deserves recognition because of the everlasting impact has made on their lives. Dr. Miller has been involved in anything and everything having to do with children’s eye care.” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “She is one of today’s heroes to many Illinois families.”
Dr. Miller is on the Board of Directors of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (FAAO) involved in international programs. She was President of the American Ophthalmological Society, the Chicago Ophthalmological Society, and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS), and presently chairs the AAPOS International Affairs Committee. She also serves on the Boards and Committees at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, Helen Keller International, ORBIS International (pediatric ophthalmology programs), and the AAPOS Children’s Eye Care Foundation. She has served for many years on the Medical Advisory Board for the Division of Specialized Care for Children.
At the American Academy of Ophthalmology Meeting, Mrs. Blagojevich addressed over 600 eye doctors on two aggressive healthcare initiatives. She informed the doctors about the Illinois Pediatric Vision Initiative, one of her first initiatives as First Lady. And she highlighted the Governor’s recently announced All Kids program, which will make Illinois the first and only state in the nation to provide comprehensive and affordable health care to all of the state’s children.
The Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative was launched in April 2004, after a friend’s son was diagnosed with amblyopia. Over the course of several months, Mrs. Blagojevich assembled a team of state agencies to distribute nearly 1 million English and Spanish brochures to parents, doctors, teachers, and local health departments across the state. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Public Aid sent notices to physicians urging them to screen children for ocular disorders and reviewing billing procedures for screenings. Mrs. Blagojevich announced today that an additional 200 thousand has been allocated for the Initiative in a continued effort towards the health and well being of the kids in the state. Grants will be awarded to those who work with the state and are committed to the prevention and treatment of amblyopia.
Mrs. Blagojevich used a variety of creative tactics to reach parents whose children do not have access to regular medical checkups. The Department of Human Services shipped 300,000 brochures to local WIC clinics and 100,000 brochures to Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. The Department of Public Aid gave brochures to Medicaid-eligible families with young children. The Illinois State Board of Education distributed brochures to classroom teachers and parents with children in the Early Childhood Block Grant Programs. DCFS handed out 135,000 brochures to foster families, private providers of foster care, and subsidized guardianship families. Brochures were also available in the First Lady’s tent at both the State Fair and the DuQuoin State Fair.
Mr. Blagojevich also touched upon the Governor’s All Kids plan at the annual meeting. Over the past two and a half years, the Blagojevich Administration has worked to expand health coverage for low-income, working parents and their children. Despite these gains, approximately 253,000 children in Illinois do not have health insurance. The Governor’s All Kids program would offer children access to comprehensive health care, including doctor’s visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, vision care, dental care and medical devices like eye glasses and asthma inhalers.