WORCESTER – A health assessment survey for Worcester residents was released on Tuesday, Jan. 16 to get input on key issues that affect community members’ health.

The Worcester Division of Public Health, Fallon Health and UMass Memorial Health Care are asking community members to participate in the 2018 Greater Worcester Community Health Assessment (CHA) Survey.

The survey is conducted every three years — with the last time being in 2015  — and according to the City of Worcester, “has played a vital role in addressing health needs” in Worcester and Worcester County.

Click on the link here to take the survey:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CHAsurvey2018

The average cost per smoker in Massachusetts each year is $43,319, according to a new report from the data experts at Wallethub.

The report – The Real Cost of Smoking by State – shows that smokers in Massachusetts pay the second most in the United States (only behind New York) for cigarettes and tobacco products per year and over the course of a lifetime — which totals more than $2.2 million.

Wallethub calculated the potential monetary losses — including both the lifetime and annual cost of a cigarette pack per day, health care expenditures, income losses and other costs — brought on by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

To see where Massachusetts compared to other states, scroll the map below:

 

Source: WalletHub

As we think about the issues we struggle with as a society, especially the current opioid epidemic, we reflect this holiday season on how and why we arrived at such a place. We are all too familiar with our loved ones overdosing and the ensuing death toll. We are keenly aware of the struggles the people who suffer from substance use disorders experience when seeking treatment. We have placed the blame on nefarious figures, but the root causes and the issues aren’t all that different from the problems of the past.

People seek pleasure, relief, and comfort through substance use, whether it be alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, shopping, etc.  The drug use and compulsive behaviors previously mentioned provide some sort of relief, albeit temporary, and offer a respite from their current discomfort.  

We know more now than ever before about the brain and its functioning, how drugs and compulsive behaviors affect our brain chemistry, and produce the euphoria and escape sought by those in distress, bored, or simply looking for thrills.  We can understand the mechanisms of the drugs, their effects, their power, and their related behaviors, but what continually eludes us as a society is “why”. Despite all the negative consequences, often life ending, we continue to consume more and more of these harmful substances, and exhibit even riskier behavior.

We look to find hope in a brighter tomorrow, despite the present overcast skies.   

After 30 years of working in drug and alcohol treatment, it occurs to us that working toward prevention and early intervention is where we need to focus more of our efforts and resources.  There is an old parable about a small bucolic village with a beautiful river running through it.  The story goes something like this. On one bright sunny morning, without warning lifeless bodies started to appear floating downstream.  The villagers all ran to the river to try to rescue these young beings.  As the good townspeople frantically tried to save these young lives, they realized that their efforts though heroic were not saving nearly enough of these young adults.  After a few grueling and heartbreaking hours, the villagers noticed a that few people had stopped helping and started to turn away.  Somewhat bewildered they yelled “where are you going, we need all the help we can get.” Those running said, “we’re going upstream to see where these lost souls are coming from.”   

We have been pulling bodies out of the stream for a long time now, work which is difficult, stressful, tiring, and frustrating.  Especially when we seem to be losing more than we save. We believe that we should put more of our focus “upstream”, to understand why so many individuals among us seek relief, entertainment, or social connection with substances, and risky behavior.  Our fear is that if we don’t resolve the source of the problem, we will always be watching our loved ones floating down the river.  

When should that help begin? How far upstream do we go? In broad terms we must embrace and practice the South African term “Ubuntu” or “humanity towards others”, a phrase that is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

In research done by the Noble Prize winner James Heckman, Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development, and echoed by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD, Boston Center for Trauma, we find that in today’s world one’s zip code rather than one’s genetic code is a more reliable determinant for having a safe and healthy life. Trauma and its antecedent social ills such as poverty, discrimination, violence, poor housing, community disruption and lack of opportunity are seen to be the major contributors of the epidemic. If we look at some sobering statistics, since 2001, more Americans have died at the hands of their partners or family members than the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan; American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer; and the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that firearms kill twice as many children as cancer, we may discover the real culprit for our nation’s insatiable drug seeking behavior, and an opportunity to effect real change

Recent research suggests that our most pressing Public Health Crisis can be found in the ‘Pair of Aces’ depiction of the results of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study and the Adverse Community Environments, often considered the soil in which children’s lives are rooted.

As children develop and grow into adolescents, they are exposed to all that life offers, including stress, relationships, societal norms and practices, uncomfortable feelings and having to manage those feelings. For those whose lives intersect with exposure to divorce, homelessness, domestic violence, physical and emotion neglect, a mechanism for healing needs to take place early in the developmental stages. We also know from practical experience that mental health issues, attachment disorder, and trauma all have strong correlations to substance use disorders and surface as the predominant co-occurring issues and most difficult to treat.

Reaching our children while they are in school and talking with them about emotions, relationships, life’s challenges and healthy coping methods to help them manage what lies ahead is an important step in preparing our youth to meet the allure of alcohol, drugs, or other harmful practices.  It’s happening in places which have been previously considered “off limits”, like our public-school system.  Credit should be given to the administration of the Worcester Public School system. Over the past few years, new ideas beyond the teaching of math and science have emerged. Our public-school system is now educating children (and faculty/administrators) about bullying and drug awareness, skills that will help them navigate the difficult parts of life without seeking out the comfort of drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy behaviors.

While noteworthy, these initiatives are the beginning of what must become a national commitment to face the undeniable truth that trauma and its antecedents is our most urgent public health issue. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” -Charles Darwin

 

The Worcester community has a long history of supporting people struggling with substance use disorders.

Within the city limits, inpatient treatment programs like Adcare Hospital, Community Healthlink (CHL), and the Washburn House provide detoxification services to the adult (18+) population, while Community Healthlink’s Motivating Youth Recovery provides inpatient detoxification services to adolescents.

The continuum of care then moves to Rehab (Adcare Hospital) or Clinical Stabilization Services (CSS) (Washburn House, Passages) which have a higher intensity of clinical involvement and then to residential programs or halfway houses like Linda Fay Griffin House, Channing House, Beryl’s House, Crozier House, and Hector Reyes House, which rely heavily on recovery oriented systems of care and the ensuing social aspects for reintegration into a life of purpose and fulfillment.

The preceding levels of care represent the gamut of medically managed and monitored, clinically managed and monitored treatment options, and all serve the fundamental purpose of keeping people in an environment that is safe and a stepping stone into recovery.

Although their corporate offices are in Westborough, Spectrum Health Systems has been a mainstay serving the addict population in the city by providing inpatient, residential, and outpatient methadone clinic services. Other neighboring providers are Independence Hall a clinical stabilization service (CSS) in Shrewsbury that is run by Veterans, Inc whose headquarters are on Grove St in Worcester and located on the grounds of the former Calvary Retreat Center on South St., and Recovery Centers of America (detoxification and CSS) in Westminster to the north.

Equally important to having this robust continuum of care is access. The No Wrong Door policy states that no one seeking treatment can be denied services without being helped to a facility that can appropriately meet their needs. It is a common misconception that you must use to be admitted into treatment. The policy states “you cannot be denied admission based only on the results of a drug screen.” The practical translation being “don’t let a facility or a loved one tell you that they have to be high to get admitted.”

In the last year, a Drug Court in the Worcester District Court System is providing substance abuse intervention in lieu of incarceration for offenders appearing before the court for drug related misdemeanors. Keeping people out of jail through participation in the Drug Court is a priority and it shows promising results especially if there is motivation to stay in treatment and remain clean and sober.

Many individuals seeking help for the first time from their substance use disorders can often start with a Day Treatment program or in early intervention cases perhaps out-patient counseling is the most appropriate level of care. Many non-profit and private agencies provide these services. For a directory of those agencies in the Worcester area, there is a free “Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline” number to call (1-800-327-5050) where a caring, trained Specialist will help you understand the treatment system and your options. For those who use the internet as their preferred method of communication, these identical services can be found at www.helplinema.org.

Washburn House clients are working to recover from drug and alcohol addictions

Recovery management is a philosophy, promoted by the state of Massachusetts and endorsed by leading recovery advocates, of organizing addiction treatment and recovery support services to enhance pre-recovery engagement, recovery initiation, long-term recovery maintenance, and the quality of personal/family life in long-term recovery.

This philosophy is clearly evidenced by the city’s involvement and support of the recovery high school. Teenagers experiencing substance use issues who want to continue their education in a therapeutic environment may opt for the Rockdale Recovery High School.  This Grade 9-12 School specifically enrolls youngsters that would benefit from a safe and supportive high school environment with a dual focus of academic excellence and recovery support. The only requirement for admission in the Recovery High School is a diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder and a strong desire to drug free recovery. The phone number at the High School is (508) 538-9102. The Principal’s name is Mary Ellen McGorry.

As part of the much-needed efforts to help stem the tide of the state’s opioid epidemic, legislation relative to substance use, treatment, education, and prevention (STEP Act) was enacted in March 2016 and signed by Governor Baker to be implemented annually in two school grades throughout every public-school district. This drug prevention program called “Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment “(SBIRT) will be starting this year in the Worcester Public Schools. Every 7th and 9th grade student will be administered a drug screening to begin a structured conversation to promote prevention and to identify early risk factors for substance use in middle and high school students. Follow-up referral to treatment will also be offered to any student who is deemed high-risk for a substance use disorder based on their answers to the screening.

With the recent passage of the Recreational Marijuana Law in Massachusetts, there is grave concern by many worried parties that youth will want to experiment with the widely accepted gateway drug. Some recent statistics out of Colorado, the nation’s first state to legalize recreational use in 2012 that show past month use of marijuana among 12-17-year olds have increased from 9.82 percent to 12.56 percent, and marijuana related emergency room visits by teens have more than quadrupled, highlight some troubling and unintended consequences, lending credence to the cries for heightened awareness.

With such a complex landscape, it’s little wonder that city residents and officials must band together and embody the words of Mother Teresa “What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”

As the holidays are approaching fast, I know most of you are already thinking about those New Years resolutions of how you can be better and healthier next year, right?  

For those that haven’t thought of any yet, I am challenging you to make a new one and really commit to it.  I know what you are thinking to yourself right now, “There are just too many resolutions I need to make, so forget it.”  I understand that this time of year can be extremely overwhelming and you may want to run away at times.  I can assure you that I feel the same way sometimes!  It’s okay, and you are normal.  I also want to tell you that the more you put off making those positive and impactful changes in your life, the more they will slip away and you will be even more behind in reaching your goals.  

If you have ever thought about losing weight or always wanted to try that fitness class, but haven’t yet, now is your chance to commit and make the time to do it.  2018 is around the corner and even though it is so cliche to say, time waits for no-one and life is short, you are blessed enough right now to have another New Year ahead to not only be interested in accomplishing something for yourself and your health, but now you can follow through and commit for once.

To make a quality change, you have to plan ahead and put the time in.  I understand we all want a quick fix, but in reality, that doesn’t exist if something is worth it.  The more time you put into something that you want, the more results you will get.  I remember when I first started learning about clean eating and did not know a thing about what that meant.  I had to commit myself to reading, taking classes, and researching everything and anything I could in books and online so I could use my knowledge to help others.  

I went from being extremely interested in learning,  to making a full commitment because I knew that fitness and health was my passion and calling.  Whatever you are striving for or want to make some positive changes, you have to become fully committed or it will never happen for you.  Think about losing weight.  How many times have you “tried” to lose weight, but fell off the wagon?  Was it because you were interested in losing the weight but couldn’t commit day in and day out?   

You might be asking yourself, “Why do I always do this to myself?”  The reason is that you did not have a plan in place and a commitment to go with it.  There is a big difference in being interested or committed.  I want you to decide which one you are and what it is you are going to make happen in the New Year.  Commit to yourself, to your goals, or to your family.    As a fitness and health coach, I can also hold you accountable with my new 8 Week Reset and Recharge  program launching January 1st.  Do you have what it takes to finally make the commitment you always wanted to make to live a healthier life?

Whether you want to change your physique or change your life, you will never see improvement if you stay in your comfort zone.  I am a firm believer in the saying, “if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Are you ready to take on a new challenge and become fully committed?    If so, I want to hear from you in the comments below or message me on social media.  Facebook Kelley Tyan or Instagram @kelleytyan.  I believe we all need a tribe to back us up. So what are you waiting for?  The New Year is coming, start preparing now!

XO,

Kelley

The United States Attorney’s Office and the DEA’s New England Field Division have announced the launch of a state-wide opioid abuse prevention campaign — #ResistTheRisk — to educate the public and spark conversation about the dangers and consequences of abusing, selling and sharing prescription opioids.

Washburn House clients are working to recover from drug and alcohol addictions

“The goal of this campaign is to remind people about the dangers of abusing, selling and sharing opioids, including prescription pain pills.  Misusing prescription drugs is risky and illegal.  We must do more to deter people from misusing opioids, and we hope that increasing awareness will help people make better choices – to resist the risk,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.

The #ResistTheRisk campaign will utilize a multi-media strategy including print designs on MBTA subway lines and buses, and buses operated by Southeastern Regional Transit Authority and the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority. Also, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will engage in direct outreach with youth and will use online marketing.

“The DEA believes that a critical component to its role as the nation’s lead drug law enforcement agency is reducing the demand for drugs,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson.

“Opioid abuse is rampant in Massachusetts and throughout New England and many times the abuse of prescription opioids is a gateway to heroin and fentanyl addiction. DEA is proud to collaborate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on this campaign to encourage conversation and raise awareness about the dangers and consequences associated with the abuse of opioids,” Ferguson added.

You may have heard the word HIIT many times before, especially if you are a into fitness.  For those that are not familiar with this term, HIIT means high intensity interval training.  This may sound extreme and scary to many people, however, I am going to teach you how to make the most out of your gym sessions and explain how you can HIIT it hard in little time.

I have found that many people don’t start working out because they are afraid of the time commitment, maybe the gym membership expense,  or even the scary equipment that they don’t know how to use.  All of these reasons can keep a person away from working out, because this exhausts them before they even start.  What if I told you, you can burn a good amount of body fat by putting in 20 minutes a day sweating?  You might not believe me, but I encourage you to give these short workouts  a try for 2 weeks and please message me on social media or through email on how you feel after.

First, you must always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program if you are under any care.  If you are ready to go and feeling healthy, then here is what you can do either at home or in the gym.  All you will need is a pair of dumbells if you are at home.  For all of these listed, please  begin with a 5-10 minute warm up and stretch before starting.

Here are 3 of my go to sweat sessions that provide maximum calorie burning and post workout calorie burning for up to 48 hours!  

Tabata workout:  You will choose 4 exercises.   My favorites are squats or jump squats, pushups (can  be on knees), burpees (can do walkout burpees), and mountain climbers (can do standing bringing alternating knees to chest).  You will perform the first exercise for 20 sec then rest 10 seconds for a total of 8 rounds.  Take 1 minute rest between exercises when completed then move on to the next one.   These are 4 minutes each equaling 20 minutes of your time!  Feel free to substitute any of the above exercises to whatever your goals are.   To make the most of this session, challenge yourself to get in as many reps as you can during the 20 sec of work.  

My next go to fat burning session are sprints.  You can do sprints on any machine (treadmill, rower, bike, elliptical….or get outside.  Sprinting is one of my favorites and you can ask all my Bikinis and Barbells clients because  they build stamina, endurance, and strength, while leaning you out fast.  You will warm up 5 -10 minutes then start your first sprint for 30 sec as fast as you can, recover 30 seconds, either slowing down or completely stopping to catch your breath.  Try to get 10 rounds of these and you will feel the burn.  Make sure you cool down when done.  

Last, but not least, is my Bootcamp favorite: the 10-1 ladder special.  This is where you choose 3-4 exercises and start with 10 reps, then 9, 8…all the way to 1.  You want to go as fast as you can with little rest between.  I always choose burpees because they challenge my whole body, but if these are too extreme, do something your body can handle.  Grab a pair of dumbbells and do  thrusters (squat and shoulder press them above your head), do pushups and skaters.  

These exercises keep your heart rate up the whole time, but again, you can choose whichever ones that fit  your goals.  As you get stronger, you can add more exercises but I rarely do more than 6.  Perform each exercises 10 times, then 9 and so on.

You can pick any of these  workouts and do them 3 different times in the week with different exercises.  I use all of these workouts monthly and always change up the combinations or machines to target different muscles groups.   The key is to change it up and not do the same thing over and over again.  To get the most out of your workouts,  keep your muscles guessing by adding weight or more reps and challenge different muscle groups.  If you focus only on your shoulders, your legs will suffer and vice versa.    The most important part of fitness is to have fun and not be stressed going into it.

One very important piece of this fitness thing, is not forgetting that a clean eating plan can speed up your results so check your food pantry because you will not get too far eating donuts and french fries on this plan (We can talk about that later).

I do want you to realize that taking 20 minutes out of your day is not only going to give you more energy, it will also  make you feel proud of yourself.    Make it an appointment  to do this 3-4X a week and you will want to thank me and thank yourself.  20 minutes a day can save you from many ailments, wouldn’t you want to be your own experiment?  

Tis the season to be merry, so why don’t you start with yourself so you can spread your cheer all month long!  

Please don’t forget to tag me on Facebook with a gym selfie or a post saying you tried one of these workouts.  Tag me on Instagram @kelleytyan and email me with any questions through my website.  I would love to help you become to the healthiest you can be, especially during the holidays.  

Be healthy and happy!

XO,

Kelley

It is seen everywhere. People and organizations are calling for stories from recovering addicts to reduce the stigma, and shame that surround addiction, and that it’s important to show the world a different version of what they are used to when hearing about addiction.  

That sentiment was echoed by the work group assembled at Anna Maria College this past November 15. The group was reconvened as a follow up to an earlier meeting to develop strategies to stem the tide in this unending health crisis. The group of consisted of members of law enforcement, academic administrators, treatment providers, students, and recovery advocates

Discussion focused on the obstacles encountered in providing services to those in need. A prominent view people get of addiction is a pathological one. They read about it in the papers, and the newsfeeds, see it in the movies and on television. It’s generally characterized by an undesirable individual, hustling, stealing, dealing drugs, or prostituting themselves (and each other) to satisfy their insatiable need.  The news stories sensationalize the drug busts, or the violent crimes fueled by an out of control addiction.  

Addiction is often talked about in terms of a “war,” a need to stamp out the “enemy,” despite the reality that the “enemy” is our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, mothers and fathers.   Society tends to turn away from this human wreckage, often portraying them as weak, misfits, with no redeeming qualities or value. They are chastised for their lifestyle, and there is a long-held belief that this must be what they want from their life.  

Without getting into a long discourse about the bio-psycho-social aspects of addiction, and the life experiences that influence an addict’s insatiable appetite to seek relief from whatever it is causing their distress or discomfort, the professionals in the room wanted to talk about what’s fueling this epidemic.  A topic that is rarely seen on the news, in the papers, or in movies. It is the story of an underlying health crisis that society is even more unwilling to address, let alone talk about it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) more than one in five Americans have been sexually molested, one in four beaten by a parent, one in every three couples engage in physical violence, over 25% of Americans have an alcohol dependent relative, one in eight witness their mother being beaten. Against this backdrop is it any wonder that our society today is self-medicating in numbers unprecedented in history. When you consider that more than three in four women and men in treatment for substance use disorders report trauma histories the correlation is undeniable.

The working group believe that if we are to ever change the downward spiral on this story of addiction, we must address the underlying issues that are driving our youth to seek relief in such high-risk circumstances that death is a likely result.

If you listen to the story of a person with a substance use disorder history, it might sound like this, “my journey into addiction began early in life, long before I found the comforting effects of drugs and alcohol.  Since childhood, I always felt some type of emotional distress or discomfort.  I was a lost child, hurting and confused, needing comfort and escape from my reality at any cost. It is not a giant leap of faith to realize that drug use is only a symptom of the underlying disease. By definition trauma is unbearable or intolerable, as we continue to listen to the story that definition takes on more meaning, “these feelings lead to thoughts about being someone else, someone more secure and confident, whose life was safe and fun, exciting and loving, and not so confusing.  I could only struggle for so long before I needed to seek relief, and that is exactly what I did. However, my relief came in the form of dishonesty and fantasy.  I needed something to change how I felt, how I saw myself, and how I thought others saw me.  Once I found the magic of alcohol and later in opiates, I thought I had found the answer to my problems.  Being in an intoxicated stupor provided me with the comfort and security needed, and made everything seem okay”.

In the Minnesota Longitudinal Study that focused on how relationships shape development, trauma emerged as the most important predictor of adult functioning. The firsthand accounts of the current crisis by the panel members underscored the finding of the study and one by one everyone in the room nodded in agreement.  This led to a consensus in the room for beefed up prevention efforts in early education, a change in the way we interpret and interact with the substance use disorder population and assessing the impact of trauma as suggested by the Adverse Childhood Experience study.  A study that seemed to validate the 1895 work of Sigmund Freud, “this person suffers from memories” theory.

Advances in the fields of Neuroscience, Developmental Psychopathology, and Interpersonal Neurobiology are increasing our understanding of the human brain and its neural networks and show promise in being able to unlock the mysteries of what is often considered intractable behavior.

If society can’t envision it, recognize or embrace it, then how can we expect to change it?  There are plenty of success stories out there, but there are way too many failures. There are stories about resilience and redemption, of courage and love, and there are the tragic stories of unfulfilled potential, disrupted families and premature loss of life.

These success stories that are attributable to love, compassion, and understanding are needed to help us move away from the symptom-focused medicine practiced in the 19th century to an integrated approach where we understand the impact of environment and relationships on each individual and respond accordingly. As people, we can still learn something from one of history’s greatest minds. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

 

Editor’s Note: Kelley Tyan is a health and fitness columnist with ThisWeekinWorcester.com. She is the daughter of Paul “Cooch” O’Mara and the author of this story.

ThisWeekinWorcester.com’s Person of the Week

Most of us have a favorite superhero, but it’s not every day we have one living among us.

Worcester residents may not realize that under Paul “Cooch” O’Mara’s running jacket he wears a virtual “superpower cape” that attacks and destroys despair and disappointment and replaces it with optimism, hope and achievement for the greater good.

When meeting Cooch, most would assume he’s a healthy man in his sixties who is able to run 8.5 miles every day from his home on Grafton Hill, down to Lake Ave, over the White City bridge onto South Quinsigamond Ave to RT 20 and back to Grafton St.

For more than 45 years, O’Mara has been running the streets of Worcester without the need for any medications. That all changed with one doctor’s appointment last November 2016,  when his shortness of breath was diagnosed as Myelofibrosis — a rare blood Cancer that attacks bone marrow and often leads to leukemia.

Only 18,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Myelofibrosis. Cooch was also informed that his spleen was enlarged, and it was recommended that it be removed. He wasn’t guaranteed more than a few years to live.

O’Mara pursued a second opinion at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston that offered a radically different approach. Rather than move forward with the removal of his spleen, his doctors recommended that he undergo a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

It was a complicated process with no guarantee of recovery and O’Mara was immediately on a stem cell waitlist. His response to his diagnosis and this treatment was a resounding, “Yes, I am going to do what I need to do, and that’s that.”

He wasn’t afraid, he didn’t have any fears and O’Mara said, “Let’s get this over with. I want to move on.”

Norma, Paul and Kelley

After months of waiting for a stem cell match, O’Mara was admitted to Dana Faber on April 7, 2017 for at least a four week hospital stay. He underwent heavy doses of chemo, became exhausted and weak. His hair fell out and he was extremely sick.

By week three, however, his condition improved while his blood counts increased,  and he was released from the hospital a week early. Cooch never doubted his recovery. His deep faith gave him strength, as did his wife Norma’s reassuring prayer: “Cooch, you are already healed, we don’t need to worry.” He and his close family’s firm faith kept these words in their hearts and kept their outlook positive.

At home, O’Mara was extremely weak and didn’t have an appetite, but his attitude remained extremely optimistic. He could not have public contact with people besides his immediate family, and he was required to wear a medical face mask and gloves at all times if he did leave the house.  His doctors explained that he needed to be isolated for one year and all of his food had to be prepared in his home only by his wife and daughter.  His house also had to be cleaned with bleach daily to avoid any germs.

Paul and Norma O’Mara

While recovering at home in week two, Norma — Cooch’s wife of 45 years, his best friend, and high school sweetheart — suddenly passed with no warning of an aneurysm. Norma had suffered from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis for over 40 years after giving birth to their only daughter Kelley.

Cooch’s care of Norma over the years included getting her dressed from top to bottom, cooking, and he even did her hair at times!  He took full responsibility of his beautiful wife with a smile everyday.   He drove her to her weekly doctor appointments, which were numerous,  and he loved every minute of it. Now, his life partner was in Heaven as he was being healed, as Norma promised him.  

Of course his heart was completely broken, and still is.  The void and sorrow is agonizing, but he often repeats his favorite biblical verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Phil 4:13]

His doctors’ 100 day restriction to not leave his house was lifted by the 85th day due to Cooch’s progression of his recovery.  He was allowed to sit outside any restaurant and eat the food served there, which was a big deal for him and all his family.  

Months later his doctors approved of his return to running and said, “If you feel good, do it”. That’s all he needed to hear and he was back to his favorite route!

Kelley and Paul

Kelley inquired what went through his mind while running because he never wears a headset or listens to music during his runs. He replied, “I think about your mother every second and that gets me through. I listen to my body, how my breathing sounds, and my muscles feel. I am content running alone and this brings me peace. It always has.”

His many friends and family are beyond amazed with his recovery and daily routine.

On Sunday, Nov. 12,  Cooch will run in the March of Dimes for Babies 5K race. Next June he is already planning to run the Worcester 1/2 marathon again.   Cooch will continue to wear his favorite running jacket and race number, but under his jacket he’ll be wearing his “superhero cape.”

I encourage readers to support the March of Dimes for Babies and, who knows, you just may run into Worcester’s own Caption Courageous!

A recent study has ranked Worcester as having the fifth lowest rate of people living without health insurance among cities in New England.

The study, created by Wallethub and based on a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measured the uninsured rates for 547 cities  — breaking the numbers down by age, income level and race.

According to the survey, the national uninsured rate is on an upward trend, following 2016’s first quarter record low of 8.6 percent.

In Worcester, the change in the uninsured rate between 2010 and 2016 was minimal, decreasing at -1.62%.

The amount of uninsured adults living in Worcester rose by more than three percent. For children, the uninsured rate rose by 0.20%.

See where Worcester ranks:

Source: WalletHub