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Governor names faculty members to women's commission (12/19/97)

Two faculty members from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio recently were appointed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush to serve on the Governor's Commission for Women.

The appointees are Sylvia Fernandez, PhD, director of special programs at the Health Science Center, and Shirley Menard, RN, PhD, associate professor in the department of family nursing care. Dr. Fernandez, one of three women reappointed to the 18-member commission, served as chair during the last biennium.

The 1997-99 commission will help Texas First Lady Laura Bush put together a Texas program on women's health issues. This activity will dovetail with an initiative endorsed by the spouses of the nation's governors. The Governors' Spouses Program, an offshoot of the National Governors' Association, is asking each state to develop a program to increase public awareness about six areas of concern to middle-aged women: breast cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, menopause, mental health and tobacco use.

Dr. Fernandez already has participated in two breast cancer awareness activities. At a rally Oct. 8 at the Bexar County Courthouse, she and County Judge Cyndi Krier set an awareness wreath by the courthouse door, and Judge Krier read a proclamation for breast health awareness. "Mrs. Bush was doing the same at the State Capitol," Dr. Fernandez said.

At a conference Sept. 11, Dr. Fernandez was one of those announcing the start of the Multicity Mammography Pilot Project. This initiative of the Health Care Financing Administration targets women in six cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Antonio. The purpose of the three-year project is to increase utilization of the Medicare screening mammography benefit among African American and Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older.

"Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, and the risk increases with age," said Dr. Fernandez, a cancer survivor. "The earlier the disease is detected, the better the chance to treat it effectively. Perhaps heightened awareness of the risk will encourage many women to do self-exams and obtain mammograms."

Age, race, nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use, estrogen and early detection practices are among the key factors affecting women's health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, claiming nearly half a million lives each year. Breast cancer, meanwhile, is expected to be diagnosed in 184,000 women nationwide this year.

Dr. Menard is excited about the commission's goals. "The fact we are looking at women's health this year is really important, and we are looking at the whole woman rather than picking out one issue such as breast cancer," she said. "The issue in which I'm most interested is domestic violence against women. I'm very glad that Mrs. Bush has taken on women's health as one of her projects this year."

Dr. Menard served on the Texas Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities from 1989 to 1991 as an appointee of Gov. Bill Clements. Later she was appointed by President Bush to the Secretarial Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an advisory committee of the secretary of veterans affairs. That term expired in 1994.

She still chairs the oversight committee for a nationwide research study on women Vietnam veterans, of which she is one. "The Vietnam research study is on female veterans' health, so it does tie in nicely with the commission's work," she said.

Dr. Menard also serves on the board of directors for Guadalupe Valley Hospital in Seguin. She was appointed to the position by the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court.

Contact: Will Sansom (210) 567-2570