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'Champion of Change' Is Pacesetter for Prevention (VIDEO, AUDIO)

Earlier this week, an outreach worker from Moffitt Cancer Center was invited to speak at the White House. The Obama Administration was so impressed with Myriam Escobar's work that they honored her as a "Champion of Change." 

  She goes wherever women are in Tampa Bay to bring them information about preventing chronic diseases. At the White House, she described her strategy.

"We start to make phone calls to them, we send them emails, we send them postcards until we make sure they have their mammograms," Escobar said. "We joke, and we say we are the Tampa police of the mammograms. Because we don't stop, we just keep calling and calling."

The program she runs is called "Yo me cuido,"which translates to "I take care of myself."

"Not only the Hispanic women, the women all around the world, they are always worried about their families, their children, and make everything for them, and they leave them(selves) for the last," Escobar said. "The main message of 'Yo me cuido' is they have to be first, to be healthy for their families and they can change lives and the lives of their children and their entire family through just preventing."

According to the Obama Administration, Escobar's outreach is working , and they'd like to see more of it. That's because prevention is a huge part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal health officials say many of America's serious health problems, the types of diseases that cause millions of adults to die prematurely, can be prevented.  

"We all know that health is much more than what happens to you in a doctor's office," Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh said during the White House event. "Health starts where people, live, learn, labor, play and pray."

Escobar's motivation comes from her sister-in-law. She died from breast cancer because she didn't know the symptoms or anything about prevention, or the resources that are out there. The Affordable Care Act includes a long list of preventive servicesthat insurance plans now have to cover without a co-pay. In most cases, that includes a yearly mammogram for women 40 and older.  For women who don't have insurance, Escobar works to connect them with services.

"The thing is, they don't know that resources exist, so what we do is link them to the resources and have their screenings," Escobar said.

During the White House celebration, Koh acknowledged prevention can be a tough subject to get excited about.

"We all know that prevention is not as dramatic a field as treatment," Koh said. "Some would say that when prevention works, nothing happens."

Escobar agreed with Koh, but said eventually, something does happen.

"Nothing happens in the beginning, at that moment," Escobar said. "But in the long term, it happens a lot, because people start to realize that having a healthy lifestyle and early screenings works."

She said women she used to have to call and remind about a mammogram are now starting to call her when they know they're due for a screening.

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.