AlaskaCare Wellness Health Heroes
Has a colleague inspired you to become a healthier, happier person? Has someone impressed you with improvements or changes to their lifestyle?
Let us know who you admire and respect by nominating them as a Health Hero so we can acknowledge their achievements.
To nominate a Health Hero, please complete the following form. Questions? Email our Wellness team.
Health Hero Biographies
- Lori Yorba (May)
- Natalya Stoddard (April)
- Raquel Ibias (March)
- Daniel Gallagher (February)
- Dennis Good (January)
May Health Hero: Lori Yorba
I enjoy outdoor activities like running, hiking, cycling, kayaking, and skiing. In fact, I've been running during lunch hours with my running pals for over 15 years. Alaska is an incredible place to enjoy outdoor fitness activities. But, like most people, most of my activities are indoors. I have been teaching fitness classes since 1980 – “Disco Inferno” was one of the songs on my playlist back then! I've been a certified group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise since 1995, with certifications in yoga, kickboxing, Pilates, Zumba and strength workouts. I enjoy teaching fitness to people, seeing how much fun they have, and witnessing the benefits it brings them. I am currently studying for a personal trainer certification. I plan to continue helping people get and stay fit for many years to come.
Three years ago my body told me it was time to make some changes to my fitness activities. When I woke the morning of February 3, 2010, something was terribly wrong in my lower back. I had numbness down my right leg to my big toe. The pain was so severe I had to kneel on the floor to keep from fainting. That day I started a new journey. Several doctors, lots of research and medical procedures later, I decided I was going to find a way on my own to overcome the chronic pain carefully, without surgery. I am happy to say I have been successful. I am back to most activities and I simply avoid the ones triggering pain. I hope as people read this they will understand they can overcome an injury without invasive procedures and drugs. It does take time and patience to heal along with doing research to understand the source of the pain, what is causing it and how to treat it.
The day I got the email telling me I was nominated Health Hero for the month of May, I had just returned from teaching a cardio dance class during my lunch hour at a local fitness club. I gave the class a homework assignment I would like to share: Go home, put on your favorite dance music and start dancing. Have fun with it and find your groove to move!
Rest, relaxation and a good night’s sleep are just as important as exercise and good nutrition. It’s okay to take a break and let one's body rest and regenerate. Remember to switch it up to keep things fresh and to avoid strain from too much repetition. Make sure to mix cardio, strength and flexibility into a fitness routine. And above all, remember the magic pill is motion!
April Health Hero: Natalya Stoddard
Natalya Stoddard is an inspiration to those around her, creating excitement about exercise and fitness among her co-workers. As one of her colleagues writes, “Natalya is always enthusiastic about her personal workouts. When asked if you can join her, she is very agreeable and holds you accountable if you don't attend workout classes with her. It's a good influence to have someone so motivating around you.”
Natalya knows how important it is to have the support of friends and peers to transform daily exercise from a chore into a habit. In 2010, she got together with a group of friends and decided to sign up for a gym membership. She remembers how challenging it was at first to stay motivated to exercise every day, but her group of friends made a deal that each time one of them missed a day, they would have to pay five dollars. The deal paid off and soon an hour a day at the gym became part of her routine, an important source of stress relief and an energy booster in her life. Now, three years later, Natalya is still going to the gym every night for an hour after work. As she says, “It's only one hour out of 24 and by 6 p.m. I am out of the gym, energized, and ready to spend time with my family and friends.”
March Health Hero: Raquel Ibias
When I was 14 years old, I found out I had type 1 diabetes. At the time, education about diabetes was limited. We were still learning about better types of insulin as well as the long-term effects of not regulating blood sugar levels. At that age, as with many other teenagers, long-term consequences weren’t on my radar. My lack of knowledge led to a seemingly innocent candy bar or a pizza with friends. Testing my blood sugar was inconvenient but was also the one way I could have become aware of my blood sugar levels. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me, right? At the time, the worst side-effect was I was tired. Not fully understanding the long-term effects of these decisions and living with consistently high blood sugar levels, a person can get used to being “tired.”
After several years, the long-term effects started to impact me. I began to lose the feeling in my feet and endured numerous eye surgeries to maintain my sight. Because they were dealt with early enough, my life felt fairly unaltered. Two years ago, that all changed. I went in for some much needed but often avoided blood work. Shortly after, I received a call that would change not only my life, but my family’s as well. The doctor told me I was in kidney failure as a direct result of the lack of management of my diabetes. My options were dialysis, kidney transplant, or if I did nothing, death within about a year. Unlike many people in my situation, I have several siblings, all of whom share my blood type and were willing to donate. This meant that as a family, we had options for transplant. One of my sisters turned out to be the best match. I don’t have the words for the feelings and emotions that came with accepting that gift. Going through this process has changed my outlook on everyone and everything I experience.
My motivation to staying healthy and managing my diabetes is three-fold. First, I want to live a long healthy life so I can watch my son grow up and be there for him. I have to be alive and healthy to do that. Second, my sister gave me a rare gift. I don’t consider it my kidney. I am taking care of something that belongs to someone else. I can only compare it to being pregnant. It’s not just about you. And finally, I want to be able to educate others with diabetes or those with a family history of diabetes. There are many life changes a person needs to make in order to successfully manage their diabetes and avoid the long-term effects. None of these changes are impossible. The benefits of a person with diabetes staying healthy greatly outweigh the inconvenience of the effort required.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to find a donor and to have undergone a successful transplant. I’m not home free. I will have to take several anti-rejection meds for this new kidney for the rest of my life, each with their own side effects. I could also potentially lose the kidney simply because my body rejects it. I will also continue to manage my diabetes on a daily basis. I am currently wait-listed for a pancreas transplant which, if successful, will take away my diabetes. Even then, there will be challenges. Until then, I will continue to wear my insulin pump 24 hours a day as well as watch for and do my best to prevent the many long-term effects of diabetes.
Regardless of what I deal with in my life, whether it is health related or anything else, I have learned to stay motivated and to find the good in my life. I always try to remember that there are many people going through so much worse. I will always have medical concerns, but I do have my life, my family, and a lot of control over my health. Staying healthy, eating right, educating myself, and keeping a positive outlook sounds so simple but we all know it isn’t. I can only speak to my own challenges, but as I work through each one, I become a better person.
February Health Hero: Daniel Gallagher
Daniel Gallagher and several of his colleagues in the Alaska Court system have made a commitment to a healthier lifestyle by eating better and being more active. After several months of working in an environment that supports healthy changes, he has made progress toward his wellness goals. He can tell the work is paying off because he is now able to run and play with his kids without being short of breath, he feels more energized, his flexibility has increased and pain he has experienced in the past is subsiding.
Daniel says, “I feel more confident than before. This is something I’ve gained and have seen other Court System participants gain as well. Having more confidence in oneself is priceless.”
Daniel has more energy during the work day and he feels more aware due to the healthy changes in his life. Daniel puts emphasis on small changes, because they can make a big difference over time. A small step in the right direction is still movement towards your goal. Daniel thinks of a favorite quote from Walt Disney, “Never Stop Moving Forward.” With the support of his colleagues, and with the Wellness program options offered, he knows he won’t ever stop moving forward!
January Health Hero: Dennis Good
Dennis is a true role model of healthy living, who encourages his colleagues and supports them in making long and short-term decisions for their health. He teaches others about healthy lifestyles and nutrition and aspires to guide them in making changes one step at a time.
One colleague says “I am motivated and full of energy. I have health goals not only for myself but for my beautiful children. Because of Dennis, my children talk about food combinations and calorie burning benefits and as well as good and bad carbs.” Dennis is a role model and a true Health Hero.
Dennis offers these words of wisdom: “Drink water and walk more, walk around at the mall, use the stairs, park farther away and walk.”
December Health Hero: Victoria Braun
Victoria Braun is a Health Hero for her commitment to fitness, involvement in the community, and willingness to share fitness opportunities with others. Victoria has fun with fitness by playing on summer softball teams and making walking a social occasion. She also supports others in their fitness efforts.
In the past year, Victoria became a Hot Hula fitness instructor and presents classes at the Anchorage Senior Center and other venues. She also volunteers at the Anchorage Listening Post, a not-for-profit venue supporting people in sharing stories to support their emotional health. Her volunteer activities highlight her grace and willingness to share, and are part of her heroic nature.
November Health Hero: Todd Aldrich
Todd Aldrich’s colleagues at the Ferry Terminal in Valdez describe him as a wonderful employee and an all-around great guy. His change in lifestyle and dedication to healthy diet and exercise really caught their attention. One person wrote “He truly transformed himself by changing his diet and by working out. He is a true model for anyone trying to lose weight and I just hope that I can get on the same track as him.”
Todd offers some words of advice when making changes for a healthy lifestyle, “Weight loss is hard work and you'll hit a lot of road blocks along the way, but keep your goal in mind and know you’re strong enough to reach that goal.”
October Health Hero: Gail Fenumiai
As Director of the Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai is no stranger the pressures of long hours, but that doesn’t keep her from incorporating exercise and wellness into her life. By bringing healthy snacks and bagged lunches to the office, she has set an inspiring example for others to make changes to their routines.
As one employee writes, “Gail helps me to stay motivated by showing me different workout routines, changing her schedule so that she can meet me at the gym instead of letting me stay home and, whenever the sun shines here in Juneau, she gets me out power walking on the many beautiful trails that we are blessed with. Gail Fenumiai truly is my Health Hero.”