Be well, Marsha: 09/01

Life and loss

Introducing columnist Marsha Bonhart

By Marsha Bonhart

Hello, my name is Marsha Bonhart and I am so excited to be a part of the Dayton City Paper family. Through regular articles, I will soon begin giving DCP readers opportunities to improve their health.

Each January, most of us make the New Year’s pledge to eat better, stop smoking and/or become more physically active. This pledge lets you know at least the thought is there—but putting all of that into action can be challenging.

What we do know, and what research has proven, is that accomplishing even small increments of those goals can lower your risk for life-threatening diseases. Nothing can be promised and genetics can’t be reversed, but you can learn to improve your health and live a longer and higher quality life.

For 30 years, I was a television health reporter in Los Angeles and Dayton. In my early writings, I submitted stories about diseases, the people who died from them and how their families dealt with those illnesses, and in many cases, the ultimate deaths. After many years of that style of health reporting, I realized I had subconsciously become emotionally immersed in each case I wrote about. It began to affect me physically and psychologically. I was developing “symptoms” of nearly every disorder, I began to panic whenever either of my sons developed a simple cold or a bruise and I became the “go-to” person in my circle of family and friends when someone became ill and needed a grassroots diagnosis. But despite my newly achieved “status” as a health expert, I had seen too much suffering and sadness and had attended too many funerals. I felt as if I were not helping anyone, I was only showing viewers how to die.

The turning point for me came when a six-year-old Dayton girl began losing her fight with leukemia. A bone marrow drive held for her rallied the local community and created more awareness about the need for organ and tissue donations and transplants, especially among ethnic groups. She became the name and the adorable face of a movement for a life saving procedure that was the last resort to keep her alive.

Unfortunately, despite the knowledge and talent of some of the best pediatric hematologists and transplant surgeons in the area, her body rejected the donated bone marrow and she became gravely ill. Her mother called me in the middle of the night and as a single parent, I called someone to stay with my son so that I could make the trip to see her alive for what I knew would be the last time.

Her suffering through that night was difficult for me. I won’t go into detail, but literally watching the dying process of such a tiny little girl, who had not yet entered second grade, had just learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle, who was still waiting on her two adult front teeth—that was just too much. I couldn’t even imagine what her mother was going through.

It was after her death I decided to write my health stories differently. That spunky little girl with the missing front teeth became a major catalyst for a sharp shift in the paradigm of my communication. It’s not that I neglected to inform people of what could result if they didn’t try to follow healthier lifestyles, but I focused more on how to help them prevent deadly consequences. I wanted everyone to know it’s never too late to stop smoking, get more movement, or change what you eat. I wanted to show people why it’s important to know your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and weight.

I never wanted anyone to be afraid to change—or to think it’s impossible to do so, or that it’s too expensive. I have a friend who calls her workout regimen “the urban gym.” She hits the sidewalks in her neighborhood wearing her gym shoes and walks a couple of miles a few times a week—as she says, without a health club membership.

I started making a difference in my approach, which included showcasing the wonderful local health prevention programs provided by organizations, agencies and hospital networks. I showed how help was available for the medically underserved through free prostate and gynecological exams, colonoscopies for cancer screenings, health fairs that could pick up the signs of health risks and referrals to specialists if needed.

So I will come to you with the same attention, sharing information to give you life. Maybe I can help save your hair, or re-grow it. Or we can discuss the challenges and joys of taking care of elderly relatives who are struggling to care for themselves. I might throw in a few stories from people who have messages to not make their neglectful health mistakes. I can even show you how neglecting your teeth can contribute to heart disease! Betcha didn’t know that one, huh? I would also appreciate your feedback—negative or positive, because I want to make sure I am giving you what you want to read. We will have fun, but on a serious note. See you soon!

Marsha Bonhart is a veteran television news anchor and health reporter who feels it is her mission to help you stay healthy. She says she battles her seriously addicted craving for salty potato chips. Reach her at

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