My Story: Overcoming Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis has changed me as a person in every way, physically, emotionally, mentally – it’s made me realize that we often take life for granted.

My name is Salima Ladak-Kachra. At the young age of twenty-five, I sustained four fractures in my spine because my bones were brittle and thin. The excruciating pain and emotional distress that I endured is something that I do not want others to go through. I would like to share my story so that hopefully, there will be at least one person who may benefit from my experience and take a proactive role in their bone health. I have dedicated my career and life to educate and improve the lives of others. The following is an overview of my experience that changed me as a whole – physically, mentally and emotionally.

After a push, I slipped and fell on a ceramic floor. The impact of the fall sent an unbearable pain shooting down my back. The pain was so excruciating that I almost urinated in my pants. I could not move my body and for a moment, I thought I was paralyzed. I was crying uncontrollably. Instantly, I knew something terrible had happened. After several minutes had passed, thank god, I began to feel my toes and fingers. An ambulance rushed me to the hospital. The x-rays eventually showed that I had several crushed vertebrae.

The emergency physician was shocked at the x-ray results, saying the damage in my back looked as though someone had struck me numerous times with a baseball bat.

The Aftermath

I went through severe pain, and was not able to walk, shower, eat or dress myself without assistance. I couldn’t even hold a teaspoon in my hand since my back could not support the weight. My hands constantly shook and there was a slight droop on my face on the right side. I began to feel handicapped and disfigured. My back was swollen, red and very tender to the touch. In the weeks and months that followed, I discovered that I had lost one inch in height and my waist size had increased from 18 to 22 inches. I had trouble performing daily tasks such as cooking, doing the laundry and cleaning.

I kept asking, “Why is this happening to me?” I was so young and had my entire life ahead of me. I had recently been married and was planning on having children in the near future. With the constant pain in my entire back, I began to suffer both physically and emotionally. I also went through a period of alienation that put a strain on my marriage. I had trouble communicating and being intimate due to the unbearable pain and low self-esteem. The painkillers left me constantly sleepy and lethargic. Prior to my fractures, I had seen a few physicians complaining of back pain, but was told that I was guilty of nothing more than improper body mechanics! The apparent risk factors I had for osteoporosis were ignored, probably due to my young age – after all, osteoporosis had always been associated with hunched back elderly women.

I have a very strong family history of osteoporosis, both my parents have it. I also have a petite body frame and I am of Asian descent. Throughout my adolescent years, my calcium intake was very poor because I had difficulty tolerating dairy products. Our culture at that time never focused on being physically active. I was also very weight conscious and wanted to have a model’s body; consequently food was not a priority for me. All of the aforementioned risk factors were preventing me from attaining my peak bone mass. As a result, my bones were thin. It was only the very painful experience of four vertebral fractures that forced the medical system and myself to take an interest in my bone health.

A bone density examination revealed osteoporosis in both the spine and femur areas. Furthermore, the bone scan revealed four fractures in my thoracic spine with the presence of other old healing fractures – these results required immediate measures to be taken.

My New Life

To this day, I still cope with back pain on a daily basis and my body neither feels as it once did. I still have difficulty bending, sitting without support or sitting for prolonged periods, sweeping the house, folding the laundry, vacuuming, making the bed or being in one position for a prolonged period of time. Thus, I am adamant about preventing anyone from enduring the same experience that I did.

After a prolonged recovery with constant pain, I decided to take a proactive role in my health and also teach others the lessons I have painfully learned. I have realized that there is nothing more important than quality of life. In order to improve my bone health, I knew I’d have to make a total lifestyle change. I try to attain 1200 mg of calcium and 1000 IU of vitamin D every day from a combination of diet and supplements. I am now eating a well-balanced diet with a strong emphasis on dairy products. On a daily basis, I have a glass of milk, a glass of calcium fortified orange juice, yogurt and cheese. I also a calcium supplement with vitamin D. My weight has gone up to a healthy 118 pounds. My coffee consumption has decreased from five cups of regular coffee a day to two cups of decaffeinated coffee! I have one decaffeinated herbal tea in the morning and a glass of latte every night.

I try to do my stretching exercises three times a week which include performing weight bearing exercises to preserve and build my bones. I refrain from heavy lifting and have someone help me with the household chores that have become too physically demanding. I am now very conscious of proper postural techniques such as bending properly and sitting. My energy level is better and my back pain is somewhat under control. My bone density has improved significantly in my hip bones but I still have osteopenia – low bone mass in my spine. If I had taken these steps earlier, perhaps I would not have fractured my bones.

From my experience, I have now realized the importance of optimal calcium intake, regular exercise and reducing excessive caffeine intake. These are only a few of the risk factors that must be addressed to prevent osteoporosis along with not smoking and drinking excessive alcohol. Young women with irregular menstrual cycles or changes in their menstrual cycles need to seek medical attention to rule out other secondary causes. Osteoporosis is a multi-factorial disease that can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or ethnic background. More focus on the awareness and knowledge of different osteoporosis risk factors, achieving peak bone mass, and diagnosis of low bone mass in young people is needed. For example, many children are given piggy banks to store loose coins or bills for later use. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if kids treated their bones in the same way, depositing all the ingredients for strong bones, to equip them with a rich supply of bone mass later in life. If we ensure that the three bone-building blocks are in place as children: calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise, a child can be assured that their bone bank account will carry them into their adult years. By making the investment early, young people won’t need to worry about a painful fracture from osteoporosis as adults. And the earlier one starts thinking about a child’s bone health, the longer they’ll be able to reap the rewards of strong, healthy bones.

From this negative and devastating experience evolved my desire to construct a positive situation.

I am now an advocate for the early detection of osteoporosis and promoting women’s health and have co-founded a community based health facility in Toronto called The Bone Wellness Centre. Our mission is to provide the early detection, prevention and awareness of osteoporosis.

At The Bone Wellness Centre, all our patients receive quality comprehensive bone density testing which is also enriched with an awareness of osteoporosis through free education and counseling. Our goal is to promote education so that everyone, especially women of different nationalities, can access any health information, but especially so they can be informed of the risk factors for osteoporosis. A patient who realizes that others are taking an active interest in their health thru things like education and counseling will be motivated to take a proactive role in their health and be able to make informed health-related decisions.

As an advocate for this disease, I want the public to be aware that osteoporosis is not an old person’s disease and to realize the misconception that this disease is not part of the natural aging process. Despite all the revolutionary medications and diagnostic tools we have at our disposal today, there is no magic recipe for optimal bone health – but, we now know some of the crucial ingredients that we can use to keep our bones strong. For me, it is too late – I will forever feel the effects of a fractured spine. However, if through my story, I can inspire and make a difference in even one person’s life, it is a reward that I will hold to be truly priceless.