After heartfelt messages from Special Olympics President and CEO Frank Florig and Lions Club Past President Rey Acierto, and an invocation from Robert O’Mallan, one of the many honored athletes in attendance, the island’s inaugural virtual Family Health Forum on Saturday showered attendees with valuable information on staying healthy and physically fit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the course of four hours, two doctors, a registered nurse and a registered dietitian nutritionist delivered PowerPoint and live presentations, which included making a vitamin-packed smoothie and other athlete-friendly, muscle-pleasing meals.

“The planning of this forum has taken many months of refining to deliver health care information and best practices to our athletes whom we have some degree of intellectual disability,” said Florig, adding that the forum was originally planned for April but was delayed and experienced a format change due to the pandemic. “Initially, the target audience were the athletes themselves.”

In between videos and panelists’ presentations, Geri Leon Guerrero, SOGU director of communications, delivered a special message to parents, caregivers volunteers and athletes.

“We haven’t forgotten about you,” she said. “You’re always here in our hearts. And we, an an organization, will continue to do our best to provide you with resources, to bring us back to doing some athletic sports, to get together.

"Hopefully, one day, we can do our air hugs (and) we can share a meal six feet apart from each other.”

The forum, titled “Building a Healthier You,” was made possible through the generosity of Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Asia, Lions Club International, Guam Telephone Authority, Guam Visitors Bureau and Guam International Trade Center.

Getting back in the game

Before the pandemic, SOGU’s program had been trending upwards, adding soccer, softball, badminton and bowling to its already robust lineup of signature events, track and field and aquatics. But with the pandemic, the 44-year-old sports organization has not been able to host a single event, canceling track and field days before Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero declared a public health emergency in mid-March.

With more than 100 attendees, Delores Lee, M.D., a family medicine specialist who operates out of Evergreen Health Center, was the first panelist to deliver a presentation and field questions. Lee’s 42-minute offering focused on health strategies, including social distancing, proper hygiene and best mask-wearing procedures and practices.

“As a health care provider who lives in a home with someone who has conditions that put him at higher risk, ...  I take my temperature in the morning, my temperature gets taken when I get to work so I don’t put our patients and our staff at risk, and my temperature gets taken - once again - when I get home,” Lee said. “Please, monitor for symptoms in yourself, ask members of your household and your family, and ask your friends to monitor symptoms, as well as your caregivers … and seek medical care if they should develop symptoms.”

Lee, with a message to caregivers, said to make sure masks fit properly and avoid unsafe situations.

“If it’s in a situation where they are not going to be supervised and it’s possible they can be muffled by the mask, you want to remove the mask - to remove the mask before they sleep or nap or they are in a situation where they could fall asleep.”

Lee also offered advice for hearing-impaired individuals who use lip reading as a form of communication.

She recommended using a mask with a clear window. 

“Again, please make sure it is breathable," she said. … "If it’s just not possible to have a breathable, clear mask, then consider using written communication.”

While much of the volunteered information has been circulating in the news for many months, the forum gave athletes and caregivers a chance to get involved in the  process and ask valuable questions, unique to their own situations.

“My child loves to hug everyone and it’s difficult to stop him on time,” said a parent of an athlete with intellectual disabilities. “What are some ways to protect him and others?” asked the parent.

“We all need affection and it’s just so amazing your child is so loving,” Lee answered.

She said to try to avoid face-to-face encounters.

“If your face is not at face level of whoever you’re hugging, … that kind of reduces this sort of contact and it’s great if they can wear a face mask,” she said. “The other thing that I teach all of my pediatric patients is that if they insist on hugging, turn your head to the side.”

She added that she would ask the same thing from anybody who is receiving the hug.

“If you know someone’s coming in for a hug and you see that they are coming in strong and they may be at the same face level, you just turn to the side. You can let your bodies touch but turn to the side,” she added.

Another attendee asked: Is it necessary to wear gloves while shopping?

“The glove choice is a difficult one,” Lee answered. “Here’s the thing, - the gloves - I tend to discourage it simply because the gloves give a false sense of security.

“What happens when people wear gloves is they feel they can touch everything. … If you feel like you need the additional protection of wearing gloves, then you need to sanitize the gloves, too.”

Staying active and setting goals

The second panelist, Arania Adolphson, M.D., a family medical specialist on Guam, shared the importance of staying active, setting goals and staying safe.

“There is a very expensive cost to physical inactivity,” said Adolphson, whose slides outlined the physical and financial costs associated with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Her presentation revealed that the greatest risks of not staying in shape are: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, back pain, muscle wasting and decreases in psychological well-being. She indicated that the annual financial cost of these ailments in the U.S. is over $950 billion.

“An additional health benefit of sports is we gain athletic skill,” she added.

She also said that another benefit of athletics is increased time spent with family and friends.

She recommended that athletes should set goals, such as posting a faster time in the 100-meter dash, but checking with their health care providers first.

“After your doctor has cleared you, your next step is to develop a training plan,” she said. “Your training plan should include both your short-term and your long-term goals.”

Dealing with challenges and stress

Barbara Mafnas, RN, the the final panelist, delivered a 32-minute presentation titled, “Taking Care of You.” Mafnas, who practices at Guam Community College and Sagua Mañagu, is also a parent of a SOGU athlete.

Recognizing that a child with special needs could be in trouble if the child's caregiver became incapacitated, she stressed the importance of safety for all.

“As caregivers, we have some challenges, for sure,” she said. “And - we need to - as caregivers we need to make sure that we are safe and that we are healthy. We need to be taking care of ourselves.

“We can’t take care of people if we’re not healthy.”

She recommended getting good sleep, eating well and having good outlets and good coping skills.

She added that caregivers can face burnout and need to recognize the signs and symptoms and be ready to remedy the situation.

“Caregiver burnout, this is a state of of emotional and mental exhaustion where people feel that they are just up to their eyeballs in stress and they just feel like they can’t do anymore,” she explained. “What can be a signal that somebody is having burnout is maybe they change their attitude. Maybe they just don’t seem to be positive anymore. They don't care. It just seems like a job. They’ve just got to get it done.

“And maybe they’ve gone from positive to negative and now they’re just not concerned anymore.”

She said that burnout can happen to caregivers when they don’t get the help they need.

“The best way we can take care of others is that we have to take care of ourselves,” she said.