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Hall of Science opens women’s health exhibit

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking just a decade longer to show up in them than it does in men. Its incidence in black women is 70 percent greater than for Caucasian women. And one out of five women over 50 has osteoporosis, the debilitating, degenerative bone disease that plagues older women who have calcium deficiencies.

These are just a few of the facts to be learned about women and their bodies at a new exhibition in the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park called "The Changing Face of Women's Health."

"It's our hope that people will come away feeling it's never too late to make changes," said Dr. Sibyl Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Metropolitan Life Foundation, a major contributor to the exhibit. "This exhibit is our commitment to health education."

The exhibit contains nearly two dozen individual displays, ranging from how to detect a breast tumor to samples of hearts and lungs and models of blood flowing through clogged arteries. Each display falls into one of four basic themes: prevention, detection, risk, and control.

"My excitement about opening in New York cannot be contained," said Dr. Ruth Merkatz, director of the women's health division at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, one of the major corporate contributors to the exhibit.

"Now we can bring our own friends and family to be part of this milestone exhibit and really push women's health up another notch right here in New York," Merkatz said. She added that today the average women can expect to live well into her 80s, "far beyond her expected life span at the beginning of the 20th century."

The exhibit is touring nationally and will be in Queens until April 30. The overriding theme at the Hall of Science is hands-on-learning, which gives visitors and particularly youngsters the opportunity to actually handle various elements in the exhibit.

The exhibit displays some of the ways women beautified themselves in the past. A mannequin bust in the exhibit was adorned with an abdomen-constricting corset. Children pulled the laces to see just how far women would go to achieve an hourglass figure. In another case, turn-of-the 20th-century bottled elixir, which claimed to increase breast size, and contemporary silicon breast implants contrasted the old with the new.

Other exhibits show the human organs in various guises. Two models of lungs compared healthy ones with those of a smoker's. A pair of preserved hearts is cross-sectioned to demonstrate the difference between a healthy one and one congested with plaque. Nearby, a video shows a black woman in her early 50s who had four heart attacks discuss her battle with heart disease. Not far from that, a large Plexiglas model with colored water simulates the pumping of blood through arteries to the lungs. One of the arteries has been purposely blocked, to show the difference in blood flow.

The Human Explorer Exhibit gives a tour through cross-sectioned photographs of real bodies showing cross-sections of cadavers on a monitor. The photos were painstakingly compiled by the National Lab of Medicine. Visitors can switch through different views of the bodies.

Dr. Karen Karsif, a lecturer on breast cancer who works at The New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, stood at a booth about early breast cancer detection. A mock-breast was displayed for visitors to find a hidden lump using the circular method outlined in the instructions above it.

"I think that the way to get self-breast exams into the mainstream is to catch women when they are 15 or 16 years old," Karsif said, explaining that older women are less apt to learn the procedure.

"If a woman gets her mammogram every year after age 40 like she is supposed to, and the only thing that's discovered are a couple of calcifications on a mammogram, her cure rate approaches 90-95 percent because its going to be early-stage."

"Interestingly enough," Karsif said, "the national average is that only 20 percent of biopsies should be cancerous, but our numbers in Queens for some reason are much higher, and we don't know why."

Karsif said that in the five months she has worked in Queens, she has already seen more breast cancer cases than in the three years she worked in New Rochelle in Westchester.

"I don't know if its the environmental thing or the Long Island thing, but there's a lot of breast cancer in Queens, and we see most of it at New York Hospital Queens," Karsif said. "But if they come to me when its just a mammographic abnormality, I can cure them."

She will give a lecture on breast health at the exhibition on Feb. 24 between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

The Changing Face of Women's Health Exhibition will be at the Hall of Science through April 30. Several lectures and films will be presented throughout its showing. For more information call 699-0005.

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