Osteopenia is similar to Osteoporosis, but less severe. Osteopenia is a disease in which there are varying levels of bone loss which are measured by bone mineral density. Bone mineral density measures the strength of a bone and how breakable it might be. This disease usually affects individuals over the age of 50, but this was not the case for this young athlete of only 24.
“Many of the athletes that participate in Special Olympics can be at a higher risk for Osteopenia due to a combination of factors that can include medications (some seizure medications leach calcium from the bones), low muscle tone, poor diet, decreased calcium intake and Vitamin D. deficiencies,” said Michelle Maeda, Health Promotion clinical director for Special Olympics Hawaii.
After graduating high school, Virginia became involved with Goodwill, an organization that provides services to people with both cognitive and physical disabilities ranging from basic self-care and daily living activities to coaching and post-employment assistance. Through Goodwill, Virginia participated in Healthy Athletes events which included a bone density scan at the Health Promotion station. This scan revealed low t-scores in Virginia’s bone density, suggesting the need for follow-up. Later, her primary doctor further examined her and officially diagnosed her Osteopenia.
“As soon as I heard about the anomaly in Virginia’s bone density, I brought the letter to her doctor,” said Paul Lee, Virginia’s father and a certified Special Olympics coach. “I was worried because she’s very active and when the doctor saw the bone density screening, he took one look at it and said he would have never thought to screen her until she was 45.”
Virginia was immediately put on medication as well as vitamin/mineral supplementation. Today, as an active 27 year old, the winner of two silver medals and bronze in Hawaii’s recent summer games, her bone health is good to go. If it were not for Healthy Athletes conducting regular bone density screenings, Virginia would be at a high risk for fracture potentially hindering her overall health and ability to compete in Special Olympics sports.