Vail Valley doctor: Health for graduates |

Vail Valley doctor: Health for graduates

Drew Werner
Vail CO, Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Are you a Vail, Colorado, student ready to head off to college? Are your bags packed and iPod jamming with tunes? Wait a minute… ‘Aren’t we just finishing?’ you say. Well, you are right, but an astute reader is thinking ahead. Graduations are nearly upon us, the summer is looking busy already and the time will fly by.

Dear Doc,

My daughter is graduating from high school this spring and I want to make sure she is ready and her shots are up to date before she heads off to college. What does she need to do?

A proud mom in Eagle.

Dear (justifiably!) Proud,

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Thank you for asking. I believe there is no greater gift than the one of health. Wellness is something all too often taken for granted. We rise in the morning feeling pretty good, and then wonder what happened when some day something is wrong. Young adults are often lost to health care unless they have a problem. Playing catch up then is always harder than starting off on the right foot and staying ahead of the pack.

When I think of health I think of three things: Prevention, screening and treatment. Despite the fact that they are ordered from easiest to hardest, most medical effort is spent on treatment. Our young adults need to remain connected to the first two, prevention and screening. For prevention, it starts with a reminder of the “little” things which actually are pretty big and important ones.

– Wear your seatbelt

– Don’t drink and drive (or ride with someone who has been drinking

– Say no to drugs, smoking and alcohol

– Wear a helmet

– If you are sexually active wear a condom, if you are not, stay that way.

Chris, my office manager reminds me often of “crucial conversations.” These honest, important dialogues help pave a smooth road we walk on with others. Don’t underestimate how well they work with you and your graduate.

The next prevention question to ask is: Are all immunizations up to date? While they may be, and in fact we are recommending the following ones before high school now, our current grads may have missed the boat. They include:

– Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis): This is to prevent both tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough. It should be given if never received, even if a plain tetanus shot was given up to 2007.

– Meningococcal: This important vaccine is to prevent one of the most serious diseases of young adulthood, meningococcal meningitis. This rare, but often fatal disease is difficult to diagnose and treat so vaccination is important.

– HPV (human papillomavirus virus): Gardasil is the only currently available vaccine, although others are coming. It prevents the strains of this virus which are known to cause cervical cancer in women. It is important for all young women who are or ever plan to be sexually active. The Tdap and Meningococcal vaccines are just a single dose or shot each. Gardasil is a three shot series given over six months so now is the time to start.

Screening is next, an important routine for all of us, especially for young people for whom early detection is the most helpful. Although pap tests should be done yearly in all sexually active young women, they should still begin in non-sexually active women by age 18. At the same time, a physical exam is a great beginning to a successful college career. There is no one better prepared than your primary care physician to not only evaluate your physical health, but provide recommendations on keeping it well. They are a great resource regarding effectively managing all the life changes happening now such as healthy decision making, coping with stress and increasing independence, as well as keeping a healthy life balance amid so many other changes about to occur.

Finally, and most commonly is treatment. All our graduates are in position to make all their health decisions. Engaging in medical care is a difficult thing to do. Things small or large do go wrong, and having a relationship and comfort with a primary care physician makes treatment easier, faster, of higher quality and ultimately less expensive.

Congratulations to your daughter and all our graduates!

Remember your health is your responsibility. Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered, don’t wait, call your doctor.

Dr. Drew Werner is the vice chief of staff at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and the Eagle County Health Officer. He lives in Eagle with his family. E-mail comments and questions to

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