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Vol. LIX, No. 11
June 1, 2007

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A Princess Diary: Part Two

Fairytales come true when the princesses visit the Children’s Inn.
Fairytales come true when the princesses visit the Children’s Inn.
Some of you may remember my memoir about being a 2006 Cherry Blossom Princess in last year’s May 19 issue.

Wielding my authority before I stepped down as “Illinois Princess,” I invited the 2007 princesses to NIH. I hoped the visit would open the young women’s eyes to this great land of medical research that I had come to know as a writer at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The night before they arrived, I lost some beauty sleep. I worried about lots of things, but mostly I feared that the 3-hour visit wouldn’t begin to capture the depth of NIH research, patient care and outreach.

Escorted by local police through morning gridlock on Wisconsin Ave., the princess motorcade arrived promptly. I met the group of 50 at the Gateway Center. Like them, I wore a light-colored pant suit—a relic from my princess collection.

As indicated on their pink sashes, the princesses hailed from Georgia to Japan. The women served as ambassadors for U.S. state societies and embassies during a week of tours, service projects and receptions. Their visit here on Apr. 11 marked the first time in the 59-year history of the national program that the princesses called on NIH.

The first stop on the NIH circuit: the Visitor Information Center. After a brief video NIH, NIGMS program director Dr. Irene Eckstrand asked: “Where do you come from?” Through a hands-on exercise, she showed how genetic diversity changed as humans moved out of Africa and what studies of population migration can tell us about health.

The princesses attend morning lectures related to women’s health.
The princesses attend morning lectures related to women’s health.

The morning then turned to health issues of concern to women. As Office of Research on Women’s Health director Dr. Vivian Pinn explained, “It has only been in the last few years that we’ve begun to pay more attention to women’s health.” Forty years ago, when Pinn graduated from medical school, “women’s health” primarily was thought of as “reproductive health.” Today, the concept encompasses many functions related to women’s mental and physical well-being at every stage of life.

Heart disease currently tops the list of the major health threats to women. Dr. Ann Taubenheim, who helped spearhead the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s successful Heart Truth campaign, introduced the princesses to risk factors and stressed that it’s never too early—or too late—to take action. The Colorado princess, who wants to be a cardiologist, asked about NIH internship opportunities.

With little time remaining before an afternoon cruise, the princesses stopped briefly at the Children’s Inn, where they captured the attention of two young boys whose family was checking in. The group drew similar attention at the Clinical Research Center, where their pink sashes stood out among a crowd of white coats worn by visiting nursing students.

“I live right by NIH, and I didn’t know much about it,” said the reigning National Cherry Blossom Queen. Other local princesses echoed this comment.

By the end of the visit, each princess had fastened the iconic Red Dress pin to her sash. The pin symbolized more than awareness about heart disease. It represented the women’s new appreciation of NIH—something that one day could influence their careers as doctors, journalists, politicians and public health advocates. NIH Record Icon

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