The Betty Ann Ong Foundation

Aug. 21, 2006
Sister of 9/11 victim keeps the focus on educating children about lifelong healthy habits.

by Cathie Ong-Herrera, RDH, and Ann-Marie DePalma, RDH, BS, FAADH

Sept. 11, 2001, dramatically altered many lives. Not only as a country will we never be the same, but individual families have also experienced devastating losses. But from these tragedies, good works can be born.

As hygienists, our responsibility lies in educating patients about health-care issues. Childhood obesity is a major public health epidemic. Merging the tragic events of 9/11 and her role as a dental hygienist, Cathie Ong-Herrera, RDH, has found a way to honor not only the memory of her sister, Betty Ann Ong, but also other victims of 9/11. In addition, she has dedicated herself to continuing her sister's legacy. Betty believed that having a positive self-image and self-confidence at an early age is crucial to the development of a well-adjusted individual. At a young age, Betty had already towered over the heights of many of her friends and classmates. This made her feel awkward and shy. She became involved in team sports, which taught her how to overcome obstacles. The message Betty shared with children whose lives she touched is that a positive, can-do attitude will always triumph over life's setbacks and problems. As a result of her experiences as a young child, Betty knew that when people share the same vision and challenges, they become successful.

Betty was a 45-year-old flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles that day. Within minutes after the tragic events began, Betty chose to become involved and make a difference as she had in so many other aspects of her life. She notified the American Airlines ground crew of the hijacking situation on board the airplane. Amid horrific and unimaginable dangers, she stayed on the telephone for 25 minutes relaying vital information that eventually led to the closing of airspace by the FAA for the first time in U.S. history. Just prior to the crash of the airplane into the World Trade Center, Betty selflessly asked the ground crew to "pray for us," and not just for herself. That was how her whole life was, thinking of others.

Cathie Ong-Herrera has been a dental hygienist for five years. She practices three days per week as a clinical hygienist in Bakersfield, Calif., and works for the Foundation that was created in memory of her sister the rest of the week.

The Betty Ann Ong Foundation, a not-for-profit public charity, was established in the former flight attendant's honor. The advocacy of the Foundation is to educate children about the positive benefits of lifelong physical activity and healthy eating habits. It also serves to provide children with the experiences of the great outdoors so that they can grow to become healthy, strong, and productive individuals by offering a camp called Wellspring Adventure Camp in Reedley, Calif. The Wellspring Camp is a weight-loss camp for adolescents aged 13 to 18. Participants enjoy surfing, sea kayaking, camping, rock climbing, and white-water rafting, in addition to learning about healthy eating. The requirements of the camp are that the participants be 20-plus pounds overweight and have been struggling with weight-loss issues for more than one year. The goals and objectives of the camp include:

• To learn the positive benefits of healthy eating

• To engage in outdoor physical activities

• To bond with peers facing and overcoming the same physical and emotional challenges of obesity.

In the past 30 years, in the preschooler to adolescent population, the obesity rate has doubled, and for those ages 6 to 11, it has tripled. If this trend continues, obesity may top smoking as the most preventable cause of death. By developing educational programs using media presentations, the Betty Ann Ong Foundation is trying to readjust the American lifestyle from fast food unhealthy eating to lifestyle changes.

Dental hygienists are health-care professionals dedicated to the welfare of all of our patients. Cathie has taken this dedication and combined it with an outlet for her grief and concern over the events of September 11 to provide a positive goal for children who are experiencing a difficult time in their lives.

If you are interested in helping the Betty Ann Ong Foundation, contact:
Betty Ann Ong Foundation
P.O. Box 1108
Bakersfield, CA 93302
[email protected].

Author's note: Cathie originally contacted the Amy RDH Listers Relief Fund Calendar Committee to be included in the program. As a member of the Calendar Committee, I felt it was important to "get the word out" about the Betty Ann Ong Foundation since it did not qualify as a Lister Relief Fund. In addition, the September 11 implications hit especially hard as I was preparing this article, because I was in Washington, D.C., with my family and also there when the terror plot in the United Kingdom unfolded.