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'Empowered' heroes' hard lessons now help others

  • Story Highlights
  • Empowered Patient salutes heroes who embody the spirit of health empowerment
  • Personal struggles inspired them to create foundations, Web sites to help others
  • Dr. Andrew Weil: "It is the 'difficult' patients who often have the best outcomes"
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By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Correspondent
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When you think about health advice from Dr. Andrew Weil, you probably think of herbs and vitamins, a good diet, and plenty of exercise.

Many leaders in the patient empowerment movement have been ordinary people, not health professionals.

Many leaders in the patient empowerment movement have been ordinary people, not health professionals.

And all of that is true. But Weil has one more prescription: Become an empowered patient.

"Disempowerment," he says, is all too common among patients, and "adds to their distress and is an obstacle to recovery."

Weil advises: "Do not be passive. Remember: It is the 'difficult' patients who often have the best outcomes."

This week's Empowered Patient celebrates six people who have taken health matters into their own hands. Armando and Victoria Nahum lost a son to a hospital infection and overcame their grief to start a campaign to help others avoid the same tragedy. Gilles Frydman watched his wife battle cancer and started a listserve that's been used by over half a million people to share valuable advice about fighting cancer. A pharmacist, tired of seeing the same medication errors at his hospital, left his job to start a national campaign to stop medical mistakes. Interactive: Meet the heroes »

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Susannah Fox, a lead health researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, says many of the leaders in the patient empowerment movement have been ordinary people, not health professionals. "When your life is on the line, or when your child's life is on the line, nobody's going to be more motivated to get to the truth than you," she says. Video Watch more on heroes of health empowerment »

Maybe, she says, it's just because the Fourth of July holiday is upon us, but Fox thinks of patient empowerment as a particularly American movement. "It seems very American to have citizens who change the world for the better," she says.

CNN Medical News intern Melanie Diaz contributed to this report.

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