Maria Elena Abate, Founding Board Member: Miami Herald Front Page Features Florida Breast Health Initiative

Oct 23, 2007

Colodny Fass shareholder, Maria Elena Abate, is a founding board member of the Florida Breast Health Initiative (“FBHI”), a charitable organization dedicated to providing free mammograms to uninsured women by targeting neighborhoods likely to have the highest concentrations of the uninsured and underserved.

Reprinted below in its entirety is a front page feature about the FBHI that appeared in today’s Miami Herald.  A letter from FBHI Executive Director Andrea Ivory follows.  For more information, or to donate to FBHI, click here.


Above:  Andrea Ivory, a breast cancer survivor, has dedicated herself to helping low-income women get access to mammograms by going door to door to raise awareness and sign women up for mammograms.


(click the headline below to view the story on The Miami Herald Web site)

Breast cancer survivor raises awareness


As she knocked on doors in North Miami, Andrea Ivory noticed the woman on the opposite side of the street watching her. Ivory waved, walked over — and with a smile, she went into her spiel:

”Hi. I’m with the Florida Breast Health Initiative. May I ask you a few questions?” Each word is bright and steady. The delivery flows. A pause might give the other woman a chance to get away, something Ivory can’t allow.

This mission has become Ivory’s purpose in life. Three years ago as she faced her own battle with breast cancer, she wondered about the hundreds of Miami women who lack health coverage and can’t afford treatment. In waiting rooms, she heard horror stories from women who fretted about how they would pay for treatment or whether they would have to juggle medical care with buying food or paying rent.

”I didn’t have those struggles. I had health insurance, and I had the finances to cover my care,” said Ivory, 48, a commercial real estate agent who lives in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Haunted by thoughts of uninsured women who died because they weren’t diagnosed early or didn’t know about the disease, Ivory formed a not-for-profit organization to target neighborhoods where many low-income and uninsured people live.

Since March 2006, the Florida Breast Health Initiative has visited 6,154 homes and helped 134 women get free examinations that might save their lives. The group partners with Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, which makes a mobile medical van available for up to 22 free mammograms per outreach.

Ivory said the number of women she places for exams would increase if more hospitals offered free screenings.  Ivory and her husband, Willie, a contractor, started the grass-roots organization with about $7,000 from their own pockets the first year. Its budget now is about $52,000 annually, funded mostly through private donations. Its volunteer staff and board are as passionate as Ivory about saving lives.

Three weekends each month, she and 30 to 70 volunteers — men and women — fan out across Little Haiti, Hialeah, North Miami and Opa-locka seeking women who should have mammograms.

On the fourth weekend, the teams shuttle clients, at no charge, to Memorial’s mobile unit for mammograms.  Women who need further screenings and treatments, including mastectomies and lumpectomies, are referred to providers for free or for reduced rates.


Ivory started annual exams at age 35 because she was considered high risk. Her mantra: Early detection is the best protection. That helped after her 2004 diagnosis.

”Early detection gives you choices in treatment. I did not have to have radiation,” she said. Instead Ivory opted for a double mastectomy. Extreme? Not in her view. The decision added to her peace of mind.

”Get rid of ’em,” she said, explaining the choice she made to prevent a recurrence.  She is grateful for her recovery, and determined to give more women a chance at survival.   “No one has to die from this disease. We have to let anyone who’s willing to listen know.”

Medical experts predict 13,430 new cases of breast cancer in women will be diagnosed this year in Florida, and that 2,570 of those will die from it. Nationally, about 180,000 women annually are diagnosed, and 41,000 die.


The likelihood of a poor prognosis is greater among uninsured and low-income women diagnosed at later stages. The later the diagnosis, the lower the survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.

Ivory hopes her project can change that outcome for Miami-Dade women.  The homes her teams visit are selected using a mapping process based on neighborhood demographics. Ivory creates routing sheets, mailing lists and notification postcards. Each home gets a notice of an upcoming visit.

Female volunteers talk to residents, while the men hang back with extra health information packets. The men also lend moral support, said Travis Brown of Miami Lakes, who joined the initiative in April with his brothers from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. 

The men don Florida Breast Health Initiatives T-shirts, as do other volunteers. During a recent visit to Hialeah, Brown and others covered about 350 homes.  Brown said his fraternity brothers have been so inspired by Ivory that they are developing a similar project to target prostate cancer in men.

”What she’s been doing is very dynamic. Most people talk about the concept of what they can do,” Brown said. “She’s put her words into action.”

On a recent Saturday, Ivory teamed with newcomer Manuela Notue, a Miami Dade College nursing student from Cameroon in central Africa. Ivory knocked on doors and made her presentation; Notue passed out packets and appointment cards for free mammograms. If no one answered, she left a door hanger.

”One lady was concerned because she didn’t have a car,” Notue said. ‘We told her, `You don’t need a car. Meet us at the church and someone will take you.’

”Rose Campbell was happy to chat with Ivory and Notue. Campbell lost a good friend to breast cancer five years ago, and says women ignore their health.

”At least somebody is getting in touch with them,” Campbell said. “A lot of women know what they’re supposed to do, but they don’t do it. They know the facts, they see the articles, but they don’t do what they’re supposed to do.”

Many women are wary of strangers at their doors and won’t answer, or will send a child to wave them off. Often, Ivory has to persuade women that the offer of free screenings isn’t a gimmick.  Each home brings a different experience, said Charlene Thomas, 38, of West Miami-Dade. ”You never know, one of those people may really need it. You can’t give up if one person doesn’t open the door,” she said.

Thomas knows the benefits of the initiative as both volunteer and participant: She is uninsured. On Oct. 1, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a biopsy that the initiative arranged.  Thomas learned there might be a problem after paying $800 out-of-pocket for a screening six months ago. She couldn’t afford a follow-up, but the Florida Breast Health Initiative paid for it.

”I probably would not have gone back for a second mammogram, not anytime soon,” she said. ”This relieves worries.” She’s optimistic because the tumor was caught early. “Now I’m waiting for the opportunity to have it removed.”


Ivory’s efforts have gained national attention. This year, she was named a Yoplait yogurt breast cancer champion. A segment about her work aired on ABC’s national news, and WPLG-ABC 10 in Miami.

The attention doesn’t faze her. She remains driven by the hope that hospitals will offer more free services, benefactors will provide cash, and foot soldiers will knock on doors to help fulfill what she sees as her destiny.

”Before my diagnosis I was on a quest for my purpose in life. I wanted God to use me,” Ivory said. “As time went on, God let me know there was a purpose for this. My cancer wasn’t for me. It was for all women.”
© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.


About the Florida Breast Health Initiative

A letter from the Executive Director Andrea Ivory, who is featured in the above article.

I write seeking your support of The Florida Breast Health Initiative (FBHI) and the life changing work it is undertaking.  In 2007 alone, more than 40,000 women will die of breast cancer and there will be over 242,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed. Our only defense against this deadly disease is early detection!

FBHI is determined to reduce breast cancer deaths by promoting early detection, one household at a time. FBHI is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation which provides free breast health awareness, and no/low cost breast screening sites to the uninsured and underserved of South Florida through our unique targeted door to door outreach campaign. FBHI targets neighborhoods likely to have the highest concentrations of the uninsured and underserved. Each household visited is provided breast health promotional and educational materials, screening referrals and free mammograms though a neighborhood mobile mammography visit to those who qualify. Women requiring additional screening and/or treatment are provided additional referrals and support.
FBHI has performed outreach to thousands of households and with your help we can reach thousands more. To continue its mission, this grassroots operation needs financial resources. Please offer support with your generous donation.  Your tax deductible contribution will go directly to fund our operations.  Breast cancer is not a choice, but giving is.  Please make the right choice and send in your donation, today.  Together we will make a difference. You can pledge your support on FBHI’s donation page at: or send your check directly to: The Florida Breast Health Initiative, Post Office Box 173135, Miami, FL 33017.

Thank you for making a difference!

Very truly yours,

Andrea Ivory 
Executive Director