Ann Richards' Latest Battle

The Early Show, Harry Smith and Ann Richards
CBS/The Early Show
Former Texas governor Ann Richards faced many tough opponents in her 50 years in politics but perhaps none as tough as a fall that changed her life. It led Gov. Richards to write her new book: "I'm Not Slowing Down, Winning My Battle With Osteoporosis."

Co-authored by her physician, the book is Richards' story and has advice on how to beat this disease. Richards starts the book talking about her mother and how osteoporosis was not the cause of her death but led to it.

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, "I think it broke her spirit. As older people break bones, they become debilitated. It affects their mental capacity. It really broke my mama. And broke my heart."

In 1996, Richards went for a bone density test after falling twice, breaking her hand and ankle. She had also shrunk 3/4 of an inch. The diagnosis was osteopenia, an early stage of osteoporosis.

After seeing both her grandmothers and her mother fall victim to osteoporosis, Richards was determined to fight the incapacitating effects of the disease. In addition to medication, she changed her entire lifestyle, from her sleeping habits to her diet and exercise regimen.

Richards says, "I think if you look at your parents, you know that's what you're going to be in a short time. And I had fallen and I broke my hand. My mama had broken all these bones. And I said to the doctor when I got my annual checkup, I think you need to give me a bone density test. He did. Of course, it came back that I had early stage osteoporosis."

Sometime afterward, she says, her assistant booked a massage for her. She points out, "This young woman, I think, saved my life. She gave me a massage. I was telling her about the osteoporosis. And she said, 'I want you to come to my gym in the morning. You need weight-bearing exercises.' And that's really what started me on this regimen of taking responsibility for my own health."

Ten years later, Richard's bone density has stabilized.

Osteoporosis is a "change in the density, or strength, of the bones, so that their consistency becomes porous, web-like, and more fragile. Osteoporosis literally means "porous bones."

It afflicts 28 million Americans, 80 percent of them women. One of every six women will break a hip. But only one in three will regain their independence (a broken hip is the second leading cause to admission to a nursing home). One of four die during the year after their fracture, and nearly half those who survive still cannot walk without aid.

Some things Richards says you should avoid to prevent osteoporosis are: "Alcohol, caffeine, tobacco. Those three are the killers. They'll break every bone in your body if you do too much of it. And I did all of it. I did more than my share."

And the things that you should do if you're trying to prevent brittle bone are: "Exercise, have a good diet and if you need medication on the doctor's advice, get it," she says. Richards takes Evista a drug by Eli Lilly for osteoporosis and is now a spokesperson for the company. She says, "I take a pill they make. And I was talking about it. Lucky for me Lilly heard about it and said, 'can we sponsor some of your talks and pay you?' I said, 'Absolutely, you bet.'"

The former governor also works as the senior advisor to a consulting firm that helps companies analyze, develop and implement their public agendas.

Asked about what she thinks about California's recall, Richards says, "Can you imagine going and looking at a ballot that has 200 names on it? It's going to look like a tape off an adding machine.

"Consider this. For Davis to stay in office, the present governor, he has to get 50 plus one percent of the votes. So let's say he gets 49. Just off the top of our head. And so he fails. The recall is in place. Then let's say that any candidate you want to make, Arianna Huffington, gets the most number of popular votes. Let's say 15 or 20 percent. She gets elected governor. She's only gotten half the number of votes that Gray Davis got in terms of the recall.

"And the other hard part is that it's very confusing," Richard adds. "As I understand it, when you go in to the voting place, regardless of which way you vote on governor Davis, you could vote for somebody else."