A reversal of misfortune

The diagnosis was osteoporosis, a loss of bone mass that makes bones prone to fracture. Shelli Berger knew of — and feared — the condition.

“My mother lived to a ripe old age, but she had osteoporosis,” says Berger, 65. “She had three hip surgeries and none of them helped, and she was often in horrible pain. In August of 2008, she bent to down to pick something up and fractured her sternum. She died the next month.”


Berger had learned in the spring of 2008 that she, too, had osteoporosis. After her mother’s death, Berger had a second bone density test that confirmed the diagnosis. Soon after, she started working out with Jill Abrams, a trainer at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex. At Berger’s recent annual bone density test, her condition was downgraded to osteopenia, a less severe form of bone loss.

“Shelli was motivated because she was afraid she would end up like her mom,” recalls Abrams. “The secret to building bone mass for women of any age is to do weight-bearing exercise that stresses your bones. Shelli and I worked together to develop a program for her.”

Berger took time recently to talk about her victory over osteoporosis.

Were you physically active before your diagnosis?

Yes. I had done Jazzercise and aerobics in recent years, and four years ago, I started tap dancing, taking classes at the J from Marcene Tockman. I’ve tried to lead a healthy life, and I take calcium and Vitamin D.

What about your mother’s general health?

My mother didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and she ate right, but she had a lot of problems because of the osteoporosis.

Did you try any of the medications for osteoporosis?

I did, and they did not agree with me. Not all women can take these medications.

What did you do next?

I went to see a bone specialist for the second scan, and I had a Reclast infusion, a treatment for osteoporosis. I talked to the doctor about weight-bearing exercise, and she said she could not guarantee that I could reverse osteoporosis, but she could guarantee that the exercises would not make me any worse.

What did Jill Abrams say when you first met with her at the J?

She said she thought we might be able to reverse it.

How did you proceed?

I signed up for six weeks of training. I met with Jill a couple of times a week, and she showed me what exercises to do, what machines to use and how to lift weights. I wasn’t entirely sure any of this would help, but I went along with it for one year.

What happened at your next annual bone density test?

It showed that I had reversed the osteoporosis. I ran back to the J and high-fived Jill!

Do you still work out with weights?

I do. I take two weight lifting classes each week. I also take a Turbo Kick class, a Zumba class and I walk the track.

Is this a life you imagined living?

Never in a million years. Growing up, I was totally non-athletic. I always hated gym, and I was a klutz. But this has had a domino effect – now my husband has joined the J and works out with a trainer. We’re also taking dancing lessons on Wednesday nights.

So you feel pretty good?

Dancing is life-affirming, and I just feel so much better now that I take better care of myself. When my mother died, it was a wake-up call for me.

Shelli Berger

WORK: Berger recently retired as a medical assistant and patient educator at Planned Parenthood.

HOME: Olivette

FAMILY: Berger and her husband, Howard (“a retired computer guy”), have two grown children who live in Seattle.

HOBBIES: She tap dances and volunteers at a food pantry.

PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Berger set out to increase her bone density and in the process, she reversed her osteoporosis.