reporter contents :: albright college

Living Your Best Life

Her energy is contagious, her “can-do” attitude an inspiration. While we lunched, the petite woman with perfectly coiffed blond hair and a sparkle in her eye talked about her passion, her work. “I’m so fortunate. I do what I like and I like what I do,” says the vivacious Anna Marie Chwastiak, D.P.M. ’87, better known as “Dr. Anna Marie” to viewers of the nationally syndicated weekly health and medical program, “Your Life with Dr. Anna Marie,” and The Weather Channel’s “Weather Wellness” segment.

President and executive producer of Dr. Anna Marie Productions, a company based in Baltimore that she started in 2001, she is constantly on the go, flying from Antigua to film a segment for “Your Life,” to St. Lucia to film spring and summer “Weather Wellness” segments, back home and then off to San Diego, followed by New York. She doesn’t have a lot of downtime. But it’s clear by her high energy and perky spirit that she lives for the challenge. (She even challenged herself with the question, “Which comes first, knowing how to swim or building a pool in your backyard?” But we’ll get to that later.)
Turning her two loves – health and television – into a successful career has been a blessing, she says. “I actually have to credit Katie Couric with that.” While in Hawaii on an externship during her third year of medical school, Chwastiak began working at the NBC affiliate KHON-TV doing the morning newscast. While there, the “Today Show” came to Hawaii to film the 50th commemoration of Pearl Harbor. “They were looking for research assistants,” Chwastiak says. “I got the job and got to be good friends with Katie Couric. She said to me, ‘Don’t be stupid. Combine your two loves,’ so I went back to finish medical school. I thought if TV was supposed to be in my life then it would come back into my life.”

During her last year of medical school at the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine (now Temple University), Chwastiak began to realize that there was a lack of communication between patient and doctor. “Patients are afraid to ask questions,” she says. “So I said to myself, this is what my mission is…to bridge the gap between patient and doctor…to inspire patients to ask questions and take control of their health.”

“Your Life with Dr. Anna Marie” does just that. The idea of the show, says Chwastiak, is that “through ultimate better living you will have ultimate better health.” Included in the show is a weekly health tip, diet and nutritional information, recommendations on the latest health books, a fitness segment and even a segment called “Your Life Story,” which focuses on a real viewer making the most out of their life. These inspirational stories are what pull at Dr. Anna Marie’s heartstrings the most. “They’re very humbling at times,” she says. “They make you realize how precious life is.”

Told in the first person, “Your Life Story” looks at individuals who are pursuing a dream or going through a life-changing experience. “We had one young guy on who had had a heart attack,” she says. “He always wanted to be a writer, so he quit his job and went to Prague to be a writer. He’s living his dream now.”

Lance Armstrong, Leslie Neilson and former Miss America Heather Whitestone are among the celebrity interviews on the show. But her favorite, she says, was Tony Randall, whom she interviewed in October 2003, just before his death. The show was on tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that affects 50 million Americans, including Randall. “He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” she says. “Very down-to-earth. He was the perfect example of someone who’s lived their life to the fullest.”

The idea of the show is that “through ultimate better
living you will have ultimate better health.”

– Anna Marie Chwastiak, D.P.M. ’87

Now in its third season, “Your Life,” which is watched predominantly by women aged 34 to 45, has gone from being broadcast in five markets to 475 stations as of September 2004. “We have 50 to 60 percent of the country and we’re still growing,” she says enthusiastically.

Part of the show’s success is its interactivity. Viewers can send in their suggestions for topics via the website and “we really use them,” Chwastiak says. One show focused on a woman who suffered from depression. She always wanted to have a baby but had severe depression and was afraid the medication she was on would hurt the baby. “We followed her through her pregnancy and it resulted in a very healthy bundle of joy.”

“Some of the best stories come from viewer suggestions,” Chwastiak says.

Viewers can also see her daily on The Weather Channel. Chwastiak’s “Weather Wellness” segments, which she produces herself, air approximately 50 times a week. On topics from poison ivy and Lyme Disease to swimmer’s ear and allergies, these 90-second segments offer advice on coping with health issues during various weather conditions. “I come up with the ideas and once they’re approved we write the scripts, shoot the product and send it to the station. We have total creative control,” she says.

This season on “Your Life,” viewers will see two new faces. Chwastiak has partnered with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, former medical correspondent for ABC News, and Dr. Susan Love, renowned breast cancer surgeon. Snyderman and Love will join Chwastiak as regular contributors to the show. “Their whole mission is to empower people, to shed light on better health. You know, one life, live it to its fullest, live it to the best health, that’s basically what it’s all about.”

With access to a wide array of medical experts, Snyderman and Love will be a great asset to the show, says Chwastiak. With help from the doctors, a “Siskel and Ebert-type” segment is in the works for the fall. Conflicting medical studies are constantly coming out. “One day they say chocolate is good for you and the next week a study comes out that says it’s bad for you,” Chwastiak says. “We’ll take a look at the latest studies and do a thumbs up, thumbs down kind of thing that says whether or not we should really be paying attention to these studies.”

Not planning to slow down anytime soon, Chwastiak has other plans in the works for the future…a “Your Life” print version in 2005, half-hour specials with The Weather Channel (production to start in April 2005), and the possibility of becoming a regular contributor to Shape magazine, a publication she has contributed to in the past. She was also recently chosen by the American College of Physicians to produce a monthly video segment based on studies that appear in the bi-monthly, international medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Now to answer the question, “Which comes first, knowing how to swim or building a pool in your backyard?”

Chwastiak took the challenge. She didn’t know how to swim but decided that she was going to build a pool in her backyard anyway. “The whole time the workers were saying, ‘This is a beautiful pool. I bet you can’t wait.’ And I said, “I can’t swim, but I will be.” Two weeks after the pool was in Chwastiak was swimming. “I’m just the type of person that if I have a challenge I’d rather put it right in front of me.”

Now how’s that for living your best life?

reporter contents :: albright college