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Martha Stewart Takes on Health Care

The domestic doyenne dishes about the opening of her visionary medical center for seniors, her own health challenges, and the lessons learned while coping with the loss of her mom.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

The Martha Stewart Show often takes a personal turn -- but never quite so personal as on December 17, 2007. That day, Stewart said farewell to one of her show's most beloved recurring characters, her own mother, "Big Martha."

Martha Kostyra, who passed away on Nov. 16 at the age of 93 after suffering a stroke earlier in the month, had appeared on more than 40 episodes, preparing her famous pierogi, cheesecake, and meat loaf recipes, learning how to use a computer, and demonstrating her exercise routines. Each time, the merry, gentle interplay between Big Martha and her daughter warmed the stage.

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But on that December day, Stewart, wearing a simple brown ruffled blouse and supported in the audience by a dozen or more family members, had to introduce a tribute instead of show segments starring her mom. In typical Stewart fashion, there were no tears or breakdowns -- just a few wistful smiles at fond memories of Big Martha. But she stumbled on her words a few times, finding it hard to talk of her mother in the past tense. "My mom is so modest -- was so modest," she corrected herself.

A few days before the tribute aired, Stewart spoke with WebMD, and then, too, had difficulty putting her loss into words. "It's just -- make the most of every day. What else can you say?" she said. "Time sometimes runs out, and you don't realize how precious it is."

The year 2007 was a rough one for Stewart -- although perhaps not as rough as 2004, the annus horribilis when she spent five weeks on trial for charges related to insider trading and then began a five-month term at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia. Still, in addition to losing her mom last year, she faced health challenges of her own: Progressive damage from torn cartilage led Stewart to seek hip replacement surgery in June. Fortunately, Stewart had already begun laying the groundwork for a major new focus of her powerful podium: not just gracious living, but healthy living, with a special emphasis on health care needs as we age. Her personal experience over the past year highlights just how important that is.

In October, Stewart cut the ribbon on the new Martha Stewart Center for Living at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, a geriatric outpatient facility in Manhattan. Big Martha's health kept her away from the grand opening, but she was the primary inspiration for the center -- and Stewart's tribute video featured film of her mother in a hard hat and wielding tools as construction began.

"We want to help people devise a way of life that will get them through old age healthily and happily -- in good shape and in good humor," says Stewart. "That's something the center can help with tremendously. During the three years my mom had to do rehab and various procedures, none of those places was where you'd want to spend your time."

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