PHOTO Courtesy of Corey SerVaas
As a young girl growing up in Pella, Iowa, Corena SerVaas remembers her mother giving birth without any medical help, a cousin dying at age four with a large head too heavy to hold up and women hiding large goiters on their neck.
She realized how important medical knowledge can be to people living in rural areas and made it one of her goals to give them access to more in-depth medical articles in a language they could understand.
While her first desire has been fulfilled, she has accomplished much more. As a University of Iowa 1948 alumna and an inductee to the J-MC Hall of Fame, Dr. Cory SerVaas is what every journalist aspires to be, a person who effects a change.
Change has kept SerVaas going her whole career. Change is what keeps her going and prevention has been her main focus. She later found that by mothers taking folate during pregnancy, other babies wouldn’t suffer with the affliction her young cousin had known as hydrosephilus, or that iodized salt would have prevented the goiters the women in her neighborhood had grown.
She decided prevention was the key to many problems people face globally, such as cancer, AIDS and heart conditions.
“Whenever a suicide or a heart attack happened in my town, I would wonder how to prevent it. Prevention became an early interest,” SerVaas said.
Since 1948, SerVaas attended Columbia University for her post-graduate studies, had five children with husband Beurt SerVaas, MedScD., graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine and currently is the editor for The Saturday Evening Post.
An opportunity arose when The Curtis Publishing Company, owner of the publication, was up for sale. Her husband Beurt decided to take the challenge and she revived the publication. She publishes not only The Saturday Evening Post, but publications such as Turtle Magazine, Jack & Jill, Humpty Dumpty and US Kids Magazine.
In 1986, SerVaas started the mobile testing sites for early detection of breast and prostate cancer. Her early detection program helped save many lives, even those close to her. When the early detection units began their mission, SerVaas’ Administrative Assistant Janet McKinley worked on the project.
“I never thought I could have been one of the women who had breast cancer. I had no history in my family, but Cory was persistent and I got a mammogram. I had a lump. That was Wednesday afternoon when they told me and by Friday morning I was in surgery. She wouldn’t let them wait over the weekend,” McKinley said. “ She was there with me when they told me and I am a survivor because of that, due to early detection, due to Dr. Cory SerVaas.”
In 1987, her next thought was to establish a testing mobile for AIDS detection. Since the disease was new, she helped get word out with the help of U.S. Congressman Andrew Jacobs, Jr.
The mobile testing station offered free anonymous testing and led her to become the author of a federal law that required hospitals to notify infected persons by using the social security system.
“That was the biggest accomplishment for AIDS, we were so proud we got it in the record,” SerVaas said.
President Reagan was impressed by her work and appointed her to be one of 13 on the first Presidential Commission on the HIV epidemic later that year. She says the work for the commission was extremely strenuous, but it was important to try to stop the spreading of AIDS. They began in San Francisco, then saw the first patients in Poland and Canada as the epidemic grew.
SerVaas also served on the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1990-1994. She worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, with whom she had previously worked for the Prostate Detection campaign.
“Arnold told me,‘Cory you take the senior citizens and kids and I’ll work on everyone in between.’ Arnold came to Indiana to appear at our festival. He was a big contribution and attracted a lot of kids,” SerVaas remembered.
While still editing The Saturday Evening Post, SerVaas is the director of her foundation The Benjamin Franklin Literary and Medical Society and The Association for the Advancement of Mental Health Research and Education, Inc. Her future projects include a spelling bee for children under the age of 12 which will take place in Indianapolis, where she has called home for 35 years. The bee will include medical terms, animals, bones and muscles. She wanted the words to be useful for those entering medical school in the future.
SerVaas has achieved all she has set out to do and still has plans for the future. So what keeps her going?
“The thank you letters, the mail, that’s what turns me on,” SerVaas said proudly.