Padma Lakshmi Turns Health Ordeal into Awareness

04/15/2009 at 01:05 PM EDT

Padma Lakshmi Turns Health Ordeal into Awareness
Padma Lakshmi
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty
Padma Lakshmi is turning a personal medical drama into a form of social outreach.

The Top Chef host, 38, has started foundation to raise awareness about endometriosis – a condition affecting women's reproductive health – after her own experience of having a successful operation and making a full recovery.

"I'm somebody who never knew I had this condition and always thought that everything was okay," says Lakshmi. "I found out in a very hard, difficult way – and I had to be operated on. Now, I'm fine but it was a very trying ordeal."

A common condition, endometriosis is a problem that occurs when tissues that line the uterus grow outside the uterus, resulting in painful menstrual cycles and uterine scarring that could lead to infertility. With surgery, endometriosis can be treated easily – but it must be detected first.

'Why I Spoke Out'

"It's probably the most prevalent disease" affecting reproductive health, explains Dr. Tamer Seckin, who treated Lakshmi and with her also co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America. "It's also the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed, mismanaged and mistreated. And women, because of that, end up being infertile and in chronic pain."

Joining forces to create awareness was especially important for Lakshmi, she says, though she would have to come forward about something so intimate.

"It's a very personal issue," she says. "It has to do with the most private aspect of a woman's life, and when I had to have surgery, I had to miss work and explain why. I just found that in talking to people, not many people knew what it was."

"I just thought I had a responsibility to let other young women know so they wouldn't have to go through what I went though," she says. "If you get tested at an early age, it's very simple to be treated for it and it will save you from a lifetime of pain and stress."

Time for a Ball

Together, Seckin and Lakshmi will host the "Blossom Ball," their first fundraising event, on April 20 at New York's Prince George Ballroom – and they've recruited a starry panel of women to serve on the honorary committee, including 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski and Helena Christensen.

Explaining the event's name, Lakshmi, who says she likes to think of their new organization as the "Healthy Womb Society," says, "when [Dr. Seckin] explained the illness to me, he said it's like roots in a garden and the roots can spread everywhere. If you don't [treat it], it will ruin the whole flower bed."

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