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Young at Heart

Posted on January 26, 2018

Roane Medical Center’s Cardiopulmonary Rehab keeps 90s crew on the go

A body at rest will remain at rest. You don’t have to be a physicist (or physical therapist) to understand Newton’s First Law of Motion. Reach 90 years of age, however, and you’ll know it first-hand.

Nobody knows this better than these seven nonagenarians exercising inside Roane Medical Center’s Cardiopulmonary Rehab two or three times a week:

  • Dot Skinner, a 95-year-old retired real estate broker
  • Nancy Parrish, a 92-year-old retired accounts payable clerk
  • James Davidson, a 91-year-old World War II veteran and retired construction superintendent
  • Hugh Sliger, a 90-year-old retired pharmacist 
  • Lewis Spivey, a 90-year-old retired accountant, historian and local newspaper columnist
  • David Stevenson, a 90-year-old retired WWII vet and Boeing engineer who still flies his own plane
  • Harold Wade, a retired electrician who turns 91 Feb. 17
90s Crew at RMCs Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center
90s Crew at RMCs Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center

These lively nonagenarians (and no less than 22 octogenarians) are just a few of those enrolled in RMC’s personalized rehabilitation program for cardiac and pulmonary patients – and anyone else wanting to stay active in their later years.

“It keeps you from sitting around,” said Davidson. “If you don’t do anything but sit around, you’ll soon not be able to do anything but sit around.”

Amy Garrett, a registered nurse and supervisor of the program, agrees completely. “You’ve heard that adage, ‘If you just sit down for too long, eventually you won’t be getting back up,’” she said. “That’s true because if you don’t utilize all the joints and muscles, they get weaker and weaker.”

Not these mighty 90s.

Davidson jetted off to Jamaica after heart valve replacement surgery last April. Upon his return, he began rehab which was briefly interrupted by a trip to Costa Rica. When he’s not globe-trotting, he’s serving in the Honor Guard at funerals for his fellow veterans. He has even gone zip lining.

“I got on that zip line and this guy says, ‘I’m going to ride with you,’ and I said, ‘No you’re not. If you think you’re going to get on there and help me, think again.’ So he took a video of me and put it on the internet. I told him he’s going to get a lot of business because if a 90-year-old man can do this, anyone can.”

Then there’s Stevenson, who “graduated” from his membership in the UFO Club (United Flying Octogenarians) last June. Yet he still pilots his own 1946 Aeronca Champ, a single-engine two-seater “every chance I get.”

The only time he stopped flying was for a year beginning October 1996 when he was “grounded” after a quadruple bypass. That was when he started rehab and has been exercising ever since. “I’m in my 22nd year of rehab,” Stevenson said. “It’s good exercise. It keeps me going, and I’m still flying. So I feel pretty fortunate.”

Skinner is the eldest member of this informal 90s club. She also started attending 22 years ago after her late husband, Martin, had a quintuple heart bypass. “I went with him to the doctor, and the doctor said, ‘You know, Dot, it wouldn’t hurt you to go along with Martin to rehab,’” said Skinner. “So I did – it was the best advice he had ever given me.”

Her husband passed away last year, but she continued to come because of the friendships she made. “You think you’d go home worn out, but you’re exhilarated instead,” said Skinner. “I think it helps you watch your weight, and gives you good basic friendships. It’s just a wonderful therapeutic thing. It not only helps you physically, but it also helps you mentally.”

It’s important, she said, that she remain in good health because she’s responsible for the welfare of an adult son with mental disabilities. “I’ve got kids in Charlotte, Gatlinburg and Florida. So my kids are far away, but they call me every Sunday to check on me. I think they are very pleased that I can still take care of myself.” In fact, she says her brother lived to be 99, and she hopes to “beat that.”

Parrish hopes to at least equal her mother’s age at passing – 100 years and 6 months – but she didn’t start rehab because of any medical condition. “I had two friends that came to rehab and I decided it would be good for me to go too,” she said. “So I started seven or eight years ago, and I’ve been coming ever since. I enjoy it. It’s good company. You make a lot of friends. We’re like one big family. If someone isn’t here one day, we’ll wonder why, maybe check on them.”

She says she once tried another gym but found it “just like high school, jumping up and down and all that. It was different. More strenuous. And they didn’t watch you like they do here. We know what our bodies will take. I stopped getting on the treadmill because it made my hips hurt, and I didn’t think I needed it.” “Here, you kind of decide what you want to do,” said Skinner. “But when you get a new book (an exercise schedule developed for them by the RMC staff), they agree that those are the things that you want to do. I’m my own boss. I appreciate that because I’m not a dummy.”

 “I like the idea you can pretty much pick and choose whatever you like to do,” said Stevenson. “I haven’t even had a suggestion that I should change what I’m doing. But I’m sure they are watching and keeping an eye on me. When you get our age, that’s a big plus.”

“They pay attention to you,” said Skinner. “For example, I overslept one morning, and they called me up that afternoon and asked if there was anything they could do for me and so forth. Now I think that’s a caring, friendly attitude of the staff. That helps this particular group. Everyone feels that way. They make each person feel special.”

“We do care, and we miss them when they’re not here,” said Garrett. “We have loads of people who ask and notice when you are not here. They watch out for one another and check up on them. If somebody gets sick and goes into the hospital, several of these will go and visit them.”

 Most in this 90s age group are widows or widowers who live alone. But Garrett says this active group of senior seniors is “very much young at heart” and “very independent.”

“They’re here two to three days a week exercising, she said. “They’re not home and can’t get up, can’t move. They’re not on bed rest. They don’t have to be chauffeured around – all of them drive themselves here. They all have their health problems and issues but they are very independent, very mobile. They haven’t reached that mentality that ‘I’m too old and I can’t do something.’ They are still, ‘I can still do it!’”

Click for more information about Roane Medical Center’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program or call (865) 316-2825.

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