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The walking miracle

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image On August 10, Robert Cramer graduated from a pulmonary rehabilitation program. He is pictured along with program director Lorrie Quistad and fellow graduates Peggy Nolan and Dick Artz. Mitch Traphagen Photo

A year ago, Robert Cramer was ready to die.

By Mitch Traphagen

SUN CITY CENTER - Robert Cramer is a walking miracle. Just a year ago, he barely could walk from his bed to the door. His next breath, something most people take for granted, felt uncertain and labored. His eyesight was failing. Earlier, he had bought a home for cash — he didn’t understand and could not read the paperwork involved in the purchase. He felt as though he had been conned into buying it. As such, he felt his mind was slipping away. His wife was gone, his home in Idaho, once a source of joy that became an empty cavern of memories, was gone. His life was slipping away, too. He was ready to die.

Last week at Sun Towers in Sun City Center, the same Robert Cramer strolled into a meeting for people in the pulmonary rehabilitation program at the Sun Terrace Rehabilitation Center. He could well have been ready to play 18 holes of golf. He was healthy-looking and quick to flash a brilliant smile. Even beyond his physical appearance, his transformation was revealed in his eyes — there was energy, there was life. Robert Cramer is a walking miracle. He had come to Sun Towers months ago in a wheelchair; that he is now walking at all is a miracle.

“I thought I was going to die,” Cramer said. “I was dying.”

In March, he entered the pulmonary rehabilitation program and moved into his apartment at Sun Towers a few weeks after that. In the beginning, he used a wheelchair to get around. The program incorporates a newly built therapy gym inside the assisted living facility. Magnetic cards given to people in the program keep track of their progress on state-of-the-art equipment, going so far as to provide a warning to those who push too hard. Also involved is old-fashioned human contact.

Last Wednesday morning, with the participants of the pulmonary rehabilitation group gathered around a table in the Sun Towers dining room, each of the therapists stood nearby, often placing their hands on the shoulders of their patients.

After entering the program five months ago in a wheelchair, unable to walk even from his bed to the door, Cramer has made remarkable progress. Recently, he climbed each flight of stairs in the seven-story tower and walked from exit to exit on each floor. He is a man remade.

“I’m really thankful to them. They keep you going. It’s almost like a miracle… they are the miracle workers,” he said as he pointed to his therapist, Ivory Jones-Jennings.

Robert Cramer shares a laugh with his therapist, Ivory Jones-Jennings, before the graduation ceremony from the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Sun Towers. He describes her as a miracle worker.Cramer was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lymphoma cancer. COPD is a treatable disease that makes it difficult to empty air out of the lungs, thus causing shortness of breath and a feeling of being tired, a result of working so hard to simply breathe. Six years ago, Cramer began using an oxygen tank and a nebulizer, a machine that administers medication through mist that is inhaled into the lungs.

On August 10, he walked into the Sun Towers dining room wearing tennis shoes, shorts, a polo shirt and no oxygen tank. On that day, Cramer, along with two others, were the first graduates from the facility’s pulmonary rehabilitation program, under the supervision of Lorrie Quistad, Sun Towers Pulmonary Rehabilitation Director. The program focuses on how to live better with the disability, rather than on worrying about why things have happened. Quistad and the therapists in her program are dedicated to the former. Their hands-on and compassionate approach and the direct result of their work is to make lives better. As if to prove that point, on each Wednesday at 10 a.m., the dining room opens up for tai chi classes for any resident of Sun City Center, not just those living at Sun Towers. It is an effort to improve both the mental and physical health for those who need it — regardless of where they live.

“We’ve got some good things going on,” Quistad said. “We’re very proud of it.”

Quistad spent an hour answering questions from the people gathered around the table, all suffering from respiratory afflictions. Then the cake came out, celebrating Dick Artz, Peggy Nolan and Richard Cramer, the program’s first graduates.

The pulmonary rehabilitation program typically runs six to eight weeks, with one-hour sessions two or three times per week. Each participant has a personalized treatment plan.

In the United States, 12 to 15 million people suffer from chronic lung diseases. Millions more suffer in silence, not knowing the cause of breathing difficulties and thus not taking steps to correct or improve their lives. While there are many causes of COPD, including occupational hazards, cigarette smoking remains one of the leading causes. Among the first class at Sun Towers, however, not all of the graduates were smokers.

The next breath you take is easy to take for granted. But that is not the case for many people, people for whom breathing is not only difficult, but also causes them to limit their activities and their very lives. A year ago, Richard Cramer felt his life slipping away. Today, he is walking tall, a young and athletic-looking man of 77 years. As if climbing the stairs in a seven-story tower wasn’t enough, Cramer was recently selected for an upcoming senior bachelor calendar in the community — the walking miracle will soon become a calendar model.

For information about the Sun Towers rehabilitation programs, call 813-634-3347 ext. 146.

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