Persistence Pays For Plucky 90-Year-Old

Cardiac rehab patient wins year-long campaign to restore program

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When Harold Wilson blew out the 89 candles on his cake June 25 last year, he had one wish -- he wanted Phase III of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Payson Regional Medical Center to continue.

After a year's interruption, the exercise program got under way again Thursday, a day before Wilson's 90th birthday. His wish had come true.

He was at the hospital Friday in the exercise room sharing his birthday cake with the hospital staff, and he was looking forward to meeting again with his friends in the group.

The Mogollon Health Alliance, the hospital's landlord board, had spent the past year searching for a location and the means to put the program, which meant so much to so many, back into action. Twenty-five people in the three-times-a-week exercise group had found themselves with nowhere to go to exercise and keep fit.

Wilson was among them and the first to get into the third phase of cardiac rehabilitation for outpatients when it began in 1993. He had paid $30 a month in addition to what he believed Medicare was paying for the program. But hospital officials found the program wasn't covered by Medicare or any other third party payer.

The cost for the 25 people in the program would have been $128 each. Some felt they could pay that amount, but hospital officials dropped the program, saying the hospital couldn't afford it.

Wilson said then that the group did a lot for morale and it kept people active who would no longer be active.

As an educator who became a college president, Wilson had spent a lifetime being active. He retired in 1975; he and his wife, Gladys, moved to Payson in 1978. On Christmas Day 1986, Wilson had a stroke that paralyzed his left side. He had a quadruple heart by-pass four years later, followed by numerous other surgeries. His wife died in 1991 and Wilson now lives alone at his home on Granite Dells.

When Phase III was discontinued on June 5 last year, Wilson worked to keep the program going, writing letters and talking to whomever would listen.

"I credit the program with extending my life quite a bit," he said at the time.

During the past year, Wilson exercised occasionally with equipment at his home, but he found that he lacked the motivation.

"I tried to keep exercising," he said, "but a program is much better than trying to do it alone. You work it into a schedule then."

As it turned out, Wilson and the others will not have to go far to meet again; the program is back at the old wing of the hospital with its former instructor, Registered Nurse Diane Riddle. Only now, the MHA is paying the bills, buying and adding new equipment, and heading what is being called MHAX III.

Susan Jean Wyckoff, an RN who works with the first two phases of the cardiac rehabilitation program, which are under the auspices of PRMC, was on hand to help Wilson cut his cake and host the party. On the cake was a train.

"Harold's a faithful exerciser," Wyckoff said. "He's 'The Little Engine That Could.'"

"The secret to a long life is a lot of good people looking after me," Wilson said. "That's how I've lived as long as I have."

MHAX III meets Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the old wing of PRMC. The cost per month for the MHA program is $35 and the fee can be billed on a sliding scale. Anyone wishing to participate will need a doctor's prescription and letter of consent. For information about the program, call the MHA at 472-2588.

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