Four years ago, half of Joe Ferrerio’s body was paralyzed, and he was blind in one eye. He had a fall that caused a subdural hematoma—bleeding outside of and around the brain—and he was told by his doctors that he had just one year to regain the mobility he had lost or else he would most likely never regain it.
Now, at 86 years old, Joe has not only regained the mobility he lost from his fall, but also is able to do things he wasn’t able to before his accident. He shared that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of the Monroe County YMCA.
At the beginning of Joe’s recovery, he was working with an at-home occupational therapist. Allie, Joe’s wife, recalls initially focusing on his fine motor skills by building LEGOS. The therapist also worked on general physical therapy with Joe, and once she felt he was strong enough for the next step, she referred him to the Healthy Hearts and Active Lives (HHAL) program at our Monroe County Y.
With the help of Healthy Hearts and Active Lives Director, Margie Kobow, Joe set out on the next leg of his recovery. Doubtful at first, Joe wondered how he was going to be able to do the exercises that other HHAL members were doing. Allie shared that in the beginning, “Joe couldn’t get up from the ground [on his own.] He started in a chair and sat in the class while everyone [was] doing [their exercises], and Kay, [a HHAL staff member,] came over and said, ‘oh, you’ll get it, just keep coming every day!’”
Joe did keep coming every day, and his dedication has completely changed his life. He relayed that “the things that were hurting don’t hurt anymore, or they hurt much less because of being here [at the Y]. Margie and the crew have seen to that.”
Joe continued, “At my age, you sit in a wheelchair and be depressed; no creativity and no confidence, that’s for sure. Margie has given me the opportunity to get better. [The Y has given me the opportunity to get better by providing me with financial assistance] for the classes that saved my life, as a matter of fact. That’s it. If I weren’t here, I’d be stuck in a chair, depressed, grouchy… and it doesn’t work like that. There’s something to look forward to; the rainbow is there, not the clouds.”
Healthy Hearts and Active Lives not only improved Joe’s physical capabilities, but it also changed his entire outlook on life as an aging adult. Joe explained that the HHAL programs have given him “more confidence, more agility; [he belongs] to a group of sorts instead of sitting at home in a wheelchair and cursing the world.” He continued, “I’m out doing something during the day. The confidence is what’s being built up [by HHAL]. I don’t have to say ‘gee, I’ll never move that again because I’m moving it already. Just get up and do it, why not? I’m confident I can almost participate like a ‘normal’ human being at this point. Maybe I am.”
Margie joined the conversation, adding that she’s “seen, over the years, independence [in Joe. He] used to come with a healthcare professional, and then Allie came with [him], and now sometimes she’s just dropping [him] off. There’s a huge independence component here that’s developed over the years.” Allie added, “he says hi to people, and he was always an introvert. I notice now he’s more social.”
When asked how HHAL has helped him to achieve something he would not have without the program, Joe answered, “I’ve learned late in life that if you try new things, you can do them. That was something new. [I also now have] the confidence in doing things that I used to do; instead of saying I can’t do them anymore, I can have a good try at them and do them. I guess I’m not looking into the past; I’m looking into the future with confidence.”
Joe paused for a moment, then continued: “I’m measuring myself on what I’m going to be doing that is creative in the very near future. And it’s a nice feeling. I’m a composer, and a pianist, and I like to make trains on the table, make them go around… I’m looking forward to doing that stuff.”
Joe’s dedication to improving his health is extremely inspiring—he is at the Y five days a week, every single week. Midway through our conversation, Allie mentioned that Joe’s subdural hematoma was only one of three injuries he has conquered since joining the Y. Over the course of the past four years, Joe also broke his neck and had a bowel resection. After each accident, Joe returned to the Y, determined to regain any mobility he had lost. And he did.
Margie chimed in, sharing that “he’s very coachable, [in addition to being determined,] and that helps. [Joe is] willing to do things that we assign [him]. Sometimes it’s not easy, but [he] does it, and [he’s] consistent. That’s key.”
Building on that point, Allie shared that Joe practices the exercises he has learned at the Y at home as well. “’Get the chair,’ he’d say, ‘I gotta do this!’”
Joe’s determination stemmed from his inability to perform daily actions on his own, but it remains steadfast because of the confidence he has gained through HHAL. “[The biggest benefit is] confidence; trying something instead of saying ‘I can’t do this;’ I just dig right in and give it a try and do it. If it’s not quite up to par the first time, it does get better if you [continue to] do it.”
As Joe expressed earlier, the Adult Health classes he has taken and is still taking have saved his life. If his physician had not referred him to the Y, however, Joe would have never known that the Y offers programs specifically for aging adult rehabilitation.
“My impression of any Y, not necessarily this one, was you have a basketball court, a pool, and lots of things to lift up. I was completely surprised and amazed… I didn’t realize that the Y can help with almost any type of body problems and provide exercises to make people better, especially after major operations. I wasn’t aware that that was available, anywhere actually.”
If you yourself are an aging adult who is not a YMCA member, or if you know someone who you feel would benefit from our Adult Health programming, here’s Joe’s message to you: “Look what you’re missing. You could just repeat a hundred-thousand things that we’re said here today… Look what you’re missing!”
It is never too late to change your life for the better. You are never too old to try something new, or something that you haven’t done in years. Joe is a testament to that. Age often feels restricting, and society often touts that it is, but Joe has proven that it isn’t. The Y, Healthy Hearts and Active Lives, and Margie and her amazing, passionate staff have helped to empower Joe to look forward to his future once again. In Joe’s words, “the rainbow is there, not the clouds.”