GRANVILLE — This 91-year-old is going home, just as soon as her knee will let her.
Carmel LaFrance, who will turn 92 in a month, is staying at the Slate Valley Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing for intensive physical therapy. Her knee needs to be replaced, but she was told no one would do the surgery on someone older than 80. So the pain in her knee just got worse and worse, until she was spending all day in a recliner.
After she was admitted to the hospital briefly for dehydration and confusion, her daughter insisted that she go to the rehabilitation center 15 minutes from her Whitehall home.
“I was relieved that she made me do it,” LaFrance said. “I got so I couldn’t use that leg at all.”
Many nonegenarians who go to a nursing home in a wheelchair never go home.
“Sometimes there’s people that are younger that don’t get home,” said occupational therapist Kaelin Ludwig.
But LaFrance is determined.
“She comes out every day,” Ludwig said. “There’s some you have to be creative to get them to participate. Or go multiple times to get them to come out.”
Unlike those patients, LaFrance spends hours in occupational and physical therapy every day, practicing standing safely, walking with a walker, and doing things with both hands while standing unsupported. She’s doing so well that the discharge team is meeting to plan out how she can go home. She’ll need to get back for outpatient therapy, which is tricky because she doesn’t drive anymore, but close family members might take turns driving her.
Therapists are watching her closely to see when she’s ready, knowing she lives alone.
“When we work on standing tasks, it’s as if you were standing at the sink washing your hands,” explained therapist Maria Angelica Matahum. “It’s not enough to just stand up. You have to be able to do functional tasks while you’re on your feet.”
LaFrance worked hard, walking with some effort Friday while a therapist cautiously followed with a wheelchair just behind her. If she fell, she wasn’t going to hit the floor.
But she didn’t fall. And after a victory of walking 135 feet — circling the therapy room — she stood in place to chat about how much she loved the center.
“This place is fantastic,” she said. “The first month, I told them I felt I was on a winter vacation.”
But there’s no place like home. And after three weeks, she’s ready to leave.
“I’d rather be home, in my own home. I love my little home,” she said.
It’s been her home for 67 years. In it, she and her husband raised four children. Her husband died four years ago, but the rest of the family has made sure she’s not completely alone.
Every morning, after her son puts his grandson on the school bus, he comes over for breakfast. Her daughter and an adult grandson come too.
“They all come and have breakfast together,” she said. “We’re a very close family.”
Two great-grandchildren live nearby, as does her son. He brings the great-grandchildren over for visits. Her daughter lives next door and often takes her out for dinner.
“I love to go out and eat,” LaFrance said.
So the therapists are helping her get back the skills she needs to return to her life.
“She wasn’t walking. She was just transferring,” Ludwig said. “She’s definitely improved since she got her — she’s walking, she can get herself dressed.”
When she arrived she needed two people to help her stand up. Now one person just spots her and offers a slight lift if needed.
She’s philosophical about her limitations. She’ll always need a walker, she said. And to make life easier, her family is putting a bed in her living room so that she’s always only a short walk from the bathroom.
Soon, she’ll be going home — to live on her own at age 92.
It’s what many patients want to do, but she has the keys to success: her motivation and her family’s help, Ludwig said.
“It depends on the family support,” she said.