Diet, exercise give woman her life back

Three years ago Lois Maudlin and her family thought she was dying. So did her doctor.

She couldn’t walk. She was in a wheelchair. She was a diabetic who required such astronomical amounts of insulin that the pharmacists thought her prescriptions were errors.

“They had to call my doctor to check,” she said.

She lived in Salt Lake City, where she’d been a nurse until she grew too ill to work. She suffered from coronary arterial disease, congestive heart failure, asthma, osteoarthritis in her knees and hips, neuropathy in her feet and gout. She’d had four heart attacks and one stroke.

“I was a sick lady,” said Maudlin, 68. “Really, really sick.”

She understood what was happening. She’d been a registered nurse for some 20 years and she’d worked in a wide variety of jobs in the field €“ a jail, a psychiatric ward, neuropathy, orthopedic medicine, diabetes care. She said her work load €“ two jobs €“ made it hard to take care of herself and that’s how her weight eventually ballooned, in 2004, to 340 pounds. By then she’d been so sick for six years that she’d been home-bound.

“I took care of everybody else,” she said. “I didn’t take care of myself.”

Another problem was the air in Salt Lake City €“ or rather, the lack thereof.

“All the pollution stays down because of inversion,” she said. “When they had the Olympics there it looked beautiful because the ski resorts are above the inversion layer. Half the time they don’t even let the kids outside during recess because it’s too dangerous to breathe.”

She decided she was going to take a chance that she could improve her situation.

“My son’s a nurse. He said, ‘Why don’t you just write yourself a care plan like you’ve been doing for all these people all these years? Take care of yourself like a patient.’

That’s when I was at the point of death.”

Having decided to take a stab at living longer, she modified her diet and her weight dropped from 340 to 295 pounds over the next three years. But then she had her final heart attack, which put her in ICU for five days and on an oxygen tank when she got home. Then she had to go back to the hospital later for surgery to implant stents in her heart.

She said she’s thankful to her cardiologist, Dr. James R. Revenaugh, of the Utah Heart Clinic, for keeping her alive.

Shortly thereafter, in May of 2007, she decided to move to Sweet Home, where her daughter, Suzanne Taylor, lived.

Family members wondered if she’d survive the trip.

“I came in a wheelchair,” Maudlin said. “I didn’t fly because I was afraid that the lack of oxygen would kill me. Sue, my sister who came with me on the train, thought I was going to die on the train. My cardiologist said I could drop dead any minute.”

She made it, but she was helpless when she arrived.

“I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t even vacuum or keep own room clean. I couldn’t do washing or cooking.”

But she started feeling better.

“I started going outside in the clean, Sweet Home air. I started feeling better because I could breathe. I started going a few places.”

By that October, she was to the point that she was able to move into the Ames Street Apartments for seniors. She had a doctor’s chair with wheels and a wheelchair that enabled her to do things around the apartment, such as cook. Getting to the mailbox, half a block down the street, was a challenge, but eventually she was able to do that too.

“I got better and better,” she said.

Then Maudlin met her neighbor, Hazel Shull, who visited the gym every day and participated in water aerobics.

“I thought, ‘I’m 67 and here she is, 92, going to water aerobics. Why can’t I do that?'”

Her doctor told her to be careful but gave her the green light and she started visiting the pool three times a week.

“I felt a lot better and I got a little more adventurous,” Maudlin said. “I decided to try to swim a lap in the pool and when I did that, that really puffed me up because I could do it. I started swimming laps for an hour.”

She had lost more weight with this activity and when she visited her cardiologist in Eugene, she weighed about 275 pounds, she said.

“I still was pretty fat,” she said. “(The cardiologist) said my recovery was like a miracle.”

Encouraged, she bought a year’s membership at the pool and then decided to join Steelhead Strength and Fitness. She weighed about 260 pounds and she was still using a walker when she joined the gym on Aug. 18, 2009. She used the local Dial-a-Bus service to go to exercise.

As soon as I started going to Steelhead and the pool every day, I started thinking, ‘Maybe I can walk.’ I started thinking maybe I could get well enough to walk, ride a bike, maybe have a normal life. I couldn’t work out very long because I got really tired.”

Today Maudlin works out 20 to 22 hours a week between the gym and the swimming pool, she said. Her weight had dropped to 172 pounds €“ half of her original size €“ when she renewed her gym membership two weeks ago.

“It sure is easier on the legs, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “It’s funny because, you know, inside, for myself, I don’t know the progress I’ve made. I only know where I’m at right now. Healthy and happy. Feeling good.

“When I came, I thought, ‘What if I waste all this energy and I die?’ But then I thought, ‘What if I can? What if I can get out of my wheelchair, what if I can stop using a walker, what if I could ride a bike?'”

She can ride a bike. In fact, she rides all over town €“ even up some of the hills €“ on a Schwinn that gym owner Dave Bauer helped her put together. She doesn’t own a car.

Last spring she visited her brother in Idaho, where she went whitewater raftering on the Snake River, canoed on the Payette and went cycling along the Boise Parkway.

Bauer said Maudlin was determined when she started at Steelhead, but he wasn’t sure what would happen.

” I was hopeful for her,” he said. “But so often we see people like her with good intentions and it doesn’t work out.”

He said after she got her bicycle, she often was at the gym before him.

“It was great,” he said.

“I still come in and see her rowing on the rowing machine. Not too many people her age can say they can work a rowing machine. But Lois can work a rowing machine.

“She’s very motivated. She wants to show other people they can do it with exercise.”

In addition to her workout routine, Maudlin has completely changed her dietary habits. She eats mostly foods she cooks and bakes from natural ingredients: whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, egg whites and fat-free cottage cheese, salmon, beans and legumes for proteins. She also uses fat-free fat and yogurt and flax seed and salmon for Omega-3 fats.

“I don’t use any animal or hydrogenated fats. I make all own stuff. I don’t buy processed foods at all. If anything has cholesterol in it, I don’t eat it.

“I’m not doing any kind of a special diet,” she said. “You don’t have to pay a company to do this. You can do it yourself.”

Her medical bills have shrunk to almost nothing.

When Maudlin began her Steelhead membership, she was paying $499.20 per month in medical bills, she said. Her hospital bills for 2007 were $91,534.96, not counting doctor’s fees and home treatment. She was taking blood thinners, heart medicine, two kinds of insulin.

As of the last month, she said, she is off all regular medications, including insulin, except for two aspirin each morning.

“It cost me $384 for a gym membership for the year,” Maudlin said. “That’s less than a 30-minute visit to the cardiologist. My blood pressure is normal. My heart rate is normal.”

So, she says, is her hemoglobin A1C, which measures blood sugar levels over a period of time. She checks her blood sugar regularly to make sure she’s on target.

“I worked in a diabetic unit for a year one time. I was in charge of taking care of diabetic patients. I got really good at controlling diabetes.”

Now she enjoys reading, tutoring her granddaughters, “doing all the things I’ve wanted to do €“ music, sewing, cooking.

“I totally love football,” she said, as an NFL game aired on the TV across the room. “College football is my favorite of all.”

Maudlin said she used to ride horses, water ski, cycle and jog before she grew too heavy.

She has friends and relatives who are serious bicyclists €“ “totally into athletics” €“ and her latest goal is to lose another 40 pounds, to get down to her optimum weight, and join them on a ride down the Oregon coast next summer.

“My sister was here. She and her husband rode from Newport to San Francisco last summer. I thought, ‘Hmmm, that would be fun.”