Hilo’s Mary Gaddis uses exercise to fight Pseudomyzoma Peritonei – PMP
I recently learned that the country recognized an event on February 29 called “Rare Disease Day” which tried to bring public awareness to the many people afflicted with rare illnesses.
Rare and unusual disease occurs more often than one would suspect and to choose Leap Year to bring attention to such was no coincidence.
Hilo’s Mary Gaddis fits into both categories as she was born on February 29 and also had the unfortunate experience of encountering a rare disease called Pseudomyxoma Peritonei or PMP.
Gaddis grew up in central Texas, until her professor parents moved the family to Rio Piedras in Puerto Rico.
“It was an idyllic childhood with lots of kids my age, a lot of freedom to ride bikes, play and roam around safely in the faculty housing area where we lived,” Gaddis said.
“My interest in fitness began my freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin when the Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Program manual came out and I used it for several years,” she said.
Gaddis was fortunate enough to have a progressive university which developed one of the best physical education programs for women in the nation.
“The teachers encouraged me and strongly influenced me to want to be fit,” Gaddis said. “I took a year and a half of gymnastics and worked out at the Women’s Gym on the nights it was open to students, and was also in the gymnastics club.”
In 1966 she got married to Ben Gaddis and in 1970 when Ben was offered a job at the Law Firm of Kanemitsu and Cook the couple made their way to the Big Island. (Yes, Ben Gaddis spent several years on the bench in Family Court and is now a retired Judge)
“We fell in love with Hilo and the Big Island as nearly every weekend we were off to Hapuna or to Kona for swimming, snorkeling and body surfing,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis spent 25 years teaching at a variety of schools and in the mid 1970’s was a lecturer at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“I ended my teaching career teaching English as a Second Language at Hawaii Community College and retired about three years ago,” she said.
Today this 68 years young woman, who has celebrated 17 birthdays, continues to remain healthy and fit and credits much of her recovery battle against PMP to her healthy lifestyle.
PMP is a very rare, sleeper type of illness that is considered a cancer, but rarely moves into the blood stream.
“I had the typical experience; an attack of appendicitis in October of 2010,” Gaddis said. “The disease was discovered during the resulting surgery.”
PMP is so rare that few surgeons are familiar with it, but Gaddis was fortunate enough that the oncologist made the correct diagnoses.
“My oncologist advised me to seek a consultation at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis went to MD Anderson in August and spent a week having tests and being evaluated to see if she was a candidate for surgery.
“I was scheduled for surgery on November 14, 2011 and we returned to Hilo to wait and plan,” Gaddis said.
The major surgery usually last for 12 hours with the average post-operative stay being 22 days, but Gaddis is anything but average.
“Basic good health always plays an important role when undergoing a complicated surgical procedure, being fit reduces the risk of complications and death,” Gaddis said.
Instead of 12 hours Gaddis surgery lasted 10 hours and her post op was only 11 days compared to the 22 for the average patient.
To prepare for the surgery Gaddis carefully chose a trainer, Robert Roos, from the BJ Penn Gym.
“I was deeply shocked by my overall weakness following the appendectomy and I was determined to go into the surgery in the best possible shape,” she said.
Gaddis discussed her needs with Roos and they developed a three times a week program a month prior to her departure to Houston.
Her trainer focused on her core strength and they worked on balance, which is important to post surgery.
“Having well developed biceps and other arm muscles made it much easier for me to move myself in the hospital bed,” she said. “I was able to do this by day three following the surgery.”
Gaddis’ overall fitness helped her to get up and walk and walking is crucial to preventing blood clots and heart complications.
“The walking also helped keep my heart strong, speeded up my release date, as did my overall fitness,” she said.
Gaddis will continue to maintain her health and fitness by walking around in the Waiakea Uka neighborhood.
During the 1970’s as a beginning jogger she was fortunate that Kiyo Hamakawa took an interest in her.
“Kiyo was a graduate of a top notch PE University and he gave me lots of encouragement and pointers in developing a better jogging technique,” she said. “His brother Fumi was another of my mentors.”
It was from those early days in Hilo that Gaddis learned to work on her cardiovascular system, which in turn has paid big dividends today in her overall fitness level.
Mary Gaddis is another success story on how our seniors can recover quickly from the heavy demands that surgery can play on the body.
Exercise is key to maintaining a productive body throughout our lives and we can all learn much from Mary Gaddis.
Edward Stanley wrote, “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
And someday should you happen to see a fit jogger come passing through the streets of East Hawaii remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”