More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Program offers many benefits

Monday, Nov. 12, 2001
BY MIKE BOCKHOVEN The Grand Island Independent

GRAND ISLAND - On land, Bob Jewett must use a wheelchair because of heart problems and poor blood circulation.

Once in the water, however, he doesn't just walk, he flies.

"I can walk just fine in the water," Jewett said. "It's like walking on air."

The Grand Island YMCA's Arthritis Aquatic Program, which has been going on for more years than anyone remembers, takes place weekday mornings at the YMCA pool.

While the program is proven to help people with arthritis and other degenerative disorders, it has some added effects for its regular attendees, said longtime instructor Marla Kutz, who recently retired.

"We always say that this isn't just an exercise class, it's a support group," Kutz said. "We have potluck dinners; we send each other cards; we share each other's lives. It's very special."

During her time at the YMCA, Kutz said, she taught everyone from middle-aged men to a 94-year-old woman in the class. In fact, she said, the 94-year-old was "really ticked off" when she was unable to continue the class.

The number of participants in the program fluctuates from day to day and week to week, YMCA Aquatics Director Robin Hitchler said. Many of them find the program through doctors' referrals or on the advice of friends.

While the instructors are certified by the Arthritis Foundation, the program helps with many other maladies as well.

"It's all-purpose," she said. "Most of the people here have arthritis or have injuries, but we have some folks with MS (multiple sclerosis), back pain and a lot of other problems."

The water program works so well, Hitchler said, because of a decrease in weight while in the water.

"A person loses 70 percent of their body weight when they're in the water," Hitchler said. "They can do a lot more things than they can do on land. It makes them feel better when they're doing more."

Kutz said there's another, psychological benefit to being in the water.

"Everyone looks the same from the neck up," she said. "In the water, there's no limping or hobbling or having to use a cane. In the water, everyone is the same, physically."

Marge Janssen and Doris Wetzel, two frequent participants, said members of the group are not only close to each other but also become closer to recovery or better health the more they participate.

"Before we get done, we use every muscle in our body," Janssen said. "We exercise and socialize. I would recommend this to anyone who's alive."

Wetzel said the program has done its job in making her more flexible and mobile than before she started.

"I feel like I'm strong," she said. "I can now navigate a little better, and I'm thankful for it."

Copyright © 2001, Lincoln Journal Star