In 2002, Jane told me about her scleroderma condition, an arthritic autoimmune disease that attacks organs and makes them fibrotic. The skin being the most obvious. She has written a book titled The Wizard Within, telling of her experience. When she started to work out, her ability to smile had left her face and her hands and feet were also beginning to stiffen. As the disease progressed to her lungs she was eligible for an adult stem cell transplant operation with stem cells harvested from her own body
I decided to get her moving to see if we could maintain her mobility. At that time she was still working as a music teacher at a local high school here in New Jersey. I had a reformer in my home as I had a private studio in Manhattan. I now have a larger studio I opened in 2006 here in Maplewood.
Jane performed Basic Reformer exercises twice a week for 2 months. We started out slow. Jane seemed quite happy to see what was possible and what she had difficulty with, which we would then work to improve.
“I had always hated exercise because it was boring... I couldn’t wait to come back.
Jane’s left side did not respond as well as her right. We noticed working on the short box with the pole was a great benefit to her breathing. The side bends were like rowing. So she tried to Kayak with a friend. She was afraid to get out of the Kayak, that was the big problem. So we started doing triceps dips inside the well of the reformer to lift herself out of the kayak. Within no time she bought a Kayak and started to row. This was in 2003.
“I didn’t know how to communicate with my body... you were able to make me understand...it was all mental...
We added basic mat exercises. Simple neck rolls, easing up and then practicing the roll down with bent knees lying down against the Spine Corrector. Then single leg circles with one knee bent and her foot on the floor. We started the Stomach Series, the first 2 exercises (modified of course), with a pillow under her head, and bent knees, graduating to Russian kicks (modified Criss-Cross, w/ arms crossed). Later we added the side series. This sometimes took us 25 minutes to half an hour just for the mat exercises.
Throughout all I was very patient and actually holding her back a bit because she was determined to work so hard. She was motivated.
“This was a whole new world to me and to experience success mentally and physically...
Unfortunately by 2004, her lungs were failing from the disease. We would walk around a neighborhood track and I would carry her oxygen tank taking up to 30 minutes doing a mile. We were getting her strength up for the operation.
Stem cell transplant
In Summer 2005, Jane had to leave work and then get permission for the stem cell transplant and find funding, but that is another part of her story.
After the transplant, and time to recover we began again when she was able to receive outside visitors. She had been in a bubble for a sterile environment. We would have to start from scratch.
In the Fall of 2005 we started with the seated chair exercises, this was quite exhausting for her. We kept at it. Footwork on and off the floor with knees bending to raise up the legs, just resisting gravity and stretching her calves. We progressed to standing leg lifts and side leg lifts, while supported by the chair. We addded seated foot exercises for the arches and toe. She enjoyed the footwork, so much that she excelled. In less than 3 months we were back on the mat.
Still her breathing was shallow. We put her over the mini barrel with a pillow under her head and started to open up her chest passively. Her breathing improved audibly immediately. Deeper and clearer. We started breathing exercises on the barrel. Really, the difference was night and day. She now owns her own Arc barrel/Spine Corrector.
We get her back to moving and breathing. This is wonderful. She can perform the tree! She remarked that she could now shave her legs easily. Many things were improving in her daily life. By 2007 she was performing Reformer Duets with a friend. Now in 2009 she works out in Pilates Trio session twice a week.
Just this summer she walked uphill in the pouring rain and kept up with the grandchildren on their bicycles. Which would have been unimaginable.
Pilates for everyone!
Certainly a person should get their Doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program and a list of contraindicated exercises for their condition if there is a health concern or previous injury.
Pilates can be modified for most people and get them moving and feeling better. This will contribute to faster recuperation as well.