by Kathryn Salamone

At TRMC’s Health & Fitness Center, sometimes anything seems possible  

Judy Christianson, RN, cardiac rehab nurse, monitors Antonetta Paul’s workout as she gets exercise designed to strengthen her upper body.

A 40-something woman pulls to keep the pounds off on the rowing machine. Another woman in her early 60s pedals the recumbent bike to strengthen her heart following heart valve repair surgery. Over by the weights, two men— maybe 20 and 50—swap workout stories. Welcome to the world of movers and shakers at Trinitas Regional Medical Center’s Health and Fitness Center in Elizabeth. So naturally, it is 90-year-old Antonetta Paul who inspires everyone with her grit and determination whenever she comes into the Trinitas Rehabilitation and Fitness Center at the medical center’s main campus.

Antonetta is a firm believer in staying active to stay young and healthy. A cardiac patient who underwent a quadruple bypass in 2003, Antonetta is one of the oldest members of the Health and Rehabilitation Center at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. How she got into the workout regime is the story of attentive doctors and good follow-up care. While under the care of cardiologists David Pinnelas, MD, and Edward G. Williams, MD, Antonetta visited the office for a stress test.

Within a moment of stepping onto the treadmill, Dr. Pinnelas advised that she should step off and come into his office. “When I got there, he told me that I had serious cardiac problems,” recalls Antonetta. “He recommended that I undergo a quadruple bypass. Well, I told him the surgery would have to wait a few days since I had plans to visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia with my children and grandchildren.” The Elizabeth resident, who can remember noticing only some fatigue, had the surgery performed at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark at the age of 82. Following a short stay in the hospital, Antonetta spent a few weeks in a nursing home setting. But since then she has been living independently in Elizabeth. Since the major surgery, fatigue is a thing of the past and her heart health couldn’t be better for this woman who is one of the most frequent and consistent users of the Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Her three-day-a-week schedule begins at about 7 and includes 20 to 25 minutes on the stationary bicycle; 6 to 10 minutes on the treadmill and 8 minutes (“sometimes I do 12 minutes or more”) on the Nu-Step recumbent bicycle. She finishes with 4 minutes of arm exercise on a bicycle-like apparatus designed to improve upper body strength. It’s especially helpful for women who have less upper body strength than men. At every step of the way, Antonetta’s progress in each workout session is monitored under the guidance and supervision of Exercise Physiologist Hugh Rappaport, and the watchful eyes of the Center’s cardiac rehabilitation nurses, Judy Christianson and Jean Mikita. They all consider Antonetta a major success story and hosted a 90th birthday celebration for her this summer. “I enjoy the time I spend at the Center,” Antonetta says. “I look forward to it and it helps me get my day started. Jean, Judy and Hugh tease me a bit about how I’m a ‘flirt’ but they just like to bring a smile to my face.”

Antonetta appreciates the care she received from Dr. Pinnelas at the time of her surgery. She recalls a visit to his office a few years back, when he told her he was leaving the Elizabeth area to establish an office in Neptune at the Jersey Shore. “He asked me if I would be willing to visit his new office once a month so he could keep on eye on me,” she explains. “Well, I looked at him and said, ‘I tell you what, how about if you come up to the office here in Elizabeth to see me once a month?’ He couldn’t stop laughing.” It’s that kind of gumption, independence and belief in herself that makes Antonetta Paul the “poster child” of the Trinitas Health and Rehabilitation Center.

 Editor’s Note: In addition to her editorial role with EDGE, Kathryn Salamone is editor of weekly, monthly and on-demand publications for the Trinitas organization. An award-winning communicator, Kathy’s press releases appear in numerous local and regional media.