Troy woman fights her way back from H1N1 flu

For most of her adult life, Theresa Smith of Troy worked tirelessly as an advocate for senior citizens. “I not only worked full time in missions and marketing for a rehab facility but I was also certified by the State of Ohio to help those who were entitled to Medicare benefits,” Smith said. Besides her full time job, she volunteered in the community and enjoyed many hobbies, including her lifelong love of horseback riding.

Though she had dealt with chronic asthma for many years, Smith remained active until 2009 when she was exposed to the H1N1 flu virus and became infected. “Because of my asthma I was at high risk in the first place,” Smith said. “I was down with severe flu symptoms for about six weeks and my doctor told me to expect it might take at least 18 months to recover. I loved my job and I wanted to go back to work so I just kept ticking off the months, thinking I was getting close to getting better.”

But time passed and Smith wasn’t getting better. She had continual bronchial infections and pneumonia and eventual tests showed severe lung damage. She found herself so ill that even the simplest tasks like folding laundry left her exhausted.

“I was 42 years old and the doctors couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t bouncing back,” Smith said. “I just wasn’t a typical age for a 24-hour oxygen patient and it took a lot of advocating on my own behalf to get them to realize what I needed.”

Smith had to push for her own pulmonary therapy, after working with seniors in rehab her entire career, and she knew she’d be among others in rehab four decades her senior, many dealing with emphysema and other chronic lung conditions. “I knew I needed help with even the most basic things like getting dressed in the morning,” Smith said. “And with my background as caregiver, it took a lot to ask for help.”

Then at a turning point in her life, Smith had to decide if she was going to remain isolated in bed or on a couch or chair for the rest of her life. “People began to pity me when they saw the oxygen tubing,” Smith said. “Most of my friends worked so I lost those contacts and it was unsafe for me to do much of anything but sit and watch TV all day. I had no quality of life.”

So Smith set out to design a plan of action, just as she did in her management job. “I knew I had to strengthen my body and muscles again, so I committed to pulmonary rehab two to three days a week and I started swimming, which I’ve always loved,” she said. “And I decided to look into riding again.”

Smith didn’t realize, until she started researching, that a therapeutic riding stable, Eagles’ Wings, was right in her own back yard, in Piqua. “I emailed the stable and went to meet with them and though they hadn’t worked with a lot of adult disabled clients, they were great with me,” Smith said.

There she met Cutty, the retired show horse that became her lifesaver. “Cutty and I bonded right away,’ Smith said. “We are breathes of fresh air for each other. I was being mentally and physically challenged and so was she.”

According to Smith, almost everything she does involving horseback riding helps build her strength, from the simplest tasks of braiding her hair to putting on her riding boots, to swinging her legs over the horse on the saddle. “After three months of riding, I had measured results,” she said. “I could ride longer distances and get up and down without help and I can do simple tasks at home like folding laundry without it taking all day.”

The simple tasks of caring for a horse have helped Smith improve measurably and today she is well on the way to meeting her goals.

“I am now strong enough to actually plan one activity a day,” Smith said. “I ride once a week, swim, attend pulmonary therapy to keep my body strong and can now pursue my passions of painting, sculpting, crafting, and reading.” Smith was even able to go the local library on her own recently, which she described as a “great feeling.”

Smith’s devotion to equine therapy and the Eagles’ Wings Stable lead her to work with them on an upcoming fundraiser to help the stable provide sessions to disabled children and adults at low or no cost. The Eagles Wings Annual Fall Fest & Ride-A-Thon will be held on Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Miami County Fairgrounds in Troy from 9:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. and will feature Arctic Bright View, one of the horses that starred in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger.”

“This is an event to raise an awareness and funds for equine assistance and activities,” Smith said. “Most families may be only able to afford one or two sessions per year, which means that student may only get six weeks in the spring and fall and that’s only if their families can afford it. This event will also raise awareness about the types of disabilities positively impacted by equine therapy like autism and some physical disabilities. Horses can really change a life.”

For more information about the event at Eagles’ Wings, call (937) 726-8532.

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