Woman,80, deals with loss of legs, vision

September 1, 2018 GMT

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Maria Cabey couldn’t see the boxing gloves being put on her hands; she’s been blind for more than a year.

Nor could she stand up and face the punching bag; she’s lost both legs, along with her vision, to diabetes.

But the 80-year-old could hear the music, and when a Latin song came over the airwaves at a Spotsylvania County gym where she exercises almost daily, Cabey started dancing in her wheelchair.

Cabey is from the Caribbean island of Dominica, and her accent — and rhythm — speak to her island roots. As the music played, she moved her arms, hips and even the stumps of both legs to the beat.


Others stopped what they were doing to watch Cabey, who then whaled away at the punching bag, smiling the whole time.

“She’s awesome,” said William Foxx, owner of Anytime Fitness at Spotsylvania Courthouse. “She’s a hard worker, consistent, pleasant, dedicated. She should inspire everyone to work out.”

Cabey’s family physician, Dr. Donna Gamache, thought the same. She suggested a story on Cabey because of the older woman’s positive attitude.

“I spend my days talking to people about taking care of themselves, and they all have excuses why they can’t do it,” Gamache said. “Ms. Cabey . is absolutely inspirational.”

Cabey is beginning to wonder if that’s her purpose at this stage of life. She hasn’t totally accepted that diabetes caused her ailments — she said she’s always been too active and eaten too well to believe she had the disease.

But she’s also realized there comes a time when it’s pointless to ponder the past.

“I have come to the conclusion it was meant to be,” she said, speaking softly, “and I’m not gonna fight it.”

Being overweight and physically inactive typically contribute to the onset of diabetes, but genetics and family history also play key roles, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Cabey had both knees replaced about a decade ago when she was living in Alabama. She said everyone around her was amazed that she kept right on moving.

“If you had seen me digging the soil with a heavy plow after I had the first knee replacement, digging my garden, you would know,” she said.

She believes circulation problems started after that and eventually resulted in both legs being removed above the knees. The first was in May 2016 and the second in February 2017. There were vision problems throughout, and total blindness set in shortly after the second amputation.


Cabey moved in with her youngest daughter, Noreen Ash, in Spotsylvania about three years ago. Ash said her mother has diligently taken her diabetes medication since then, but she doesn’t know about before.

She believes her mother was diagnosed with diabetes about 25 years ago.

As expected, Cabey dealt with some depression after the second amputation and vision loss.

“She’s very independent,” Ash said. “It’s been hard for her, not being able to do the stuff that she used to do. But she’s coming to terms with the situation. It took a little while, but it’s coming.”

Cabey came to the United States for a better way of life about 40 years ago. She earned her master’s degree in social work, and while living in New York, walked to a nearby park almost every morning. She regularly walked to and from her job, as well.

She confirmed there were times, after the amputations, when she didn’t have a firm grip on what was happening to her. Only when an occupational therapist showed her how to put on her underwear did she realize how much her life had changed.

“Now, I’m getting better in my understanding,” she said, her voice growing stronger as she focused on the here and now. “Most of us like to talk about the things we don’t have, but we don’t embrace what we do have. I am very, very, very blessed with the things that I can do.”

Just getting out of the house has brought improvements for Cabey, her daughter said. The older woman has an aide, Monique Pierce, who’s with her daily, and Cabey keeps her hopping. The two started going to the gym almost a year ago and usually take in aerobics class at least once a week.

“I’ll say, ‘Do eight more’ and she’ll take over from there,” said Lisa Rose, the aerobics instructor. “She’s not shy at all. She always has a big smile on her face.”

Other times, Cabey and Pierce hit the equipment. Pierce rolls Cabey’s chair up to a weight bar, sets the amount she’s lifting at 15 to 20 pounds, and stands in front of her, ready to help.

After the weight bar and punching bag, Pierce positions Cabey’s locked wheelchair at a certain point in the floor. Then, Pierce quietly instructs Cabey to put out her right or left hand to grab the ends of a thick rope.

Cabey wraps her spindly fingers around each end and whips the conditioning rope, up and down or side to side. Often, she sucks in her lips in concentration. Her flexed muscles are obvious under her purple T-shirt, and it’s clear that a strong core keeps her from toppling out of the chair.

After the workout, she heads to the bathroom. Some might scoff at the notion of showering in a gym, but Cabey thanks God for the facility because she doesn’t have a roll-in shower at home.

She insisted that a reporter watch her demonstrate, while fully clothed and water off, how she maneuvers from the chair to the shower stall.

“You see how blessed I am?” she said, referring to the popular phrase that God opens a window after he closes a door. “He only opens windows. That is my belief.”


Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com