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Overcoming the unthinkable

Faculty Staff Fitness helps participant get back on her feet

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As she stood on the prow of a ship, ready to plunge 10 feet into the cold water beneath her, Heidi Henry held her head high, proud to be able to swim across the Columbia River with her peers.

Participating in the Hood River Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim was an accomplishment in itself for the more than 400 swimmers, but for Heidi, it was an incredible feat that only a few years ago seemed virtually impossible.

Heidi-Synergies2In 2010, Heidi was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and underwent a full hysterectomy as a result. Two years later, she suffered from a severe, rare, allergic reaction called necrotizing autoimmune mediated myopathy, a form of severe Polymyositis.

Her response to treatment left her paralyzed except for her head, hands and feet for about eight months. She then used a walker and crutches for another five months.

“The neurologists at OHSU and locally were not sure I would walk again, and certainly not without an assistive device such as a cane or crutches,” she says.

Heidi didn’t let the doctors’ diagnoses get her down. Instead, she took matters into her own hands and enrolled in Oregon State’s Faculty Staff Fitness (FSF) program in 2010.

“The classes, along with encouragement from instructors and other students, gave me the boost I needed to get better and improve my mental ‘can-do’ attitude.”

“After being in a wheelchair for eight months, I needed to learn to have balance and walk again,” she says. “The classes, along with encouragement from instructors and other students, gave me the boost I needed to get better and improve my mental ‘can-do’ attitude.”

She chose two FSF classes that were easy on her joints – weightlifting and water fitness, which included swimming laps and aerobic exercise.

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This photo of Heidi was taken on the day she swam across the Columbia River in the Hood River Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim.

After six months of using the lift to get in and out of the pool, she began to notice a slow comeback.

“Today, after PT taught me how to walk again and with the FSF classes for balance and muscle strengthening, I am 100 percent.”

Heidi now helps others manage their illness through her private business called Health Care Navigation Services for Women. She’s worked with clients with illnesses including colon cancer, brain aneurysm, breast cancer, lymphoma, MS and leukemia.

“I help people get super organized, collect and copy tests, build binders, take notes at appointments, help find resources for second and sometimes third opinions and clarify treatment steps,” she says. “It’s much like strategic planning for organizations.”

“Today, after PT taught me how to walk again and with the FSF classes for balance and muscle strengthening, I am 100 percent.”

She also owns Banner Nonprofits, LLC, a training, strategic planning and coaching firm that works with nonprofits and Main Street Programs around the Northwest, and is partners with her daughter in owning Mod Pod, a retail store in downtown Corvallis.

Coming from a family of Beaver alumni and having helped OSU Extension develop and deliver the Ford Family Foundation’s Leadership Program for rural communities in 2002, Heidi says she’s thankful for the opportunity to get back on track through Faculty Staff Fitness.

“I have always been a swimmer, a runner and a weight lifter, and I wanted to get to a point that I could prove to myself I could do something my doctors thought was impossible,” she says of her swim across the Columbia river.

Wading in the water preparing to begin the swim, Heidi looked around and saw hundreds of fellow swimmers having fun, dressed in funky outfits, towing blow-up toys and rubber duckies glued to their swim caps, and she knew this was the moment to prove she beat the odds set against her. She was going to swim across the Columbia River. And she did.