A Reservoir of Salvation : College’s pool exercise class offers strength, hope to the uninsured.


When she was discharged from a Long Beach hospital three years ago, Eloina Adame couldn’t walk or feed herself.

Her medical insurance coverage was exhausted, and Adame owed $150,000 for her treatment. Continued physical therapy for her neurological condition--Guillain-Barre syndrome--was out of the question.

Today, the 62-year-old Laguna Hills woman ably gets around with the aid of a cane and can care for herself. She credits a water exercise class at Saddleback College for the dramatic turnaround that has astounded her doctors.


“They thought I was never going to walk again,” Adame said. “They call me the Miracle Lady. I say it’s because of the pool. It has been a godsend to me.”

The three-foot-deep pool at the college is a last resort for some South County residents whose insurance coverage for rehabilitative services has been tapped out or canceled. For Adame and others who have suffered strokes or other serious injuries and ailments, the shallow pool is like a reservoir of salvation.

“It’s the only thing I can get,” said Mitzi Paul, a 24-year-old Dana Point woman whose health insurance company dropped her eight months after she suffered a serious head injury in early 1993, when a drunk driver hit her car head-on at Camp Pendleton.

Paul, who was working 60 hours a week in two jobs, including one for a small firm in Irvine, said the insurance company found a loophole and canceled her policy. Because she was no longer employed as an office manager, she wasn’t entitled to further coverage, she was told by insurance officials.

Gone was $5 million in lifetime medical insurance that Paul thought she had. Confined to a wheelchair, the woman was in the middle of extensive therapy for her legs, arms and speech when the insurance safety net ripped open. Three hours of therapy per day cost $500. She had $300 in her savings account.

Paul heard about the water exercise class at Saddleback College through a staff member at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo. A handful of hospital workers in the county know of the program and suggest it as an option to those searching for a way to rebuild or strengthen themselves.


“I want to walk again,” Paul said. “If I don’t give up, maybe no one else will.”

Other students before Paul have benefited from the water’s buoyancy, said course instructor Ron Hastings.

Hastings said that the class, “Adaptive Water Exercise and Swimming,” is not considered physical therapy by definition of the medical Establishment. Nor is it a cure-all when compared to other forms of physical therapy in a hospital setting.

Yet people continue to seek out the pool.

The class has been offered for 12 years through the college’s Special Services Department. It is also available at Leisure World. Swim instructors are mostly Saddleback College students enrolled in classes for physical therapy training.

More than two dozen people use the class to supplement medical outpatient rehabilitation or continue a program after completing prescribed physical therapy.

Hastings said that water reduces a person’s weight, based on how submerged they are in the pool. The effect: They can work on balance, strength and coordination with greater ease than on land, where the force of gravity pulls harder.

“A lot of people can’t walk without the aid of crutches and braces, but in the water, they can,” said Hastings, who joked to his students last week that their final exam depended in part on the quality of home-baked cookies they would be sharing.


Loren Coleman, a 61-year-old San Juan Capistrano resident, started the class after his stepdaughter who works at the campus told him about it.

Coleman suffered a brain injury when a horse fell on him in a 1987 accident in Temecula. He didn’t have health insurance. After months of physical therapy, Coleman said doctors told him they could do no more to help him regain use of his legs.

Since joining the class nine weeks ago, Coleman said he can notice a difference in his balance and gait.

“I’m doing a lot better,” a grinning Coleman said recently, as he held onto the pool deck and moved his leg in circular motion.

Pete Frame has been going to the class for three years. A hip replacement and quadruple bypass heart surgery have kept his workout program wet.

“I think this is really a marvelous experience,” said Frame, a 73-year-old San Clemente resident. “I’ve seen people of all kinds come in here--people with strokes, hip replacements, knee replacements, also a few people with multiple sclerosis.”


For Carole Shortt, the pool is a place to “experience life.”

Shortt, 52, of Dana Point, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and cannot walk.

But in the water she can swim.

“This is where I can come and be normal,” Shortt said. “This is interaction. It’s stretching, bending and relating.”

Paul hopes the water is a way back to a life more like the one she knew before the January, 1993, accident plunged her into a coma for six weeks and left her broke.

“It was the only thing I could afford, this class,” Paul said, adding that doctors told her they can’t say for sure if she will walk again.

Paul is determined to try.

“They thought I wouldn’t even talk,” she said. “And I blew them away with that.”