By Lucas Bechtol, The Bryan Times
A doctor once said Helen Stahl wouldn’t live beyond 39.
“The doctor came in and shook his finger right at me and told my mom, ‘That girl, if she lives to be 39 she’ll be really lucky,'” Stahl said. “We all had something. The other kids had measles, but I don’t know what was wrong with me. To this day I don’t know.”
Now she’s 99 and wants God to tell that doctor to look down on her now, to show him he was wrong.
Goal to reach 100
Stahl is currently in hospice care through Community Health Professionals and has received services for around three years.
She has one goal: to reach 100 years old. She’s not afraid to tell you about it either, proudly proclaiming the days left until her April 14 birthday.
When she reaches her milestone, she will be the only member of her family “clear down to my great-great-grandfather” to reach the century mark, Stahl said.
“My dad and two sisters lived to be 99,” she said.
She’ll be celebrating her birthday with her family, who will have to come to visit her at Harrison Lake, as she can’t leave the house.
A sharp mind and keen memory
Despite her age, Stahl still has a good command of her memory, remembering an incident way back when she was only two-years-old.
“My dad burnt my dress off of me,” she said. “He smoked a pipe, Mom wouldn’t let him smoke in the house on account of us kids, so Mom took me and dressed me up real pretty to go to town. I said, ‘Dad, fire!’ Dad looked down and he just took my dress off and threw it down. I didn’t get one burn on me.”
Stahl can also recite “The house that Jack built,” a nursery rhyme she learned in the first grade.
Although things will still slip her mind, it’s not usually for very long, according to Jen Johantgen, a social worker for CHP who visits with Stahl regularly.
“It just went down the hill, it’ll be back,” Johantgen said when Stahl forgot a tiny detail. “That’s what she says to me.”
Her secret to a long life
What’s the secret to a long life?
“Working, working, working,” Stahl said.
She started working around 14 years old when her mother was bed-ridden after giving birth to one of her siblings. Stahl left school after two weeks in the eighth grade to take care of her mother and siblings and never returned.
Her mother recovered and Stahl worked at grocery store.
Even now, she keeps busy, enjoying playing the harmonica and sewing, making clothes for dolls and even a blanket.
Reviewing the impact of a life lived
Johantgen has been working with Stahl around a year and a half and they find ways to keep active.
“We like to sing together,” Stahl said. “We laugh together and say cute things. I love her…and the 14th of every month she brings me an angel food cake.”
Johantgen said sometimes they just talk.
“I love listening to her stories. It’s important for people at the end of their life to review it, to feel they made an impact and she has,” she said.
Deb Widdowson, community liaison for CHP, said there are many misconceptions about hospice that she works to debunk in her job.
Stahl is a perfect example of the misconception that people only go into hospice during the last few days of their lives.
All it takes to go on hospice, Widdowson said, is having a terminal illness with a life expectancy of no more than six months.
“It’s not unusual for people to live beyond those six months,” Widdowson said.
There are a number of reasons for this. One belief is that hospice care in general simply helps increase the quality of life.
“We believe with our services the quality of life can improve over what they had because of the care and attention given,” she said.
Not all hospices are the same
Another misconception is the belief that all hospices are the same. In fact, different organizations offer different services. Some are for-profit while others are non-profit.
CHP is a nonprofit agency. The difference comes down to finances.
“For-profit agencies tend to be more selective in who they take on as a patient depending on insurance coverage or financial means,” she said. “We accept insurance and if there’s a shortfall, we have a patient care fund supported by community fundraising events to help with that.”
Another important difference with CHP is that it’s locally-based, so nurses and staff are familiar faces and names. Response times are much shorter if the patient or family needs a nurse right away.