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Rehab keeps man, 99, going

ROCKFORD (AP) – Chellis French recited a short poem during one of his weekly pulmonary rehabilitation visits last month at Rockford Memorial Hospital.

Longtime respiratory therapist Deb Balluff still can recite it by memory.

“Ask me how I’m doing. I’ll tell you I’m doing fine. For after all, today I’m 99,” she recalled.

The day was Oct. 23, French’s 99th birthday. The Rockford resident brought a cake to his appointment to thank the staff and Dr. Zaher Qassem for “keeping me going until my 99th birthday,” he said Nov. 22 at the hospital.

“I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it,” French said of the exercise he does three times a week in the rehab department. “That’s what I used to tell my daughter about where I worked. I’ve been here a couple years, and that’s what’s helping to keep me going.

“[But] I don’t want to give them all the credit.”

Balluff is familiar with French’s sharp wit, which is usually on display Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when he’s pedaling a recumbent bicycle or using a weight machine in the pulmonary rehab department. Qassem, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine, said French is a good patient who follows orders.

“He’s very good. I think between the oxygen and the pulmonary rehab [it’s] what’s helping him,” Qassem said.

A bout with pneumonia landed French in the hospital a few years ago. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a damaging and scarring of the lung tissue that causes shortness of breath.

Qassem told French to use oxygen during the evenings and a portable oxygen machine during the day. And he sent French to pulmonary rehab.

The rehab helps improve lung function and quality of life for patients, and it can help keep them out of the hospital, Qassem said.

French joked about his secrets to living a long life.

“I always tell people it’s good, clean living, and then I smile because I haven’t lived up to that all my life,” French said. “The other thing I tell people is to think young.”

“I think he has had a good intention,” Qassem said. “He’s not like one of the people who gives up. He’s willing to try more things.”

“I have a good attitude,” French said with a loud laugh. “But I miss [rehab] every once and awhile.”

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