Successful Aging

A World Without Barriers to Successful Aging

Image of  Vanessa ElliottImagine waking each morning with pain, stiffness, and swelling. So much so that you have difficulty walking or performing simple tasks such as feeding yourself. By only 62 years of age, this had slowly become a normal occurrence in Vanessa Elliott’s life.

She suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which limited the motion and function of many of her joints. Although she still lived independently, Vanessa relied heavily on her daughter, who worked full-time, to remain mobile. It was after the family decided to seek the help of PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) of Southwest Michigan that Vanessa’s life changed drastically.

Now retired PACE Medical Director and gerontologist, Keith VanOosterhout, MD, evaluated Vanessa’s condition and recommended she see local neurosurgeon, Christian Sikorski, MD, who revealed Vanessa was facing a much more serious diagnosis than she originally thought.

Dr. Sikorski explained that Vanessa’s rheumatoid arthritis had affected the joints between the base of her skull and the top of her spine resulting in incorrect alignment and severe spinal cord compression. She would need to undergo surgery to eliminate the risk of further alignment issues and instability. Without it, she ran a high risk of added injury and paralysis.

“Dr. Sikorski did a fantastic job explaining everything to me,” said Vanessa. “Some doctors can put fear in you when you get a diagnosis as serious as mine but he didn’t – I was never afraid about going into surgery.”

After a successful surgery, Vanessa spent the next two months at Pine Ridge: A Rehabilitation and Nursing Center working with physical and occupational therapists to regain the strength needed to return home. But her recovery didn’t end there.

Still wheelchair bound and unable to walk on her own, Vanessa continued to visit PACE four times a week. In the three years since her surgery Vanessa is now able to use a walker with limited assistance. She has also regained the use of her hands and arms which allows her to participate in the activities she once loved – jewelry making and
arts and crafts.

“PACE is very helpful to me because I have everything I need right here in one place,” said Vanessa. “If I wasn’t coming here I would likely just be sitting at home by myself. Instead people here care about me and I’ve made a lot of friends. This program is a real blessing to me – they more or less saved my life.”

Founded in 2012, PACE of Southwest Michigan is a community partnership between Lakeland Health, Caring Circle, and Area Agency on Aging. The non-profit organization serves adults over 55 years of age who have long term medical conditions with the goal of providing the care individuals need to remain safely at home.

For more information on PACE, please call (269) 408-4322 or visit

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