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Springfield Gardens elder bypasses aging at 99

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Longtime Springfield Gardens resident Bessie Nixon will turn 99 this Saturday, but she would not have made it this far if not for her cardiologist and the hearts of her devoted family.

On Dec. 26, Nixon underwent a five−hour bypass procedure at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital after she complained about having breathing problems. A week later, she said was back on her feet, enjoying life to the fullest.

Before she blew out the candles with her daughters and grandchildren in an early birthday celebration Friday, Nixon personally thanked the doctor who saved her life at the hospital.

“I know I’m lucky,” she said. “I’m lucky to have the doctors I’ve had.”

Dr. Gustave Pogo said Nixon was one of the strongest patients he has ever treated. When she arrived at North Shore on Dec. 23, the grandmother of four was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and a leaking mitral valve. Further tests showed she had two blocked arteries, according to Pogo.

At first, the doctor wanted to treat Nixon with medication, but she urged him to go for the open−heart surgery.

“Other than her heart, she was in such good shape. She doesn’t smoke or have diabetes or anything like that,” Pogo said.

The doctor said he was more surprised when Nixon was released from the hospital a week after the surgery with a clean bill of health.

“It’s unusual because patients at her age would have to go through rehab,” he said.

Nixon said the secret to her strength comes from her decades of healthy living and the help of her family. The grandmother, who has lived in Springfield Gardens since 1955, said her parents taught her to avoid unhealthy life choices, such as smoking and junk food, and be active in her community.

Nixon passed those lessons onto her three daughters: Bessie Reynolds, 78, Juanita McCray, 75, and Ruby Landeau, 69.

“My mother is a health nut,” McCray said. “She walks religiously. She takes vitamins religiously.”

The sisters help Nixon maintain that lifestyle by taking care of her specific needs. Reynolds said she buys groceries for her mother and McCray handles her medical needs, while Landeau takes care of Nixon’s finances. Nixon said she alerted her daughters about her heart problems before she called North Shore, where she has gone for checkups for nearly 40 years.

“She was in very good condition and she just said she didn’t feel great,” McCray said.

Nixon encouraged women of all ages to get their families involved and start a healthy lifestyle so they can enjoy their golden years.

“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, go to church and treat your body well,” she advised. “The doctors and the Lord will treat you well.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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