March 8, 2019

Aging Gracefully

Larry and Lisa Ritterbush

Larry and Lisa Ritterbush

In his role as an electrical engineer who was a contract employee for NASA, Larry Ritterbush worked to develop future technologies. But when he envisioned his retirement years, he never imagined being confined to a wheelchair, unable to care for himself and facing the possibility of having his foot amputated. Due to the comprehensive medical care he received at UAMS and the excellent diagnostic skills of his geriatrician, Larry now has a spring in his step and enjoys a high quality of life at his home in Nashville, Ark.

Multidisciplinary Care at UAMS

Larry began his UAMS experience in 2006 when his cardiologist, Dr. Eugene Smith, treated him for congestive heart failure. Dr. Gareth Tobler, a cardiothoracic surgeon, performed quadruple bypass surgery after tests revealed blockages that were near 100 percent.

After a sudden onset of extreme pain in his foot, Larry’s heart doctor referred him to the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. Larry was relieved to find that he was in good hands when his geriatrician, Dr. Gohar Azhar, also recognized that the situation was critical. Physical examination and tests revealed that Larry had a bone infection. After urgent treatment to heal the infection, Dr. Azhar worked with Larry to develop a practical and affordable home health plan, ensuring that Larry was able to return to his regular activities.

Like many seniors, Larry, who is 72 years old, has several health conditions, including diabetes and arthritis, that require ongoing monitoring. Patients of the UAMS Institute on Aging are treated by a multidisciplinary team of specialists who have received specialized training in the health management and treatment of older adults. “We have been so blessed by the whole team at UAMS. We don’t have to worry after we get home that everything wasn’t covered. And I believe this has added longevity to our lives,” Larry said.

Aging Well, Living Better

At the UAMS Longevity Clinic, the treatment approach is holistic, and aging specialists work to keep little problems from turning into big problems for patients age 65 and older. “What happens with older patients is that because they are seeing a number of specialists, their care can become very fragmented. I love to educate the patients as well as the caregivers. It’s a joy and a privilege for us to take care of our patients. We have much to learn from research, but even more to learn from our patients. The positive attitude of Mr. Ritterbush and his wife goes a long way in promoting the process of healing,” says Dr. Azhar.

The UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging is working to shift the focus of senior health care from merely extending life to making the later years healthier and more fulfilling. Ninety percent of Arkansans age 65 and older are within 60 miles of specialized geriatric care linked to a UAMS center. According to the Arkansas Healthy Aging Report, by 2025 one out of every four Arkansans will be 65 or older; this compares to 14 percent of Arkansans in 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2025, Arkansas will have the fifth highest percentage of elderly population in the nation.

With the start of a 55,000-square-foot-expansion, the aging institute is poised for growth and in a unique position to use state-of-the-art technology, research and patient care to meet the needs of Arkansans in the coming decades. As the largest generation of Americans ages, they want to remain active and, like Larry, enjoy activities such as going for walks, gardening and playing with their grandchildren.

Heart Care at UAMS

Larry’s wife, Lisa, is also a patient at UAMS. She began her medical treatment at UAMS as a heart transplant patient in 2002. When her husband needed to be treated by heart specialists, he turned to the same doctors who had provided the best medical treatment for his wife.

Lisa credits the UAMS heart team with saving her life, particularly Dr. Tobler, her heart transplant surgeon, and Dr. Smith, the cardiologist who monitored her during the lengthy hospital stay before her transplant. Dr. Tobler notes, “It’s always very gratifying to see my patients who are healthy many years after their surgical procedures. I am delighted that the Ritterbushes have done so well.”

Through the Cardiology Clinic at UAMS, Dr. Smith provides ongoing medical care to Larry and Lisa. He said, “The partnership with my patients and the patients’ ability to recognize problems is very important. I form a bond with my patients who need to be constantly monitored for life-threatening conditions. It’s exciting and inspiring to work with patients who, like Larry and Lisa Ritterbush, engage in the process of maintaining their health. Well managed patients can live full, productive and active lives.

Looking Forward to the Future

Lisa notes that if the resources at UAMS were not available, she and her husband would need to relocate away from their family and friends to live closer to their specialists. “We owe our life to UAMS. I’m so grateful to the heart team and all of the specialists who take such great care of us. Dr. Azhar keeps in touch with us weekly. Knowing that there’s someone there takes all the pressure and stress off so that we can enjoy our lives.