Girl with cerebral palsy bonds with pet therapy dog at The Rehabilitation Center

Ann Winkler is an 8-year-old, third-grade student at Hardin Park Elementary School, in Boone, N.C. She has an infectious smile, a playful spirit and a hunger for learning new things in the classroom. At home, her favorite activities include planting seeds in the garden with dad and assisting mom with the baking in the kitchen. Ann’s familiar and feel good story is only possible, however, thanks to her adoptive parents who selflessly agreed to adopt her after she suffered a prenatal stroke that left her with cerebral palsy.

Ann and Leo have become good friends.

Ann and Leo have become good friends.

Before signing the papers to adopt Ann through the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, her doctors cautioned William and Janta Winkler that their would-be daughter would never develop beyond the cognitive understanding and physical ability of a baby.

“We thanked the doctors for sharing their professional assessment with us, but told them that the future is not for us to know,” said Janta. “We felt that the Lord was bringing the three of us together for a reason and we acted on faith.”

For the Winkler’s, who were unable to have children of their own, adopting Ann was a dream come true. “We could not wait to bring her home and provide her with an over abundance of love, family and support,” said William.

Fortunately, despite her doctor’s fears, Ann’s cognitive ability did progress beyond infancy in a healthy proportion to her age. However, in order for her to combat her motor deficiencies and still function in a traditional classroom, she began weekly after school physical therapy sessions at The Rehabilitation Center, in Boone.

Ann, who normally operates out of a specialized wheelchair, struggles to do basic motor functions like sitting up or walking without assistance. As a result, her physical therapist, Melia Pinnix, PT, NCS, uses a variety of tools such as a harnessed treadmill to help develop Ann’s limited physical functionality.

“I admire her willingness to come in here after a long day at school and work hard,” said Pinnix. “She always has a positive attitude but on occasion she needs a little extra motivation.”

Ann’s extra motivation comes in the canine form. Leo, a 110-pound Bernese Mountain Dog, recently went through the certification process with the help of his owners Steve Coleman and Ellie Austin to become a Pet Therapy volunteer at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Steve Coleman, Leo, William and Janta Winkler and Melia Pinnix surround Ann Winkler in love and support.

Steve Coleman, Leo, William and Janta Winkler and Melia Pinnix, PT surround Ann Winkler in love and support.

The PAWS Pet Therapy Program reminds patients that it’s okay to “paw-se” and experience joy throughout the treatment process. The program, which currently includes eight active pet therapy dogs and their handlers, was established earlier this year. Each volunteer pet and handler must be licensed pet therapists and vetted by the healthcare system before visiting with patients. Once approved, the volunteers are provided with their own hospital badges to wear on their respective collars while on duty.

Leo began visiting Ann at The Rehabilitation Center a few months ago and they bonded quickly. During therapy, he stays by her side, ready at a moment’s notice to provide a hug or a sloppy wet kiss of encouragement. Pinnix has also found ways to incorporate Leo into her therapy. On occasion, she will ask Ann to walk across the room to Leo, who is patiently waiting and wagging his tail in approval. On other instances, Leo and Ann have sitting contests to see who can sit-up straight the longest. Ann always wins.

“Ann talks about Leo at home and she looks forward to going to physical therapy now because of him,” said Janta with a grin. “As a parent, to know that there are people like Steve and Ellie and dogs like Leo who are willing to volunteer their time to bring this much joy to my little girl’s heart is unbelievable.”

Since starting her physical therapy at The Rehabilitation Center in 2013, her doctors have marveled at her steady improvement. She can now sit on the floor, without assistance, for up to five minutes at a time. She can also walk with trunk assistance over short distances.

“A few years ago we started sending an annual Christmas card to Ann’s birth doctors with a description of her progress,” said William. “Each year, they are blown away by her strides of improvement. She is truly a miracle and we feel blessed to have so much local support from The Rehabilitation Center and The PAWS Pet Therapy Program at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.”

For Ann, the future is uncertain. Her ultimate potential is hard to predict as she continues to exceed the expectations set before her. Although, she has a host of challenges to still overcome her prayerful parents feel more resolved than ever. With their love, Pinnix’s help and the encouragement of her four-legged accountability partner, Ann feels well-equipped to continue to defy the odds.

To learn more about The PAWS Pet Therapy Program visit To learn more about The Rehabilitation Center at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System visit

AngioScreen® Available at Watauga Medical Center

On Tuesday, February 24th, Watauga Medical Center (WMC) will offer AngioScreen® – a simple, non-invasive vascular screening designed to provide men and women with information about heart rhythm, neck and leg artery blockage, blood pressure, and body mass index in addition to an overall fitness assessment.

AngioScreen® vascular screening to be held at Watauga Medical Center on Tuesday, February 24.

AngioScreen® vascular screening to be held at Watauga Medical Center on Tuesday, February 24.

The cost of the screening is $20 and vouchers may be purchased by calling (828) 268-8960. A limited number of appointments are available for the one-day screening on February 24th. Patients with abnormal screening results may be referred to a specialized physician in cardiology or vascular disease, if needed.

Vascular disease may occur when calcium deposits or fats build up in the arteries. This build up narrows the vessels to the point where blood can no longer pass through. The screening reveals information about the patient’s circulation health and may help determine their risk for heart attack or stroke.

“Our goal is to provide our patients with the best cardiovascular services available at a location close to home,” said Lesley Hastings, Director of Cardiovascular Services at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Watauga Medical Center recently added a peripheral vascular lab to complement the existing cardiovascular services. The lab allows Watauga Medical Center to treat patients with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) via angioplasty, stents and atherectomy procedures.

To schedule an AngioScreen® vascular screening appointment, call 828-268-8960. To learn more about Cardiac Services at Watauga Medical Center visit

Keep Your Blood Flowing with Healthy Arteries

Think of your heart as a central traffic hub, and your arteries are the freeways that allow things to keep moving. No one wants a traffic jam in their bodies. When blood can’t flow through at the rate it’s supposed to, it puts us at a higher risk for blood clots, stroke or a heart attack.

February is Heart Month, and we’re celebrating in many ways. Maybe you attended our Heart Shape event, or you’re wearing red to bring attention to the incidence of heart disease in women.

We also have another event that will help you find out just how much of your arteries are clogged, and whether the freeways in your body are running smoothly or are starting to look like a 5:00 traffic jam in Atlanta.

On Tuesday, February 24, Watauga Medical Center is offering an AngioScreen® vascular screening, for $20. The screening is a simple procedure that provides you with information about your heart rhythm, neck and leg arteries and your circulation, giving you a sense of your own risk for heart disease and stroke.

Healthy ArteryKnowing your AngioScreen® score is helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but there are other ways to help prevent clogged arteries as well. One way to help prevent clogged arteries is by controlling your cholesterol levels through diet. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables while staying away from saturated fats is the best way to keep your cholesterol levels in check. That means meals with broccoli, leafy greens, zucchini and peppers. For proteins, switch out red meat for fish, turkey or chicken for a lighter, lower cholesterol option.

It’s also important to limit your sodium intake. The average American eats 3,600 mg of sodium a day, but the American Heart Association says we should aim for no more than 1,500 mg per day. Eating fewer processed foods, limiting the amount of salt you use when you cook, and buying low or no-salt versions of canned foods are all simple ways to decrease your sodium intake.

And of course, regular exercise is an important part of warding off cardiovascular disease. Get yourself moving by walking your dog, riding your bike, or running with a friend, and your heart will thank you!

To reserve your appointment time for a vascular screening, call (828) 268-8960.

Joe Carriere returns to active lifestyle thanks to Cardiopulmonary Rehab

Good teachers are able to teach life lessons not found in textbooks. Their innate ability to listen, discern and encourage others even when faced with adversity is a skill set uniquely their own. This was certainly the case for retired educator Joe Carriere, 63, of Linville, N.C.

Joe Carriere with Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Beth Ann Scott.

After rehab, Joe Carriere poses with Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Beth Ann Scott.

The Georgia native, who moved to the High Country with his wife Rebecca in 1986, taught and coached both middle and high school students for 33 years before retiring from education 2006. Unfortunately, his carefree retirement years were cut short in the summer of 2014, when his mother passed away at Mission Hospital, in Asheville, N.C. Ironically, the following day he awoke with chest pain and was raced back to the hospital.

“They told me that I had a 99 percent blockage in one artery and a 23 percent blockage in another,” said Carriere. “I quickly learned the severity of my situation when I was told that my only option was bypass surgery, so that’s what we did.”

After his successful surgery, he was unable to perform basic motor functions due to his pain level and weakened heart condition. In order to improve his health, his doctors recommended that he participate in a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program.

Carriere, who was still coming to grips with the loss of his mother, was pleased to learn that there was a rehabilitation program conveniently located two miles away from his home in Avery County.

After being discharged from the hospital he enrolled in Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program (ACRP) at Cannon Memorial Hospital. The 12-week, 36-session program is designed to utilize exercise, nutrition, and clinical support to help its participants achieve their highest level of functionality while improving their quality of life.

During his first session Carriere met Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Beth Ann Scott, CES. Initially, she had him participate in a Metabolic Exercise Study to determine his baseline fitness capability and anaerobic threshold. Scott and her team, consisting of two respiratory therapists, a registered nurse and three graduate assistants training to become exercise physiologists at Appalachian State University, used the results to design a rehabilitation program unique for Carriere.

The team knew, based on his condition, that Carriere would be unable to safely exercise much of his upper body during rehab. Therefore, they created a specialized lower body program for him, which included use of the treadmill, stationary bike and eventually the NuStep machine. While exercising, the ACRP team closely monitored his vital signs and documented his day-to-day progress.

In addition, the program also incorporates a nutrition component by bringing in a registered dietitian to encourage healthy eating habits for each patient.

“I was very impressed with the professionalism of the staff and the program’s state-of-the-art facility,” said Carriere. “Everyone was encouraging and they helped me stay motivated throughout the entire program.”

It did not take long for Joe to start seeing results. After only a few sessions, he noticed a significant improvement in his ability to exercise longer and feel stronger.

“Joe’s positive attitude, paired with his consistent attendance, paid off tremendously,” said Scott. “At the conclusion of the three month program, we noticed a substantial increase in his anaerobic threshold. This meant that he could now participate in aerobic exercise for longer periods of time without complication.”

Welcome news for Carriere, who fought to keep a positive attitude throughout the entire ordeal. “As I have always taught my students, it is so very important to never give up. Instead, thanks in large part to the ACRP program, I was able to honor my mother’s memory and return to a healthy and active lifestyle.”

For more information about the Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program offered in both Linville and Boone, call 828-737-7069 or visit

Get to Know Your Heart this February!

National Heart Month

Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States? It is also a leading cause of disability, keeping many Americans from working and enjoying a healthy lifestyle.stethscope-heart

On the bright side, there are many things you can do to help prevent cardiovascular disease. That is why February is so important. The American Heart Association has designated it as National Heart Month, to help raise awareness of the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and educate people on how to control those risk factors and live healthier lives.

According to the CDC, some of the risk factors you can control include:

  • Your diet
  • Your level of physical activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol

Heart Shape

As you work toward those goals of controlling the risk factors listed, remember you’re not alone. We’re here to help! To celebrate heart month, we are holding our 3rd Annual Heart Shape event on February 7 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center.  Join us for this fun and educational event that includes a health fair, health screenings, an opportunity to take fitness classes including Zumba, spinning, and yoga, the Ameriheart Exhibit which is a large, interactive working model of a heart, and health talks with cardiologist Dr. Paul Vignola and vascular surgeon Dr. Peter Purcell.

Heart Health Doesn’t Stop with Prevention

Luckily, even though cardiovascular disease is the number one killer, many people do survive a heart attack or stroke. Many times that may mean a long road to recovery, and rehabilitation after the initial hospital stay plays a very important part in that journey. National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, which takes place during National Heart Month in the week of February 8-14, is set aside to recognize the role cardiac rehabilitation plays in reducing the potentially devastating effects of heart disease. We have two great cardiac rehabilitation facilities within our system, the Wellness Center in Boone and at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville, both staffed with highly trained people who are there to educate and help inspire patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease and enjoy a healthier future.

Come to the 3rd Annual Heart Shape event to tour the Wellness Center and see where much of the rehab work takes place. Click here to learn more about the event.