Appalachian Regional Healthcare System

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

Father able to walk daughter down the aisle after graduating from cardiopulmonary rehab

In life, few memories are more cherished than the ones formed when a father is able walk his daughter down the aisle for marriage. The custom, which symbolizes a lifetime of love, support and blessing between a doting dad and his little girl, makes for an emotional and highly anticipated day. This day seemed to be at hand for Dick Sloop, 66, of Wilkesboro when his daughter Maggie got engaged last fall.

Dick Sloop walks daughter Maggie down the aisle on her wedding day.

Dick Sloop walks daughter Maggie down the aisle on her wedding day.

As expected, Maggie, with her mother at her side, instantly sprung into wedding planning mode. Sloop joked afterward that his opinion mattered little when it came to decorating but his assistance was requested when it was time to pay the bill.

The fairy tale wedding preparations were well underway when tragedy struck early in the summer. After doing some yard work, Sloop complained to his wife, Sherry, of a pain in his chest and arm. Fearing the worst, Sherry raced her husband to the Emergency Room where it was determined that he had suffered a heart attack.

“It was pretty scary and unexpected,” said the retired serviceman who prides himself on staying in good shape. “After my successful surgery, I was cleared to go home but I was unable to function like normal.”

Hindered by his weakened heart condition, Sloop worried that he would be unable to escort his daughter on her wedding day. Disappointed by the timing and severity of the situation, he was pleased to learn from his doctor that there is an excellent cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program located in Boone.

Hopeful to return to full strength in time for the wedding he enrolled in the Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program (ACRP) offered at The Wellness Center in Boone. ACRP is a collaborative effort between Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Appalachian State University’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science. 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.

Dick Sloop with the Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Team.

Dick Sloop with the Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Team.

During his first session, Sloop was greeted by the ACRP team which consists of Exercise Physiologist and Appalachian State University professor, Dr. Jeff Soukup, an on-site physician, a respiratory therapist, a registered nurse, a registered dietitian and a handful of Dr. Soukup’s graduate assistants.

“I was blown away to see how many medical staff would be taking care of me,” said Sloop. “I told them that I viewed my heart attack as a one day unfortunate event. And, since I was able to live through it, I was not going to allow it to ruin the rest of my life.”

After conducting a Metabolic Exercise Study to determine his fitness capability and anaerobic threshold, the team constructed a unique upper and lower body exercise program for their patient. Throughout the entire course, the staff closely monitored and documented his day-to-day progress as he engaged the treadmill, recumbent bike and NuStep machine.

In addition, the programs registered dietitian assessed his eating habits and recommended, when necessary, some healthy alternatives. After only a few sessions, Sloop noticed a significant improvement in his ability to perform basic exercises without complication. A feat he had been unable to accomplish just a few days prior.

“He was stellar,” said Kathleen Collins, RN, who monitored his progress from the beginning. “He always had a good attitude and he wanted to improve. Having a goal to work for (his daughter’s wedding) served as a good motivator, too.”

Perhaps no one was more pleased with his steady progress than Maggie. When August rolled around she was elated to find that her father was healthy enough to still deliver her in marriage.

“As a girl, you dream about that moment,” said Maggie with a grin. “I will always remember how hard my dad worked in rehab to be at my side on the biggest day of my life.”

For more information about the Appalachian Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program offered in both Boone and Linville, call 828-268-9043 or visit

Interactive Heart Featured at 3rd Annual Heart Shape Event on February 7

February is heart month and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) is proud to sponsor its 3rd Annual Heart Shape event on Saturday, February 7, from 8 am – 12:45 pm at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center, located at 232 Boone Heights Drive in Boone.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature health screenings, a large, interactive heart, cardiology Health Talks, free fitness classes, Wellness Center tours and healthy cooking demonstration.

Health Screenings
Heart Shape will feature a variety of free screenings including, but not limited to: a Cardiology Risk Assessment, a Breathing Assessment and an Epworth Sleepiness Test. Vouchers for a Pocket EKG screening ($20), a cholesterol screening ($30) and a vascular screening ($20) will also be available for purchase at exclusive Heart Shape rates.

The first 10 people to sign-up for a Pocket EKG screening will receive a free voucher for the screening. Staff will be on hand during the event to provide more information about each screening. The vascular screening will be held February 24th at Watauga Medical Center.

Large Interactive Heart Display
In honor of this third anniversary, Heart Shape will feature a large, interactive, anatomically correct heart, 12 feet high by 16 feet wide and 13 feet long. This larger than life display will provide an intimate look at the heart valves and chambers, how blood flows through the heart, plaque buildup, heart disease and more!

Cardiology and Vascular Health Talks
The two-part Health Talk series will begin with a talk entitled “Cardiac Disease Q&A” by Cardiologist, Dr. Paul Vignola at 11 am in the Wellness Center Classroom. The second talk, entitled “Peripheral Artery Disease” by Vascular Surgeon, Dr. Peter Purcell will be given at 11:30 am. Both talks will feature prize drawings and an opportunity to ask questions.

Wellness Center Classes, Tours and Fitness Professionals
If you’re not already a member of the Wellness Center, Heart Shape is a great opportunity to check out the facility and excellent fitness professionals. Pending availability, participants can take advantage of free fitness classes, get tours of the facility and talk with fitness professionals about your individual fitness goals. The class schedule includes Spin and Zumba at 9:15 am, followed by Yoga, Stretch and Flex and Water Fitness at 10:15 am. All event participants will have access to use the locker rooms as needed throughout the day.

Healthy Cooking Demonstration
Heart Shape will conclude with a healthy cooking demonstration consisting of turkey chili, cheddar and chive biscuits and carrot cake offered at 12:15 pm.

To learn more about Heart Shape visit or call the Wellness Center at 828-266-1060.

Helping Deliver Healthy Babies

BabyHaving a baby can be one of the most wonderful times of your life. Welcoming a new little person into the world is a magical experience, and at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System we try to provide the perfect environment for your birth experience. Of course, having the baby is just a small piece of the puzzle. Helping moms have healthy pregnancies is an important goal of all of our physicians and medical staff. One way we do that is through qualified prenatal care. But not everything can be done in the doctor’s office. Much of what is necessary for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby is dependent on you, the mom.

Did you know that 1 in 33 children in the United States are born with a birth defect each year? Some of these are genetic, but some are preventable. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and it includes Folic Acid Awareness Week (January 4-10) to raise awareness of the importance of diet, exercise and proper prenatal care in having healthy babies.

Folic acid is important enough to have its own week because of the impact it plays in preventing birth defects. Getting the recommended daily amount of folic acid can prevent 50 to 70 percent of neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly.

It is recommended that all women of child-bearing years get at least 400 mg of folic acid a day. Folic acid is found in foods such as spinach, black beans and orange juice; fortified foods such as grains, pastas and cereals; and many multivitamins.

There are other steps you can take to help prevent birth defects. These include:

  • Avoiding alcohol. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders.
  • Avoiding cigarettes and illegal drugs, which among other things can lead to low birth weight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Keep diabetes under control.
  • Keep regular doctor visits. Those monthly, and eventually weekly, visits are important for monitoring blood pressure and other vital signs throughout a pregnancy. The more knowledge a doctor or midwife has of your medical history prior to labor and delivery, the smoother the whole process will go.

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, contact your doctor to be sure you are doing everything you can to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. For more information, contact Melonie Formwalt, Birthing Center Outreach & Education Coordinator at (828) 262-4285.