Vail Valley woman walking by faith
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Vail Valley resident Dolores Gonzales, 79, is sure of one thing – she’s going to walk again, and soon.
It has been less than half a year since Gonzales, of Minturn, underwent a risky spinal cord surgery that doctors said could leave her unable to walk again, but Gonzales has other plans.
“I promised myself that I’d walk on my 80th birthday,” said Gonzales, who turns 80 on July 24. “I told that to my physical therapists and said, ‘OK, that’s where you come in.'”
On Monday afternoon at 4 Eagle Ranch’s annual senior’s luncheon, Gonzales surprised many of her friends by arriving for the event with her children and husband, looking strong and peppy as ever.
She has been recovering at a senior care center in Carbondale since the operation in February, and many had not seen her since then. Friends showered her with hugs and kisses, and many leaned over to say, “You’ve been in my prayers.”
Those aren’t remarks that Gonzales takes lightly. She credits the fact that the surgery was successful and that she has been progressing well in her recovery to her Christian faith and a positive attitude.
Over a year ago, Gonzales’ legs began to feel numb. At first she thought it was a new medication she was taking. Then, after a series of doctors visits, misdiagnoses, and scans, doctors found a tumor inside her spinal cord.
The tumor was the size of a breakfast sausage, and doctors told her if they didn’t operate, she would be paralyzed, said Gonzales’ daughter, Lorraine Vasquez. Also, the surgery would be very dangerous, and there was no guarantee she would ever walk again.
Gonzales said that for some reason, the news didn’t phase her.
“The doctor said, ‘This is a very, very radical (procedure),'” she said. “But I said, ‘You know what? Jesus’ power is more powerful than anything that is in my back.”
Many friends and family gathered around her during that time, she said, and she made a point of walking into her surgery on her own.
“I didn’t make any arrangements going into the surgery. I guess you know that you know that you know,” she said. “I figured that all those prayers and all that love can’t go up in smoke.”
In fact, she was comforting her husband and children, and even prayed over the hands of the surgeon before the operation.
“I was really scared, but there was no other option than to have the surgery,” said her son, Jim Gonzales. “We all just hoped and prayed. We were a mess – she wasn’t.”
The surgery was successful, and doctors didn’t find any cancer. Dolores Gonzales’ positive attitude continues as she undergoes rehab at Heritage Senior Center in Carbondale.
She might be one of the few post-surgery patients to ever call rehabilitation therapy “wonderful.” Despite being away from home for months, she said, she’s had a great experience and is getting stronger daily.
“I can stand and walk on a walker now,” she said. “I still have a long way to go, but sometimes I can walk up to six times around the facility.”
Not that the experience hasn’t been challenging at times, she admits. Besides being separated from Amadeo, her husband of more than 60 years, she misses her active lifestyle.
“It’s been hard for (my family) to grasp this,” she said. “I used to do snowshoeing and snowmobiling and all sorts of things. I’m a ‘do’ person. This has taught me to slow down, and I’ve been learning patience.”
Her children seem as amazed as anyone at her determination and optimism.
“She’s been a huge inspiration to all of us. She’s a real hero,” said Jim Gonzales.
And not only is Dolores Gonzales determined to walk again – she has big plans for when she does.
“We take a trip to Alaska every year,” she said. “I guess this year we can’t, but maybe next year. I’m ready for another adventure.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.
Snow usually comes and goes in this part of the state. A forecasted storm is expected to stick around for a while. Forecasters are calling for snow to persist throughout the weekend in the high country, with a prospect of a couple of feet of powder by the time the storm starts to diminish on Monday.