Smoking Took Her Husband and Her Son. Now She’s Ready to Quit.

Marilyn Powell knows all too well about the impacts of smoking.

She says she has no doubt that smoking contributed to the death of her father, her husband, even her oldest son who passed away in his sleep at 39 years old.

“Everybody in my family has died of heart attacks,” she says, most likely induced by years of smoking.

Powell, now 71, has narrowly avoided that same fate after suffering a stroke and heart attack more than a decade ago. She woke in the middle of the night and felt “like I was dying” before hitting the floor. She doesn’t remember much after that until she started rehab at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Fanny Allen campus in Colchester, Vermont.

The events, however, left their mark. Powell now requires a scooter to go anywhere outside of her apartment. She uses a walker inside her home.

Powell had her first cigarette when she was 16 years old. Later, she married, quit smoking, and had her first of four children. Eight years later, after her father suffered a stroke, the stress caused her to pick up a cigarette again. That one cigarette led to another, and another. Before she knew it, she was smoking two packs a day.

In a determined voice, Powell – known as Mally to her family and friends – says she wants to quit. But as any ex-smoker knows, that is easier said than done. She has tried cold turkey, the patch, and group meetings without success. Now, she’s trying again, but this time with the help of Gary Gilmond, MD, and a smoking cessation program at the new UVM Medical Center Adult Primary Care office in Essex, Vermont. The office is close enough to her home that Powell can take her scooter to appointments.

She’s also been able to receive in-person care at the UVM Medical Center Rehabilitation Therapy offices in Colchester for back trouble related to her stroke. Both have proven invaluable in getting Powell the care she needs safely, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sitting on her couch, her cat Buddy curled up on her lap, she cracks a smile.

“I felt totally fine, very safe,” Powell says of her visits to both the primary care office and the rehabilitation center.

Powell has cut her smoking down from her two-pack-a-day habit, she says. She has one pack left in the top of her fridge that she intends to make last. And she hopes that a prescription for lozenges recommended by Dr. Gilmond, along with more support, will help her quit for good. She also completed her physical therapy, which has helped restore some of the mobility she lost due to the stroke.

Still, Powell knows she still has a long road ahead, but she has already broken one family tradition by reaching her 71st birthday. Both of her parents died in their 60’s, so have others in her family. She blames smoking for much of that history.

“I know it would be better for my heart,” she says of quitting smoking, but Powell has another motivation as well.

“I would like to be around a little longer for my grandkids and my kids,” she says.

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