ACT III: Dr. Lorna Andrade

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Dr. Lorna Andrade and her dog Suki. -Siobhan Beasley

The Island’s first baby boomers turn 70 this year. Our 65-plus population is growing far faster here on the Island than in the of the rest of the U.S., and by 2030, they will represent nearly a third of our population. So who are these folks, and what do they mean to the Vineyard? Over the coming year, we’ll be taking a closer look at people who are in “Act III” of their lives, and as you’ll see, they’re far from a monolithic group.

When we say that Dr. Lorna Andrade of Edgartown is two years into retirement, we use that term loosely. Suffice it to say that instead of teaching full-time at area colleges and heading numerous hospital task forces and initiating vital nursing programs, she now devotes her time to consulting, guest lecturing, and workshop planning. By her own count, the number of Island boards she serves on has dropped from 20 to a mere handful. However you cut it, Lorna remains a woman on a mission.

Dr. Andrade, who is 67, has dedicated her life to the field of health education and services. A nurse for 45 years, she holds a doctorate degree a bachelor’s degree in nursing education and two masters degree (an MBA and a ME.d). She has taught at a half-dozen Boston-area colleges and teaching hospitals, and she has founded numerous programs that have brought learning and employment opportunity to countless young adults. She’s an awardwinner many times over. To understand the passion and resolve that have underscored her life work, and that continue to drive her, it is necessary to look back.

At the age of 4, Lorna Chambers of Roxbury was named poster girl for the newly inaugurated Massachusetts Chapter of the March of Dimes. A newspaper photograph from 1953 shows Lorna, wearing leg braces, sitting in the lap of Governor Christian Herter and surrounded by Boston dignitaries.

She recalls the scene vividly. “Mr. Herter was wonderful with me. He talked with me in a sincere way and helped me relax. They asked me to smile, so I just kept smiling.” The March of Dimes was launched by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to combat the illness that struck him as a young man and that would eventually reach epidemic proportions in the United States. The illness was polio, a word that still resonates darkly with older Americans. Between 1945 and 1955, an average of 30,000 new cases occurred.

Lorna knew none of that at the time. She knew only that there was something wrong with her legs, that she could not do what the other children did. At least she was not in an iron lung. That had been the year before, at age 3, during her first of many hospital visits. Other memories from that visit would stay with her: “I will never forget the noise. All around me children were crying. And I remember the long needles; I would be tied down while a doctor gave me injections. They were very painful. My parents would rock me in their arms and say over and over, ‘It’s going to be all right.’”

Told she would never walk without braces or crutches, Lorna forged on with increasing determination and courage. She endured corporal punishment from impatient teachers and taunting from classmates. Through it all, Lorna’s home was her sanctuary. There she felt the unconditional love and encouragement of her parents and grandparents.

Then, medicine and faith came together to produce a miracle. Multiple operations had gradually repaired the damaged muscles and tendons in Lorna’s legs and feet. And, since her first hospitalization eight years earlier, the Christ Temple Church of Roxbury had held special holy prayers healing sessions for Lorna. Her paralysis abated. At age 11, she was able to walk.

Thus began an extraordinarily productive stretch in Lorna’s life. Tempered by her childhood ordeals and buoyed by her family’s support, her mission was underway. After completing high school, she went on to gain degrees from four different colleges in nursing and related medical fields.

She held professorships in nursing education, in medical and surgical nursing, and in gerontology education. Where she saw gaps in educational and service opportunities, she created programs to fill them. She was appointed by Governors Weld and Celluci to the Massachusetts State Board of Nurses, where, as judge, she adjudicated cases involving impropriety by nurses.

In 1978, now married, Lorna moved to Martha’s Vineyard, a favored destination since her first visit at age 7. She was soon deeply involved in a range of community work centered on health education, service, and social justice. A small sample: Lorna joined the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP and served as a vice president for 12 years; she was president of the Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters; most recently, she founded the Martha’s Vineyard Health Education Collaborative, which brings Cape Cod Community College classes and financial aid assistance to Islanders.

There has been heartache along the way. In 1989 her husband of 17 years died suddenly of a heart attack. Heart disease has claimed her father, her grandfather, and a brother; a second brother is in hospice care with the same affliction. Again, her faith and fortitude have served her well.

“We held a service for my older brother Larry at the Edgartown Lighthouse. We sprinkled his ashes in the water. Moments later a white seagull with black wings appeared, flying high in the sky. It was Larry soaring to the next world.”

“It inspired me in my teaching,” she added. “I began to emphasize heart disease education and the importance of genetic testing.”

Lorna filled the emotional void with more than work and teaching. In 1996 she found a partner, Sir Benjamin Andrade, a Pekingese rescue dog. When Sir Benjamin passed on, Sir Petey (a.k.a. Pooches) ably stepped in as a trusted companion. Each lived eight years and each was cremated. Now, Lorna enjoys the occasional company of her goddog Suki.

Goddog? “It’s a new idea,” said Lorna. “Suki is a neighbor’s dog, and very sweet. So we arranged for her to be with me two days a week. She’s tuned into my health issues. If I’ve been standing too long, she comes and sits on my foot. I get the message.”

In 1999, Lorna was dealt another blow, this one straight from the past. Asymptomatic for almost 40 years, she suffered a relapse; the medical term is post-polio syndrome. At first she did not realize what was happening. “I was unsteady on my feet, even while teaching. My students thought I was drinking before class,” she said with a smile.

It was a shock, one that contained some irony. “I had chosen medical work years ago to help people stay healthy,” Lorna said, shaking her head. “All these years I had been lecturing, conducting clinical visits to local hospitals with students, on my feet all the time. It caught up with me.”

Specifically, Lorna’s right leg was atrophying rapidly, requiring more surgeries. Knowing that the condition can affect all bodily organs, doctors told her to “get her house in order.” Among other things, she purchased two plots in Edgartown Cemetery. “Sir Benjamin and Sir Petey will be there with me,” she explained. And, typically, she became a charter member of the new Boston Chapter of the New England Post-Polio Syndrome Organization.

For another 15 years Lorna continued on her chosen path, as involved as ever in teaching and community work. The only visible change was a slower gait and the cane she often carried. She also wears a brace that secures her right foot.

“What a difference 50 years make!” she exclaimed. “My canes have style. I’ll go with a leopard pattern one day, maybe stripes the next. And the brace is a lightweight plastic. That’s a blessing.”

In 2014, Lorna decided to put her own well-being at the top of her priority list. She cut back on off-Island work commitments. Then she rejoined an Island Spirituals Choir that she helped form 12 years earlier, and in July of 2016, became an official member of the Polar Bears of Martha’s Vineyard. Each experience provides camaraderie and a physical exertion that are stimulating and healthful.

As for her mission, it’s a lifelong process: “I’m still guest-teaching and consulting. I want to continue to make a difference in people’s lives … including my own. So I’ve made time for myself, my health. I will never truly retire until God calls me to leave this earthly place.”

Growing old

Dr. Lorna Andrade on spirituality

Only as an adult did I recognize the devout aspects of my upbringing. My grandparents had an expression, “We live to die.” In other words, there are two parts to a person’s story. Life is just the first part. (She recalled a childhood incident involving a family dog named Sandy.) My father held a service in the backyard. He said, “Sandy will not return. We live to die.” I understood. It gave me a belief in a higher power beyond, and prepared me for future events.

On aging on Martha’s Vineyard

It’s the ideal place. For me, the ocean is important; I am a Pisces and am most comfortable in and near salt water. The senior resources on Martha’s Vineyard are very good. And there’s a feeling here of being part of a large extended family, especially among the rooted Portuguese, Italians, Wampanoags, African American, and other ethnic groups.

And I have my own family of Island friends, people I’ve known for 40 years. People I trust and care about. Many are connected to the NAACP, such as Jakki Hunt, Carrie Tankard, Vera Shorter, Marie and TM Araujo, and so many others. Some I knew as a business owner in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven. Some are longtime neighbors here in Dodgers Hole. And I have Suki. I’m lucky.

On retirement

I’ve downsized my professional commitments. The Spirituals Choir and the Polar Bears have improved my life and my health. Singing strengthens the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. We sing original slave songs; they are very powerful.

And I get so much out of the Polar Bears experience. The exercise, the prayers, the friendships are only a part of it. The members take care of each other day in and day out.