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Monday, September 14, 2009

Sweet home Alabama

If "Aging in the 21st Century" was as graceful as Anna Guy 42N makes it look, the conversation would be pretty easy.

Guy (right), 92 years young, was among the attendees at Faculty Destinations: Birmingham, Sunday, September 13, which featured professors Arthur Kellermann 80M from the School of Medicine and Michael McQuaide from Oxford College.

Birmingham Chapter President Laura Kezar 81C 85M, associate dean for students and associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine, welcomed guests. Brian Christine 91M, a physician with the Urology Centers of Alabama, which hosted the event, did as well.

McQuaide and Kellermann had given a version of their "Aging in the 21st Century" talk before, but Faculty Destinations: Birmingham stood on its own. It also drew a broad audience of alumni from almost every Emory school, ranging in age from the 20s to the 90s.

McQuaide led off, discussing views on aging in a historical context. Actually, our 19th century ancestors, and their ancestors, didn't think too much about it, since few lived past 45. Because medical care was primitive, sicknesses didn't last long. Either you were alive, McQuaide said, or you were dead.

Kellermann, one of the nation's most respected emergency room physicians, brought McQuaide's ideas into the 21st century. Life expectancy for many U.S. populations tops 75, although many people may not be able to take care of themselves in their later years. Who will? Now, families must discuss whether loved ones should be resuscitated, if they fall ill. What should they do?

Too often, Kellermann said, these very difficult conversations do not happen, leaving sons and daughters unaware of their parents' wishes, and brothers and sisters tearfully debating who should make what could be a life-altering decision.

But while the subject matter may have felt heavy, the afternoon most certainly was not. More than 1,000 Emory alumni live in Birmingham, and those who spent their Sunday with the EAA were at their sociable best.

None more so than Guy, who lives on her own in an apartment downtown, and, by her own admission, reads every word of every Emory publication she gets her hands on.

Moving with the purpose and dexterity of a woman half her age, powered by enough spunk to light Tuscaloosa, Guy was the afternoon's most memorable presence. And when she spoke, everyone listened.

Following Kellermann's description of a family wracked with the anguish of possibly ending a loved one's life, Guy said her five children know exactly what to do. And what not to do.

"If any of them keeps me here longer than I'm supposed to be, they're going to be in trouble," she said.

Judging by her spirit, that's gonna be a long time coming.

-- Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

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