By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Seniors wearing a mix of white sneakers move at varying speeds while bypassing the closed shops at Quincy Mall each morning.
Some do one lap while using canes for assistance. Others move briskly and loop the mall several times while keeping pace with young mothers pushing strollers.
The Quincy Mall gives the walkers a weather-safe route, and each Tuesday, the Blessing Hospital PaceSetters education booth acts as the finish line.
Amy McMillen, a registered nurse who serves as Blessing Hospital Heart and Vascular Center's outreach coordinator, greets her regulars with a smile and a stethoscope at her station near the interior entrance of Bergner's at the mall. From 7 to 11 a.m., McMillen's blood-pressure cuff tightens around the arms of about 80 participants.
Several of her regulars bypass the walk and merely participate in the screenings. As McMillen records the readings, she notices spikes and dips in blood pressure and weight. The weekly screening allows walkers, such as Connie Deaver, to track their health more easily.
"As senior citizens, we've got to know whether we're OK," Deaver said.
McMillen explained that taking blood pressure in a more comfortable setting might increase the accuracy of the numbers. The uneasiness a patient might feel when sitting on doctor's table can skew numbers. In the past, McMillen's notations from the PaceSetters' booth have helped doctors find more appropriate medications for their patients.
"They didn't get nervous about it going in," McMillen said. "We call that (nervousness) ‘white coat syndrome.' "
This sense of comfort comes from familiarity with the nurse and the location. Many of the PaceSetters have walked the mall since Blessing began offering the free service more than five years ago.
McMillen took over the booth when she accepted the role of outreach coordinator about four months ago. Since taking the position, she's already learned most of the PaceSetters' names and become a staple in the mall-walking community.
"She knows who we are before she gets on the computer," Deaver said.
The walkers come in shifts, and McMillen knows when to expect them almost as well as she knows their names. Ron Preston arrived at the booth earlier than usual Tuesday morning. After his heart attack in 1993, Preston started walking regularly. Each day, he clocks 3.5 miles, and he considers himself one of the faster walkers in the mall.
Another PaceSetter, Lowell Glas, had walked before undergoing his triple bypass surgery in September, and he's become more dedicated to it since.
"I'd rather come here and walk," Glas said. "People know each other, and if they don't, people can meet people."
Just as the walkers make connections to one another, they've formed one with McMillen. In between screenings, they swap recipes and family stories.
The walkers ask McMillen about what kind of car she drives and what her son did this past weekend, and they also seek answers to health-related questions that they might not think to ask their doctors.
And McMillen shares wellness and prevention methods with them
"They are bonded to each other, and they're bonded to me," McMillen said.