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3/19/2009 3:00:00 PM
Tom Crabtree gets his chance to go home after nearly three years of rehabilitation
Tom Crabtree, well known Switzerland County resident and former plant manager of the US Shoe Corporation here in Vevay, is heading home after spending nearly three years at the Swiss Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center undergoing rehabilitation. He was honored with a party on Friday morning. Shown here are, front row, from left: Kandy Powers and Marsha Beyers. Back row: Robin Lawson, Rita Myers, Jennie Aldridge, Tom Crabtree, Tammy Gray, Christi Sauley-Kernen, and Samantha Stout.
Tom Crabtree, well known Switzerland County resident and former plant manager of the US Shoe Corporation here in Vevay, is heading home after spending nearly three years at the Swiss Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center undergoing rehabilitation. He was honored with a party on Friday morning. Shown here are, front row, from left: Kandy Powers and Marsha Beyers. Back row: Robin Lawson, Rita Myers, Jennie Aldridge, Tom Crabtree, Tammy Gray, Christi Sauley-Kernen, and Samantha Stout.

Three years ago, Tom Crabtree knew that he was going to have to have his left hip replaced. Years of walking in his job with US. Shoe Corporation had left him in need of a new hip, so he headed to the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington for the surgery.

He didn't know it then, but that began a journey that would take him through four more surgeries and years of rehabilitation before he finally got well enough that this Monday, March 16th - Tom Crabtree got to return home.

Finally.

"I went to have the hip replaced, but they had some problems," Tom Crabtree said in the familiar Arkansas-drawl that everyone had heard before. "That new hip kept jumping out of socket, and then a staph infection set it."

Tom Crabtree said that three more operations followed before doctors decided that the new hip and all of its accompanying hardware had to be taken out. Two more operations followed, and Tom Crabtree was informed that he would be unable to have another hip replacement.

"There's no hip on my left side," he said. "I have a built-up shoe that I've learned to walk with. We just kept having complications."

Ironically - it is a shoe that gives Tom Crabtree the chance to come home, because he's worked with shoes his entire adult life.

A 'REGISTERED HILLBILLY'

Born in the town of Imboden, Arkansas, Tom Crabtree laughs and calls himself a "Registered Hillbilly". Growing up in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Tom Crabtree grew up working hard. Graduating from high school, it was only natural that his hard work would continue.

"I got out of school one week and went to work the next week at Brown Shoe Company in Pocahantas, Arkansas," Tom Crabtree recalls. "I went in there as a service operator, and worked my way up to fitting room foreman. I worked for them for 17 years."

Tom Crabtree said that through other people that he knew in the shoe industry he became acquainted with people from US Shoe Corporation; and - as he says - they both "got together" and he went to work for US Shoe as a foreman in Madison in 1969.

"When they hired me, it was with the intention that I'd come to Madison and get the fitting room straightened out, and after two years they'd put me in the assistant plant manager training program," Tom Crabtree said. "After two years, they transferred me to Vanceburg, Kentucky; where I started the assistant plant manager training program."

After training in Vanceburg for a year, US Shoe then transferred Tom to Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where he was the assistant plant manager.

"I broke in some more people there," Tom Crabtree laughs. "They needed more people trained, and I got them all trained and everything for about a year, year and a half. That's when they made me plant manager at Prestonsburg."

That was the mid 1970s, and in 1977, US Shoe began to consolidate operations and cut back and close some factories. Near the end of 1977, Tom Crabtree and his family moved to Vevay, where he would serve as the "Plant Manager in Waiting" until Kelly Kemper retired as the plant manager here.

Prestonsburg's loss was certainly Switzerland County's gain.

Once Kelly Kemper retired, Tom Crabtree took over the Vevay plant, and ran it as plant manager until he retired in 1997, when his health began to deteriorate.

"All together I made shoes for 45 years," Tom Crabtree said. "You might say that I did it all. I started out as a service operator, and that's about as far down the ladder as you can get. I ended up running the plant here in Vevay, and at one point we had about 350 people working there and we were running three shifts and putting out 4,000 pair of shoes on each shift every day."

REHABILITATION IS REAL WORK

After fighting through five operations, Tom Crabtree ended up at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington in early 2006. Knowing that he would not have a left hip, he committed himself to working with his altered shoe as he learned to walk again.

In June of 2006, he was transferred to the Swiss Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center here in Vevay, and that's where he began to work hard with the goal of getting back to his home near Jacksonville.

"I just kept having complications," Tom Crabtree said, "Everything that you can think of went wrong. About the time I thought I was getting ready to come home, something else would happen. Then I got here to Swiss Villa."

Back in Switzerland County, Tom Crabtree found dedicated workers who were ready to help him reach his goal.

"We have the best therapy department in the country," he boasts. "We've got some girls down there that I would put up against anybody. There have been ladies down there while I was there who had broken their hips, and I would see them in therapy everyday. I would always see progress. Those folks have a lot of patience for helping ladies and men."

Tom Crabtree's therapy routine begins each day before he even gets out of bed.

Waking at around 5:30 a.m., Tom picks up the two eight-pound dumbbells that he keeps on his bed with him. Still in bed, he works on his arm strength, working his hands and arms to keep his upper body in condition.

"My upper body is in better shape now than it has been since I was a kid carrying hay and working with tractors," he says.

Out of bed by mid morning, he would have a therapy session that lasted anywhere from 60-90 minutes; and then he'd get a break for lunch. After lunch, it was back for more therapy, another round of 60-90 minutes. Sometimes the second session would be in the evening, depending on the therapy schedule.

And then it was to bed, so he could begin his regime again the following day.

"Without those girls down there (in therapy), I'd still be down there (at Swiss Villa)," Tom Crabtree said.

Tom Crabtree said that making matters worse is that he suffers from Neuropathy - a disease that affects nearly 20 million Americans and causes damage to the body's peripheral nerves.

"I have no feeling in my legs about 8-10 inches below the knees and in my hands," he says. "That's contributed to it taking so long for me to train my muscles to walk."

But in spite of the odds, Tom Crabtree kept working, and this past Monday, March 16th - two years and nine months after entering the University of Kentucky Hospital for the hip replacement - he finally got to go home.

THE WORK CONTINUES

Although he's now home, the therapy and exercise continues.

"I will never quit exercising," Tom Crabtree says. "I'm still having therapy. I will do exercises as long as I live. They've made a believer out of me."

He says that a home health agency will be working with him, and he will see what types of exercises that they suggest to go along with the regiment of exercises that he has learned while at the nursing home.

But as excited as he is to be home, it's also an adjustment for he and wife, Theresa - whom he's been married to for more than a half century. He is also happy that he will be closer to sons, Steve and Gene; and his daughters-in-law and grandsons.

"Theresa and I have been married for 54 years, but after being away for three years, this might take some getting used to," Tom laughs. "We might have to get married again!"

So what else is he doing now that his goal has been reached?

"I'm enjoying sitting and looking out the back door over the countryside and watching it all go by," Tom Crabtree says with a tone of reflection in his voice. "It's been a long time."

But his goal has been reached.

- Pat Lanman



Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Article comment by: Wade & Andrea Travis

Hey Uncle Tom, We are proud of you. You can do it. Glad you are home again. Hope to see you at Eric's wedding. Love, Andrea & Wade P. S. Where is our $2.00 dollars? Ha. Just kidding. Smile :o)



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