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A Potter’s Story: Artisan Caron Baker Wike Comes to the Mountaintop for Healing

Caron Baker Wike at The Foley Center

Can you recall what first attracted you to the mountains of North Carolina? For generations, community staples like Appalachian State University, Grandfather Mountain and Tweetsie Railroad have welcomed visitors in search of education, adventure, family entertainment and nowadays healing. Thanks to The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s new post-acute care center in Blowing Rock, NC visitors have started planning what is referred to as “Medical Tourism” trips to the High Country. Caron Baker Wike is one such visitor.

Potential Personified

Ms. Wike can detect potential in everything. Perhaps, this unique capability first developed as a result of a bee sting between her eyes just days before her family’s departure from England to their new home in America. Terrible swelling ensued, rendering the 7-year-old temporarily blind and completely dependent on her father’s reassuring words of comfort: it may be difficult to see now, but great potential lies before us in America.

The family settled in Charlotte, where her father worked as an engineer and her mother a housewife. Like her parents, Ms. Wike developed a propensity for creativity. As a child, she became enamored with her mother’s sewing needles and her father’s workshop.

“Growing up, my parents always allowed me a great deal of freedom with tools and equipment,” said Ms. Wike. “I dabbled in metalsmithing and carpentry, but pottery became my passion and profession.”

Wike and husband Jim work in their pottery studio

Years later, in search of a studio workshop that she could call her own, Ms. Wike discovered the locker room in the basement of the old Lenoir High School gymnasium. To an untrained eye, the abandoned space served as a mausoleum full of yesterday’s junk and discarded memories. For Ms. Wike, however, the locker room resembled a fresh slab of clay, jam-packed with potential and ready to be thrown into a kiln of new possibilities. Equipped with little more than a dream and her husband’s support, she transformed the locker room into a successful business and community gathering place.

Pots and Pains

Over the course of her career, Ms. Wike has created more than 30,000 pieces of pottery. Unlike most potters who prefer the assistance of a throwing wheel, she utilizes elbow grease and a slab roller to continuously flip-and-shape one piece of 12-pound clay after another. As you might imagine, this physically demanding process took an inevitable toll on her body.

Last year, unable to ignore her worsening knee pain, Ms. Wike decided for the good of her health and the sustainability of her career to have both of her knees replaced during the slow season (winter months) of her business. Her doctor explained that her ambitious plan of care would only be possible and ultimately successful if she supplemented it with rigorous physical therapy after each procedure.

Ms. Wike agreed and after her first procedure (left knee replacement in November 2016), requested to have her post-acute care not in Lenoir, but instead a half-hour drive up the mountain in Blowing Rock.

“My doctor was a little surprised when I requested the Blowing Rock Rehabilitation Center (formally Blowing Rock Hospital) because it was further from my house,” she said with a grin. “I explained that I had heard good things from friends and family members who had stayed there previously and I wanted to have a similar mountain top experience.”

As is customary for each new short-term rehab patient, Ms. Wike had an initial interdisciplinary team meeting with the nursing, rehab, social work and dietary staff to discuss patient goals and a discharge plan. During her stay, she learned that the healthcare system was in the process of replacing the existing rehab facility with The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge, a new and state-of-the-art 112-bed post-acute care center in January 2017.

“Although I was disappointed I missed the opening of the new facility, I told everyone afterward that it’s not about the building, it’s about the people,” she said. “I truly credit the staff for getting me ready so quickly for my next procedure.”

Later, while discussing her right knee replacement, it came as no surprise to her orthopaedic surgeon that Ms. Wike was looking forward to going back up the mountain and “on vacation” – this time to The Foley Center for her rehab.

 Busy Boxes of Gratitude  

Exactly one month after The Foley Center opened its doors to the community, Ms. Wike was greeted not as a new patient, but as an old friend by the familiar staff she had come to adore. Her brightly colored room, which was conveniently located near the physical therapy gym, overlooked a beautiful courtyard and rolling hills leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

During her initial team meeting, a personalized discharge plan was established. Her plan, which included both physical therapy and occupational therapy, increased her functional independence with ambulation, self-care, strengthening and pain management. Between therapy sessions, she enjoyed fellowship with the other patients, eating in the rehab dining room, having her hair cut in the on-campus salon and of course “playing” with her busy boxes.

According to Ms. Wike, a busy box is simply a small parcel containing all of the necessary ingredients for her to complete a creative craft project. Each afternoon, her husband Jim and their border collie Roscoe, would travel up the mountain to visit and deliver a new busy box.

Toward the end of her 13-day vacation, Ms. Wike became sad at the thought of having to leave “camp” and she asked her husband to bring up a special busy box full of what she refers to as “pottery smalls.” She proceeded to give a hand-made pottery small necklace to all of the nursing, physical therapy, dietary and housekeeping staff members that had a role to play in delivering her care.

“The staff here gave a part of themselves to me,” she said through tear-filled eyes. “They saw potential in me every time they helped me get in-and-out of bed or encouraged me through my exercises. I simply wanted to give back to them a part of myself in appreciation.”

Thanks to the rehabilitative care she received on the mountain, Ms. Wike has been cleared to return to work once again in her pottery studio – leaving behind a remnant of herself in the hearts and around the necks of those she touched along the way.

To learn more about The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge or Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, call 828-386-3300 or visit www.apprhs.org.