Ella Hafferkamp, Heart Bypass Surgery

Maybe it was carrying water as a youngster in a lumber camp in the Upper Peninsula 80 years ago.

Or living in a home that lacked running water.

Or simply growing up in a pristine area where hard work and unpredictable winter weather added spice to her life.

Whatever the factors, Ella Hafferkamp was hardly slowed by open heart surgery a few years ago when she was in the latter part of her ninth decade of life.

Not only did Hafferkamp, 90, who lives near Kalamazoo, come out of the open heart surgery "in flying colors," in her own words, but she underwent hip replacement surgery only six weeks later.

"She comes from study stock," said Gail Venner, a nurse practitioner at the Borgess Heart Institute who also happens to be the fourth of the four Hafferkamp children.

"For mom, growing up was like Little House on the Prairie," said Venner, who lives a mile from her mother.

"It was amazing to me how fast I healed," Hafferkamp said of the triple bypass surgery in 2002 at Borgess Medical Center. "I had excellent care at Borgess. They still send me letters asking me how they could improve their care and I don't know how they could improve."

Born Jan. 3, 1916, near Cheboygan in northern lower Michigan, Hafferkamp was one of five children of a lumberjack father and hard-working mother. The family moved to California, but, unhappy with the move, found themselves a year later in the Upper Peninsula where they lived in a rustic rural environment.

When Hafferkamp graduated from high school, she left the UP for Detroit where she married, had four children and lived for about five decades. An avid gardener and seamstress, she devoted her life to her children until they were raised. Her husband George died in 1987 and when she was 80 she retired from her fabric shop.

In 1995 she moved to a home in Richland to be near Venner and her family.

"By 2001 I was limping a lot," Hafferkamp said. "I knew something was wrong."

Tests revealed she needed hip replacement surgery. A routine pre-surgery test, however, revealed a heart problem.

"They thought she needed one stent," Venner said. A stent is a tiny metal mesh used to prop open narrowed or blocked heart arteries. But before the stent was put in place doctors discovered more serious blood vessel problems.

Hafferkamp remained in Borgess and a few days later, Dr. Michael Khaghany did a triple-bypass operation.

"I came out of the pretty well," said Hafferkamp, who described Dr. Khaghany and the medical team at Borgess as "very thorough."

"Six weeks later they did my hip. It was amazing how quickly I healed. I didn't have any pain."

The lack of pain can be attributed in part to Venner, her "private duty nurse" who stayed with her mother and made sure she took pain medications before the onset of discomfort.

"I took therapy and I did as I was told," Hafferkamp said. "One year later I had my other hip replaced. And now I need surgery for carpal tunnel."

Hafferkamp said she never hesitates to recommend Borgess to others. "I had excellent care at both Borgess and the Heart Institute," she said. "They keep you comfortable."

Despite her age, Hafferkamp takes few medications -- one "heart pill," she said, a pill for cholesterol, eye drops for glaucoma and an aspirin.

And when things get a little hectic, the outdoors she loved as a child growing up in the UP still beckons. "When I feel overwhelmed I go outside and do something, even in winter," she said.