How Innovative Rehab Helped a Navy Veteran Regain IndependenceNovember 2, 2021
Something was different at the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy in 1974. Or rather, someone. The change was most apparent during a session where every officer was gathered. When the speaker got up to give his normal greeting, he noticed that this time, for the first time, he’d have to expand it a bit. “Good morning gentlemen…and lady,” he said.
That odd woman out was Jean Neely, a US Navy captain and the first woman officer ever to attend the NATO Defense College. That was just one of many firsts Jean accomplished during her glass ceiling-shattering, 26-year career in the Navy, including being one of the first women selected for major command.
Then in 1976, after years of hard work and dedicated service to her country, Jean Neely was looking forward to a restful retirement. Yet, like many older adults, Jean’s minor aches and pains became more debilitating as she grew older. Eventually she was diagnosed with what she jokingly calls the “triple whammy”—Parkinson’s, osteoporosis and an autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis. Then came the injuries: five joint replacements, several busted fingers and one shattered vertebra after a fall in her West Virginia home on Easter Sunday 2021.
“My doctor said I could go to the hospital or to rehab in assisted living,” she says, “and I didn’t want to go to the hospital.”
More Than Just Innovative Rehab Therapy: The Ageility Difference
In spring of 2021, Jean made a temporary move to an assisted living apartment in the Somerford House & Place Hagerstown senior living community and began physical therapy at the on-site Ageility Rehab & Fitness clinic. Jean says she had seen dozens of physical therapists over the years, but there was something different about Ageility’s that she noticed immediately.
“They know every one of the residents and interacted with them in a very friendly way,” she wrote in a testimonial about her experience. “I can honestly say that the Ageility group of therapists put any and all others I’ve known ‘in the shade’ with their professionalism and attention to their patients’ needs.”
Since Jean required the whole gamut of innovative therapy—occupational, physical and speech—Ageility’s continuum of care and wide range of specialized rehab and fitness services were key to helping her toward her ultimate goal: moving back home and regaining independence. Each therapist got her one step closer. One helped her enunciate words through the Big and Loud speech therapy that’s part of the LSVT program to the point where she can even say Mary Poppins’ “supercalifragilisIcexpialidocious” without skipping a beat. One of her favorite parts? “Everything was just down the hall. How easy is that?” she says.
Now, with her departure imminent after just five months, she says the whole experience blew away her expectations.
“I just assumed I was going to an institution,” she says, “I never realized that I would make friends and miss people when I left.”
An Extraordinary Recovery from an Extraordinary Veteran
Jean’s five-month recovery is just one in a long line of obstacles she’s overcome over the years. Though her Navy career was one marked by unforgettable experiences like her “absolutely fabulous” two-year stint in Morocco, overt sexism in the ranks (and in the law of the land) prevented her from ever serving aboard a Navy ship. She also saw her male counterparts get promoted at a faster rate, despite the same work. Yet, there was something about Jean that kept her going, in the face of all odds, to become one of only 12 women Navy captains in 1976. Now, there are hundreds.
“I’m just a very persistent person,” says Jean. “Sometimes I have to walk away from things for a while, but they always nag at me until I get them done.”
Starting from the Bottom Rung
That nagging feeling also followed Jean around in her youth in the 1950s when she was searching for a career that would allow her to give back to the country she loved. In those days there was no Peace Corps, no VISTA, so Jean found a program in the Navy that would permit her to take her training during the summers and get her commission upon graduation from college.
Duty to the Stars and Stripes also played a huge role in family when she was growing up. Her father and both her brothers were part of the Greatest Generation who fought in World War II. So, after graduating from Bates College, she began her Navy career in 1953 in Seattle as an ensign.
“Ensign is the lowest form of life, with only one gold stripe on your sleeve,” jokes Jean.
Climbing the Ladder to Captain
It was slow-going, but Jean made an impression. At each Naval station she transferred to, she gained more responsibility as her male superiors learned that she didn’t just keep up with her male counterparts, she surpassed them. In 1956, Jean headed to Washington D.C. where she was promoted to Lieutenant, from there she proceeded to duty stations in Morocco, Maryland and promotion to Lieutenant Commander. In 1964, she headed for the US Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, graduating the next year with a Master of Science. She headed back to Washington where she met and married her husband. Moves to Memphis, Norfolk, and promotion to Captain, followed by Rome and then back to D.C. ensued, where she completed her career.
Jean says she would have loved to serve aboard a ship, but the law did not allow it at the time. She was selected to be the commanding officer of a major command in San Diego in 1974, but instead she opted to retire, so she and her husband could travel.
“The challenges in the Navy were so terrific; I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything,” she says.
A Remarkable Life, Recognized
Jean’s persistence and historic career are finally getting the recognition they deserve, and not just from her Ime in the Navy. After several years of travel, the Neely’s settled in eastern West Virginia, where Jean was able to expand her interests in the natural world. One of her interests was fulfilled when she founded the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society, in 1982. Last year, the organization named a pavilion after her and declared her birthday, July 10, as Founder’s Day.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything very exceptional,” Jean says. What she has done, through countless challenges from rising through the ranks to recovering from injury, is persist. To Jean and all the veterans who have served over the years, we thank you for your service.
Discover the Ageility Difference and Get Back to the Life You Love
It’s amazing what a spirit of persistence and the help of an exceptional innovative rehab team can do. In just five months of Ageility Rehab & Fitness, Jean was able to regain her independence at age 90 and accomplish her goal of moving back home.
To discover how Ageility can help you reach your goals through a tailored treatment and fitness plan, find an Ageility clinic near you.