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Aug 21

$5 million donation to fund national expansion of free exercise therapy program for cancer patients – Tyler Morning Telegraph

Everywhere he went, Al Herrington carried a cross. Not a giant one that drew attention, but small ones that fit in his pocket. And anytime he saw someone, whether he knew them or not, he was ready to hand one out.

He had a bubbly personality, his wife, Gerry Herrington, said. He never met a stranger. He would talk to people he had never even seen before, and pass out crosses.

The crosses were inscribed with the words God Loves You and often came with a card that contained the poem The Cross in My Pocket.

This gesture of passing out crosses is just one example of how Herrington lived his life as a man focused on loving others.

This man, who was known for his life of service, will live on after his death through a different kind of service, one that aims to enable cancer patients to live better and longer lives.

Through a $5 million donation made in his name to the Cancer Foundation For Life, Herringtons sister, Louise Ornelas, will keep his memory alive.

The gift, to be given over the next five years, will fund the national expansion of the foundations FitSTEPS for Life program for incorporation into routine cancer treatment. The gift is expected to serve as a catalyst to generate the funds necessary to perpetually expand and sustain FitSTEPS for Life.

We want to greatly expand, Founder and Chairman Emeritus Dr. Gary T. Kimmel said. The FitSTEPS for Life program, from the beginning, was created as a model to be networked without boundaries.

FitSTEPS for Life is the only known program in the country that offers individualized and free exercise therapy to cancer patients for their lifetime.

The program includes cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises using treadmills, ellipticals, free weights, stretch bands and stability tools.

Staff members degreed in exercise science administer the program and certified cancer exercise trainers supervise it.

As a retired oncologist, Kimmel knows the need for and benefits of exercise for cancer patients. He said the major things a cancer doctor sees are the benefits a patient gets from treatment, but also the profound and debilitating effects of the treatment, some of which are permanent.

Kimmel said when he was practicing - he retired in 2001 - there were no rehabilitation programs for cancer patients because there was no reimbursement by insurance and no money to fund the programs.

It wasnt cool to exercise cancer patients back then, Kimmel said.

But he knew having patients just lie around and rest could not be good. It meant the deterioration of cardiovascular and muscular strength along with bone integrity. As an athletic man, he saw exercise as an answer for that.

So with affirmation from what is now Christus Trinity Mother Frances and East Texas Medical Center, Kimmel started the program.


It began on a small scale. In April 2001, he started going to patients houses, taking in treadmills and starting them on an exercise program.

At the time, pretty much all the patients he went to see were at the end of their lives. But, to his amazement, they benefited from the exercise regimen psychologically, emotionally and physically.

That was really the beginning, he said.

In July 2001, he founded a nonprofit organization with the vision of enhancing cancer treatment through a structured, long-term exercise program for all cancer patients, no matter their level of disability.

This nonprofit would be named the Cancer Foundation For Life.

Since that time, there has been an overwhelming amount of research showing the unprecedented, unparalleled and remarkable benefits of exercise, Kimmel said.

Exercise has not only been proven to increase the survival rate for those with common cancers such as breast, prostate and colon, but also to mitigate the side effects of treatment and improve patients chronic diseases and conditions.

Youre not only improving their cancer, but all of their other diseases as well, he said.

Because of these results, Kimmel had a desire to expand the program to as many cancer patients as he could.

Presently, the FitSTEPS for Life program operates in 16 centers in Texas, and the nonprofit has partnered with Baylor Scott & White, Christus Trinity Mother Frances and Texas Oncology-Tyler.


The process begins when a doctor refers a patient to the program. The patient attends an initial consultation, which lasts about an hour, and during that time they and a staff member will go over medical history so they can build an exercise plan.

For people who have undergone surgery, sometimes the initial goal is to help them get their range of motion back.

For many who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation, the goal is to help address fatigue.

Some centers offer group exercise classes in addition to the usual cardio and weight-training equipment. Professionals degreed in exercise science staff the classes and gyms.

For those participants who have greater physical disability or impairment, staff members will schedule their exercise times so they can be supervised at all times.

Dr. Sasha Vukelja, a board certified hematologist and medical oncologist with Texas Oncology-Tyler and a big supporter of the FitSTEPS for Life program, said introducing exercise into the cancer treatment process is a game-changer.

Because when people think cancer, they think death. But when a doctor tells you to get on a treadmill, theyre thinking about life, not only extending the patients life, but increasing the quality of it.

For example, three months ago, Minnie Smith, 76, of Tyler, could walk for two minutes on the treadmill before she had to stop. And she could not hold a dumbbell in her hands because of the neuropathy caused by cancer treatments. Her trainer tied the dumbbells to her hands so she could do exercises.

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1994, the Tyler resident has had multiple surgeries and undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments in her ongoing battle with the disease.

Throughout that time, she has participated in FitSTEPS for Life off and on, and recently returned to the program in May.

With three days per week of exercise in the past three months, she has built up to 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill and can hold 4-pound weights in each hand.

Her goal is to get her body back to where she is able to have treatments again.

Then there is Kathy Hitt, 62, of Tyler, a colon cancer survivor, who initially connected with the program as a volunteer even though she was eligible to use it because of her cancer diagnosis. Once she started volunteering, she decided to participate and now is among the regulars. Though she acknowledges the exercise is good, its the camaraderie that keeps her coming back.

Its like a big family, she said. We all support each other. Its incredible. Its changed my life.


Herrington was a participant in the FitSTEPS for Life program during his life (he was in remission for prostate cancer), but it was by no means the focus of his life.

His main interests were the Sonrise Prayer Breakfast, which he started more than 35 years ago and which continues today, and collecting Native American artifacts, a nod to his own familys ancestry, his wife, Gerry Herrington, said.

However, he is most remembered for his heart.

The man who never met a stranger was always looking for an opportunity to serve. If there was something that needed to be done, he was ready and willing to do it.

Through the prayer breakfast ministry, he and others helped families that had no funds with funeral expenses, bought groceries for families, built home wheelchair ramps and donated $10,000 to earthquake victims in Haiti.

He is a service man from the beginning, Dr. Vukelja, who started treating Herrington in 2002, said. He was 16 (when) he served the country. He continued to serve the community and now (through this donation) he continues to provide a service to so many for many years to come.

Born in 1927 in Arp, Herrington was one of seven children. A lifelong East Texan, he stayed in his hometown of Arp until 2016 when he and his wife moved to Tyler.

A veteran of World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy at 16, serving from August 1944 to June 1946 and deploying with the amphibious forces on the USS Fergus in the South Pacific.

Once back in East Texas, he worked as a car salesman and actually started the prayer breakfast ministry for fellow car salesmen, though it eventually expanded to include anyone who wanted to come.

Throughout his life, Herrington was a servant to many, according to those who knew him.

I think his mission was to answer Gods call in his life every day, former Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass said. He was passionate about his faith. He was passionate about showing his faith to others, not by what he told them, but how he made their lives better.

Herrington died on June 12 at the age of 89. He had dementia, but ultimately died of a pulmonary embolism, Mrs. Herrington said.

Dr. Vukelja said it is because of Herringtons kind heart and desire to help others that his sister, Louise Ornelas, decided to make the donation in his name, giving $1 million a year for the next five years, to continue what he was doing by helping more people and providing a service to them.

Through this donation in his memory, the Cancer Foundation For Life will be able to open more centers to allow patients to exercise free of charge. The money will not be used to build buildings, but to deliver a service.

The plan is for these centers to be integrated into existing health care systems, and over the five-year period of the donation, the nonprofit organization plans to open 40 to 50 new centers.

Each new center will be named the Al Herrington Fit STEPS For Life Center and have a plaque with his likeness in bronze.

Kimmel, who has never taken a salary for his work with the foundation, said 90 cents of every $1 donated goes to fund the program. The primary expenses are salaries for the professionally trained exercise specialists and equipment for the program.

With the new centers established through this donation, the foundation will provide the initial funding to train and hire the staff and provide the equipment, if needed, but after a year and a half, the center would have to sustain itself in perpetuity.

The 16 existing locations in East Texas and the Dallas area will continue operating as they have been.

The desire is by no means to leave East Texas behind. Rather, it is to build on the foundation created here so other cancer patients around the country and maybe even the world can experience the same benefits.

This is not an end, but a beginning.

The $5 million, its a catalyst to grow many resources to continue to expand the program and to sustain it, Kimmel said.

When people give to other cancer fighting organizations, they often are investing in new drugs, which is a good and necessary thing. But, if they give to the Cancer Foundation For Life, they are investing in the patients immediately, improving their quality of life, Kimmel said.

Were going to help the patient right now, he said. Exercise will never be replaced by another drug.




16 years old

16 locations

20 staff members

2,000 cancer patients regularly attending

19,000 people served since inception

$600,000 annual budget


First Baptist Church, Tyler

301 W. FergusonSt.

Texas Oncology-Tyler

910 E. Houston St.

HOPE Room at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, Tyler

3 DawsonOncology Floor

First Christian Church, Tyler

4202 S. Broadway Ave.

Christus Trinity Mother Frances, Lindale

3203 S. Main St.

See the article here:
$5 million donation to fund national expansion of free exercise therapy program for cancer patients - Tyler Morning Telegraph

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