Family stares down illness, comes out stronger

January 10, 2011 

Between them, Susan and Paul Pineo have dealt with a stroke, a brain tumor and polio, but they refuse to let their physical problems keep them from enjoying their life and their family.

This grateful couple still believes they are learning every day, and they take care of each other with devotion and commitment to love. They never forget to find the fun, exploring the Lowcountry and learning about the local history together.

Susan and Paul, both 69, enjoy their lives, spending their falls, winters and springs in Beaufort and their summers in Ohiopyle, Penn., near their son, Paul Frederick, and his family.

Susan caught the polio virus when she was 9 years old, just before the vaccines became available. "I lived at a hospital for children for almost a year and wore a full leg brace and back brace and used a cane to walk," Susan said.

In high school Susan had to have surgery to deal with the scoliosis the polio had left in her spine.

"It was my freshman year of high school, and it was kind of hard," she said. "I was in a full body cast from neck to knee, but I was tutored and refused to miss school time. I would go to class on a stretcher or in a wheel chair. I graduated with the class I grew up with."

GREAT LIFE

Despite the difficulties life has thrown their way, this couple is still confident they have led a blessed existence.

"Life has been so good to us," Paul said. "What else are you going to do? We don't want to be bored or slow down, so we take road trips and poke around."

The two "poke around" locally taking classes at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. They recently traveled to check out the Savannah River Site, and Paul spends a few hours each week working out and socializing with friends at the Wardle Family YMCA.

"Paul is sometimes hard on himself for the amount of time he put in lawyering, but we have been blessed," Susan insisted. "It's not luck. It is far more than luck."

The blessed couple was born just a few months apart with hundreds of miles between them. Paul was born and raised in Bangor, Maine, and Susan was born in Connecticut, growing up on in Sayville, N.Y. Susan's older sister had attended Colby College in Maine and that is where the couple met.

"It was a beautiful campus," Susan said. "My sister was five years older, and I knew I would go there."

Luckily, Paul had also decided to remain in his beloved home state, and they were both economic majors and had classes together.

"I didn't speak to him until my junior year," she said. "Pineo made some comment about my friend, whose family was in the papers, and I told him he didn't know what he was talking about!"

"It was the nicest conversation we ever had," Paul joked.

They both graduated in 1963 and were married on Aug. 28 that year in the Colby College Chapel. They had a small ceremony and dinner with nine other friends and family members.

BUSY TIMES

Paul landed a job in Maine as a high-school math teacher, but quickly realized the $4,800 salary he made would make building a family difficult.

"I told Susan we had to get out or we would be broke our whole lives," Paul said. "I went to Georgetown Law School and Susan supported us, working for an economic consulting firm."

Paul graduated with his law degree and went right to work as a public defender and eventually an IRS lawyer in Washington D.C. for seven years. Their son was born in D.C. and shortly after, they moved to Rochester, N.Y., where Paul went to work as a lawyer privately, and Susan stayed home to take care of the family.

"We wound up in Rochester, and it was cold but it is also a wonderful city," Paul said. "Susan took care of our family, and I credit her with our wonderful, nice son. Paul Frederick was her focus."

Throughout their nearly 40 years in Rochester, both Susan and Paul involved themselves locally. "Paul was on the school board, and I took art courses to get a master of fine arts in print making," Susan said. "I made etchings -- before my polio symptoms came back around 2000."

Susan was so involved, despite the later return of her illness, she ended up volunteering in the same Rochester art program for 25 years. The devoted and beloved volunteer art teacher was in a classroom with elementary school students at least two days each week. When she left, the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester's local paper, bid her a fond farewell with a tribute feature.

In 2005, Paul and Susan decided to buy their home in Port Royal, and it was only months after that when Paul experienced a stroke and a brain tumor was found. "I can't smell, but I say the stroke was minor and the brain tumor was no big deal," Paul said. "I was very lucky. I do joke, but a stroke leaves its mark on you."

Susan uses a walker regularly and a wheelchair for some traveling and has accepted her symptoms this second time around as she did the first time while she was a child.

"I still have to come to grips with it, but sometimes, occasionally using a wheelchair makes me realize how much easier life can be if you aren't always struggling to move around," Susan said. "The wheelchair comes in handy. It is not all bad. My grandson loves to sit on my lap."

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