BENTON -- For most people, going to the gym, or any form of exercise club, is a dreaded chore. While there are exceptions, most people want to get in and get out.
At the Southeast Missouri Hospital Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehab in Cape Girardeau, exercise is welcomed. In fact, working out has "worked out" so well for one area couple that they're getting married next month.
Dale Huff and Dotty Wulfers met one another at cardiac rehab in May 2001. Although they're not sure if they bumped into each at the same machine or tried to grab the same weight, the one thing Wulfers and Huff are sure of is the first conversation they had.
After talking one day, Huff and Wulfers found out that both of their spouses died during the same week and the same year, Wulfers said.
"My wife, Vera, died on Sunday, July 2, 2000, and Wulfers's husband, Carl, died that Friday, July 7, 2000," Huff added.
Both Huff and Wulfers, who are in their 70s, have had triple bypass surgeries. Wulfers had hers in 1997 and Huff in 1999. The retired Baptist preacher and retired registered nurse soon found they had a lot more in common.
Next they began talking about grandchildren. "Dale was telling me that he has two pet goats and about his grandson. My granddaughter is about the same age as his grandson so I asked if I could bring her to his house to see the goats sometime," Wulfers said.
Their first date was cut a little short and is something they still laugh about. Huff lives in Benton, near Kelly Public Schools, and Wulfers was coming from Cape Girardeau. She said she ended up in Chaffee twice and Oran once in her first attempt at meeting Huff.
Other dates have included buying hearing aides together in Paducah, Ky., and lunches at the Senior Center.
"We weren't even looking for love," Huff said. "We were looking for friendship. We were friends first, and we fell in love." He added, "We're still friends."
At Southeast, a three-phase inpatient/outpatient Cardiac Rehab program is tailored to meet the individual needs of patients with cardiac disease and patients recovering from a heart attack or bypass surgery.
Cardiac patients like Huff and Wulfers who are in Phase 2 of rehab, attend Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for one hour and 15 minutes. Approximately 30 patients participate in rehab during a workout session. The patients see each other so often that a family-like atmosphere exists.
Vicki Frank, Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehab supervisor, has been working with cardiac/pulmonary rehab patients for 20 years, and she said she has never known any patients to marry.
"I think it's great!" Frank said. "I remember both of them losing their spouses -- before they knew each other. They were both so sad. Now Dotty just glows."
A lot of the people at rehab are retired and feel comfortable because many have been through the same thing. The rehab is even nicknamed the "Zipper Club" because of their chest scars from open heart surgery.
Not everyone who has a heart condition is a retired senior citizen as the public was recently reminded with the death of St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile. Kile's death has prompted heart condition awareness to the public.
Frank said she is seeing cardiac patients getting younger and younger. Most causes for heart conditions at a young age are due to smoking, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet and stress, she said.
Dexter also serves as a satellite to Southeast's Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehab. Frank said the rehab receives a lot of service from the area so the facility was created for traveling convenience. The facility is operated under the same conditions as the Cape Girardeau-based rehab.
Both Wulfers and Huff admit losing someone you love is not easy. "When you lose someone, you feel so lonely," Wulfers said.
Huff agreed. They both said they lost interest in things they used to do and life was extremely sad. Luckily, things have turned around for the duo.
"We enjoy doing the same things," Wulfers said. "And now we're doing things that we used to do, that we quit doing some time ago."
Even though the cardiac rehab group is close-knit, according to Huff, Wulfers and Frank, no one was aware of Huff's and Wulfers' blossoming relationship.
Frank said: "Someone came up to me and said to quit having cupids come around. I said, 'What?' 'You mean you don't know?' they asked me. It was a surprise, but a pleasant one."
For the most part, friends' and family's reactions to Huff and Wulfers's relationship has been positive, and for those who feel there's something wrong with Huff and Wulfers marrying, Wulfers has this to say: "They're missing out on life. We need to be happy and have companionship. I look forward getting up each day."
Unlike most newlywed couples, Huff and Wulfers have years of relationship experience. "The priest (who will marry them) asked us if we needed marriage instructions," Wulfers said with a laugh. "I told him, 'Between the two of us, we've been married 93 years and eight months. I think we can skip that.'"
The couple is planning a Hawaiian cruise for their honeymoon and plan to live at both of their homes.