Seventy-six-year-old Ellie (right) is severely disabled and does not like anyone to touch her. However, Carol Jones, a skilled and gentle massage therapist, comes to her assisted living facility in Richfield the first Thursday of every month and Ellie allows Carol to give her a very gentle, clothes-on massage.

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Carol & Eleanor: A healing touch

  • Article by: Gail Rosenblum
  • January 31, 2012 - 12:52 PM

Carol Jones eases onto the couch next to Eleanor and starts working in her usual way: She waits. A few minutes pass. Eleanor perks up, inches closer.

"We are buddies, we are," Carol says gently. "Good job, Ellie."

Eleanor is 76 and as big as a pixie. She wears a sleeveless green floral top, green pants and sandals. Her short hair is dyed brown, her eyes are piercing blue.

Ellie grew up in a state hospital, moving to a group home in Richfield 15 years ago. She is visually impaired and cannot speak, preferring constant noise -- her squeaky toy, tapping toes -- as a way, perhaps, to fill the void.

Most important to know: Ellie abhors touch.

"One must be very cautious going up to her," says her guardian, Lynn MacDonald. Carol knew this going in and, wisely, chose to ignore it. "Everybody needs to be touched," says Carol, 64, a St. Louis Park-based massage therapist whose clients include several adults with special needs. "She really does respond to it. It's like she's getting a hug."

When Carol began working with Ellie one year ago, "Ellie screamed the whole time. Fifteen minutes was her limit. Now, we're up to 45."

Carol always tells Ellie (who remains fully clothed) what she plans to do.

"I'm going up to your shoulders, then your neck ... there you go." If Ellie resists, Carol stops immediately. "On good days, I can actually get into her muscles and get some real circulation going, which is good because she's pretty sedentary. Her lower back is tight, due to sitting a lot, as is her neck, where she carries her tension."

Ellie's growing tolerance, and trust, has floored her supervisors.

"It's just amazing, the response she gives Carol, vs. the rest of us," says Deandra Scott, medical coordinator for the group home management company, Thomas Allen Inc. "Once, Ellie leaned back and fell asleep in Carol's arms. No one would believe me, so I took a picture of it. She just lets Carol in."

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