Senior Profile: Astride healthful paths

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By Lupita Gonzales

Doug Hughes is a medical doctor; Aileen Torres Hughes, a nurse. It sounds like the perfect combination, and perhaps it is, for singly and together, this couple has helped provide medical assistance for locals and for thousands of people in impoverished areas of the world.

Theirs is not a hemmed-in or office occupation or preoccupation.

The active lives of this medical couple reflect an incarnation of the term teleology — being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose.

Doug says, “We like to help: It’s nice to be doing something that’s helpful to people.”

It’s not just lip service: The Hugheses have taken their medical expertise and humanitarian philosophy to various venues, thus meeting their end of helping Spanish-speaking populations of the Americas.

Over the past three decades, roughly since the mid-’80s, Doug and Aileen have provided needed services to such places as the Turks and Caicos Islands, Queretaro, Mexico’s Catholic orphanage — Santa Maria del Mexicano, Columbia, Cuba, Chile.

All the while raising their four children, Miguel, Octaviano, Javier and Samantha, the Hugheses also provided health services in the northeastern New Mexico region through centers such as Centro Campesino de Salud, Northern New Mexico Rehabilitation Center, also working in Española, in the Mora Valley and at the Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas.

One might interpret this couple’s lifestyle as “jet-setting,” or opulent, but Doug clarifies, “All the travel and play is essential, low-cost. We do it ourselves — borrow, rent, low-budget. Some of the efforts have been sponsored by organizations or religious groups, such as Las Vegas’ Presbyterian Church, but their mission is nondenominational and apolitical.

Doug’s “essential play” alludes to a perhaps prodigious, almost epic trek he undertook during the past year. He walked all the Appalachian Trail — 2,200 miles — and it took four months, starting from March 13 at Springer Mountain, Ga., and ending July 13 at Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine.

“I’m 63 and wanted to walk while I still could,” Doug said.

Asked what drives him, he replied, “I take my life as just one great adventure.”

He admits that the venture wasn’t easy. Dubbed “Trail Sweeper,” Doug said his role was to clear the trails in advance of his fellow walkers.

During the adventure, he developed a severe  case of tendonitis, brought on by bad shoes, but, he says, “I worked through it.”

Aileen enters, showing us pictures of a youthful Doug canoeing with family in Eastern waters. Obviously, Doug has held a closeness with nature since his early years.

He worries about the sedentary character of modern life.

“Fifty, sixty years ago, people didn’t live this way. They walked more.”

Aileen agreed.

“People were more active.”

The Hugheses live what they profess. Despite being medical professionals, they espouse a conservative view of modern medicine.
Doug said, “If (only) we would have a national push for health instead of an increased push for pharmaceuticals … no one needs to be on statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs). It takes enormous motivation for people to change what they eat. We could have the same low cholesterol that children have,” and he adds, wryly, “but we’d have to stop the Twinkies.”

Doug’s reputation as a sensitive health provider is almost legendary. A local resident, Dorothy Simpson, recalls that when her mother, Audrey, was bedridden in her rural mountain home during a snowy winter some years ago, “Doug would drive as far as the roads allowed, then take his cross-country skis and proceed at least four miles to the home to deliver medical assistance to her.”

This instance, probably one of many, characterizes his commitment to his profession.

This couple, he, now semi-retired from his practice, and she, working two 10-hour shifts at the Behavioral Health Institute, try to live and model their philosophy of healthful living.
His prescription?

“Nutrition, exercise, as little medication as possible; yet, basic meds, e.g. anti-fungal, anti-scabies, antibiotics are life-saving.”

And exercise?

“An hour a day,” he says.

Aileen worries about the childhood obesity crisis.

Doug said, “In some states, 30 percent of children are grossly overweight.”

Like her husband, Aileen is a runner. She adds a mental health factor, “I tend to use my running for prayer.”

Continuing this thread, Doug said, “I think it’s all right for people to make their own choices and try to become separated from the TV. It’s homogenizing and mesmerizing.”

The couple admit to having raised their own children without TV.
Aileen empathizes, “We need to spend more time with our children when they’re growing up.”

No doubt, this medical team is serious about and active in the mission to help others, but they find time for the tender self, as well.
Besides their physical recreation — running —  they both read. Doug is currently delving into American writers Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, ascribing “serenity, unstressed feeling” to these authors. Aileen says that she weaves “for fun.”

He also plays the piano. One of the interviewers requested he play “Clair de Lune,” and he noted that that was one of his mom’s favorites. No recital ensued, however.

At their Victorian home on Fourth Street, the Hugheses are renovating, maintaining their surroundings tastefully, and they continue to keep things simple and healthful.