Medical problems won’t keep Cranston native from enjoying life

Posted 8/2/22

As Chepachet resident Kathleen Wikstrom, 70, tells it, her friends think she should write a book about her life; however, she says people would think it is fiction. Over the years, Wikstrom has …

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Medical problems won’t keep Cranston native from enjoying life


As Chepachet resident Kathleen Wikstrom, 70, tells it, her friends think she should write a book about her life; however, she says people would think it is fiction. Over the years, Wikstrom has experienced a myriad of medical problems that have left doctors suggesting hospice. Her answer? “Yeah, right. I’m staying right here,” adding that if the doctors haven’t found her expiration date, she’s going home.

Born in Cranston, Wikstrom lived in the city until age 12 when she moved to Johnston with her family. She attended Gladstone Street School and Johnston’s junior and senior high school.

At age 13, Wikstrom was in a horrific car accident that resulted in six plastic surgery operations over the next five years. She and her sister, Lorraine, were driving down Reservoir Avenue to their Johnston home when Lorraine (who was a new driver) saw a family friend working in the flower beds and waved. As she waved, she turned the wheel at the same time which sent the car 25 to 30 mph into a roadside pole; the car did not have seatbelts.

Lorraine injured her back and Wikstrom was brought to Roger Williams General Hospital where she went into surgery for 11 hours. She was told that the doctor, Martin Feldman, stopped counting the stitches on her face after he reached 900. Wikstrom was hospitalized for roughly a week and home for several months before going back to school. Because she couldn’t do much, Wikstrom would drag herself downstairs and play the piano for eight to 10 hours a day. She became extremely good – so much so that her mom and piano teacher, Bernardina Fortini, brought her to the New England Conservatory of Music for a pre-college music course. Wikstrom started teaching piano at age 14 and gave her first recital that same year at the Providence Public Library.

Wikstrom went on to work for her father’s company -- Annex Glass & Novelty in Johnston – where she eventually became a purchasing agent after high school. In 1988, she decided to go to college – working full-time at her father’s company by day and attending school full-time at night. Wikstrom graduated from the New England Institute of Technology two years later with an electrical-mechanical drafting technology degree.

In the engineering field, she said she had to grow a thick skin because at the time there were not many females in the industry.

“You had to be twice as good as the men, and I proved myself,” said Wikstrom.

Wikstrom filled temporary employee positions and at one company solved a problem in half an hour that the company had been trying to solve for two years. She remained in the engineering industry for 13 years until becoming sick with fibromyalgia – a disorder where the individual experiences widespread musculoskeletal pain along with fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Wikstrom could no longer do the calculations in her head and, since any form of error could wind up killing someone, she returned to school to pursue an alternative career path.

This time, Wikstrom attended Fisher College in Boston for a degree as an administrative assistant with a medical concentration. She said as a kid she always had her head in books on medicine and nutrition.

During the courses, Wikstrom wouldn’t take notes or open the textbooks but got perfect scores on tests. Because she had experience as a first responder in the 70s, she knew a lot of the information. Wikstrom missed several of her anatomy and physiology classes because her mother passed away – she walked in for a test without studying and got a 70 percent.

Her professor took note of the fact that Wikstrom never opened her book. During a pig dissection, the professor told her she handled the scalpel like the surgeons in the area hospitals and accused Wikstrom of being “planted” in her classroom because she was that good. Wikstrom went on to take the final exam, but due to her fibromyalgia, she wouldn’t go on to use the degree.

Over the years, Wikstrom has had numerous medical issues including cysts, tumors, polyps, a gallbladder removal and partial colon removal. She also has hypoxemia, arthritis, asthma, a kidney disorder, blood clot in the lung and anemia to name only a few. However, she keeps on going.

Wikstrom describes her husband, Bill, as her “earth angel.” Growing up in Warwick and attending Warwick Vets, Bill met Wikstrom at age 14; they got married in 1971.

Wikstrom met Bill by dating one of his friends – who was also named Bill. Wikstrom said she met the first Bill at Rocky Point. After going out for a few weeks, she found out his birthday was in July and planned a party. She got the names of some of his friends and invited them (one of the individuals being her future husband).

The Bill who Wikstrom was dating at the time arrived early to the party while Wikstrom was helping her grandfather with landscaping around the yard. She asked Bill to help, but later found him sitting on the stonewall having a cigarette.

“I have no tolerance for laziness,” Wikstrom said, mentioning that she told him to leave.

Bill took off in his car and, because he was spinning his tires, she thought he might get hurt. She called the other Bill and told him what happened and he went to find him.

Eventually, Wikstrom and the new Bill started hanging out. He offered to help her dad with yard work. After watching him through the weeks and seeing he had his head on his shoulders and was patient and kind, at the age of 15 she decided this was the man she wanted to marry.

She said with all the medical problems she’s had, most guys would have run the other way. But not Bill.

Wikstrom recalled coming home from the hospital and wanting to go upstairs, but seeing that it looked like a mountain to climb. Bill helped her up the stairs and brought her scrambled eggs for breakfast for a month.

“Every time I have been sick or had surgery and especially now with the care that I require Bill has been by my side keeping me safe,” Wikstrom said. “He takes care of changing the ostomy pouch once a week as it needs changing three times a week and the visiting nurses only come twice. He has learned how to do so many things medically for me and most of the nurses say that he does a better job than they can do. I married an incredible man.”

She said a few times I told him he should go to college and become a nurse and he said, “I do this only for you.”

She said if it were not for him, she would have died a long time ago.

And, as she said, unless the doctors “find her expiration date,” she’s here to stay.

medical problems, Kathleen Wikstrom


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