There’s something about Margaret Tapogna. Just ask the students from her weekly Zumba classes who followed her all the way to a hospital.
A hospital? Yes.
In June, Ms. Tapogna brought her high-energy, jumping-off-a-stage Zumba class to staff at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream. And a gaggle of her regular students came to participate.
It was sort of an encore for her at the community hospital. The lifelong dancer, choreographer, performer and fitness coach had total hip replacement surgery there in February after suffering from osteoarthritis. The condition wears down the protective cartilage between bones. Post-surgery, Ms. Tapogna endured physical therapy twice a week and was back at work dancing with her new hip just 10 weeks after the operation.
She said her surgery and recovery were painless and she wanted to say thank you to the hospital and staff.
“Before the surgery, the pain I had was affecting my quality of life,” she said. “It was taking away what I love and what I know. It was very upsetting to think that I might not be able to do this anymore. I was actually starting to think, ‘How could I teach without legs?’ Dance has always been a vehicle for me. It’s more than a dance class.”
After dancing for most of her life, the 60-year-old’s left hip had deteriorated to “bone on bone,” a hallmark symptom of osteoarthritis. Hip replacement was her only option. Ms. Tapogna said she had faced this before.
“I was concerned because of the experience I had during my prior hip surgery at another hospital. That had been uncomfortable and very frightening for me,” she said. “My experience at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream was completely different. In fact, I had to remind myself that I was in a hospital — it was extraordinary. I had a private room, I had staff coming in all day making sure I was okay. It was very comforting.”
On a recent June day, Ms. Tapogna set up a large speaker on the auditorium stage at LIJ Valley Stream and loaded her playlist. Hospital staff came in — some wearing scrubs, others in gym clothes and others in professional attire. A few women kicked off their high heels to Zumba with the group.
Members from the hospital’s orthopedic unit gathered around Ms. Tapogna and reminisced about her strength and spirit.
Ms. Tapogna spoke to the crowd about her surgery and the extraordinary care she received. Then she began the class. More of an unstoppable force than a recent hip replacement recipient, she led the group through a mix of Latin rhythms, salsa, merengue, cumbia, cha cha, calypso and pop music dance vignettes. Even people who seemed apprehensive joined in from the sidelines to dance.
There was a tall gentleman who stood leaning against the wall taking it all in with a huge smile on his face. James Germano, MD, was the man who performed Margaret’s hip surgery at LIJ Valley Stream. Dr. Germano’s smile waned briefly when Ms. Tapogna jumped off the stage onto the floor. “I kind of held my chest a little bit, but she bounced right up and kept going,” he said. “To see that you can really affect people in that way and change their lives, it’s pretty amazing. We talk about doctors saving lives, and I don’t really do that. I make the lives they have worth living, and for me that’s a great part of what I do.”
Dr. Germano had only seen Ms. Tapogna as a patient. Now he saw her as a dancer.
“I don’t think that people really appreciate what doctors do or healers do,” said Ms. Tapogna. “So for him to be able to see me jumping around and moving like this four months after surgery…he deserves that.”
Ms. Tapogna embodies an athlete, a dancer expressing herself through music. During her Zumba class at LIJ Valley Stream, she even got her doctor to step out and dance.
“Margaret pulled me onto the dance floor and I couldn’t really resist,” Dr. Germano said, smiling.
Ms. Tapogna added: “Dance is like a medicine. Movement and music just allow people to tap into something inside of them that they don’t know they have. I teach all ages, and to watch people just come alive from dancing and listening to music, there’s a joy in it like no other. So every day I just try to reach more and more people through dance.”