Elishia Boutwell, like many longtime smokers, was struggling to quit. The now-retired Monroe teacher had been smoking for 46 years. A visit to her primary care provider at St. Francis Medical Center in 2020 changed everything — and led her down a path to helping others, as well.
“He told me if I didn’t quit smoking, I was going to have a stroke,” Elishia says. Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to go far to find a solution. “He was on the first floor; the Tobacco Cessation program was on the second floor. So, I went up there and talked to them and got on board.”
The St. Francis Tobacco Cessation program works with participants to develop a plan that meets their specific needs, identifies triggers they may have and helps them achieve meaningful goals. It offers individual and group sessions, check-in calls, educational resources and telehealth visits.
Elishia met with Roxanne McCormick, Tobacco Cessation coordinator, and soon became one of the program’s first telehealth participants (the service was added in September 2019 not long before the COVID-19 pandemic). Through phone calls and video conferencing, Elishia and the certified tobacco treatment specialists discussed her medical history and what she wanted out of the program and began mapping out a plan to help her quit.
She was still teaching at the time and would reach for a pack of cigarettes as soon as she got home from school. Through the program, she gradually decreased the number of cigarettes she smoked in an evening.
She made considerable progress over a few months, reducing her cigarette use to four or five a day. But the looming worry of her provider’s stroke warning and the desire to be around and healthy for her grandchildren pushed her to quit entirely.
“For me personally, it was always a question of could this be the cigarette that causes the stroke? Is it worth it?” Elishia says.
She attributes a lot of her success to the Tobacco Cessation program’s team.
“They were just so caring and seemed like family to me,” she says. “If I had any questions, they didn’t hesitate to answer. If I felt like I had fallen, they would build me back up. I felt like I had someone to hold my hand and walk me through it.”
After completing the program and retiring from the school system, Elishia wanted to give back and volunteer at St. Francis in some way. Roxanne asked if she’d be interested in helping the Tobacco Cessation program.
Elishia didn’t hesitate and has been volunteering for nearly a year, conducting regular wellness calls to participants. While she is not certified to provide treatment or assistance to participants, Elishia helps to check in on them about their progress and connect them with the program’s specialists if needed.
“I let them know that I’ve been through the program, too, and I understand,” she says. “I try to encourage them not to worry about what’s happened in the past. You just have to take it one day at a time.”
Today, Elishia has been smoke free for two years and still works every day to overcome the urge to grab a cigarette.
Her provider also encouraged her to take another step once she quit: joining a gym to expand her lungs and get healthier. She now exercises three times a week — something she never thought she could have done before.
And she continues to provide that helpful voice on the other end of the phone for participants who need to hear from someone who has experienced the same struggles.
“I can see the success stories and it’s very rewarding,” she says. “I just really believe in what the program is doing.”