HONOLULU (KHON2) - At a time when most seniors are kicking back and enjoying the good life, Stan Michaels, 77, is active and won't retire.
His job is more than just work, it's his mission. Michaels is devoted to keeping our kupuna safe from falls, the leading cause of death and injury for the elderly.
For the last 14 years, Michaels has worked for the Department of Health's Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch, and the last 10 as its senior fall prevention coordinator.
"It's a very, very serious problem in our state," he said.
Michaels was born and raised in Southern California, and first fell in love with Hawaii at age 16.
He attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa on scholarship, then moved back to the mainland to work. But the islands still called to him. "Each time I got a break or a moment, I came back," he said.
He eventually moved to Hawaii island to care for his parents, and that's when his father took a fall.
"I found him after he had been on the ground for about six hours," Michaels recalled. "I panicked. I did everything wrong, at that time not knowing what to do. But I finally got 911, they came and were able to get him up, and he recovered from that fall. It was not pretty, but he recovered."
An open position in fall prevention at the Department of Health struck a chord in him.
"I was terrified and hadn't reacted well with my dad, and I figured I needed to learn a little bit more about this so I can help the rest of the kupuna," he said. "One of the most glorious parts about the job is hearing what happens to an entire host of seniors, particularly in our tai chi classes. We had many people that have had strokes and then they fall because of those strokes. After they've taken tai chi for a short amount of time, they're beginning to regain their balance and their attitude about living sort of brightens up."
Hawaii now has the lowest number of injuries by falling among seniors, and the state's awareness campaign was nationally recognized for its success.
Michaels considers it a team effort.
"It was because of the volunteers that we had, because we had pharmacies working with us, because we had City Mill working with us, because we had tai chi classes, because we had bus posters in the city buses and express buses. All of those things took to a very effective campaign," he said. "We have such reach because I'm with the Department of Health that I'm able to do things I could never do by myself."