Mail started coming into our offices from the Pacific Northwest. First one letter, then another, then another. All from people affiliated with Salem (Ore.) Hospital’s Regional Rehabilitation Center. All in praise of Mary Smith.

“For me, Mary makes going to the therapy pool a more pleasant place to be, where I can work on my muscle difficulties,” writes Ellen A. Tulee, 70. She’s been attending the rehab center since 1999, when, she says, “I needed help learning how to walk again, following a serious case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome,” a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

Smith has been the aquatic specialist for the 63,000-square-foot facility, recently redesigned, for the past 10 years. The center includes an indoor warm water therapy pool (94 degrees), a cold tank used for orthopedic injuries and a spa.

The centerpiece program is STAR — Swim Therapy for Advanced Rehabilitation, to be exact — and many people have been partaking for years, among them Tulee, says program manager Patti Peterson. “It is wonderful to see what a difference warm water has made in assisting them to maximize their strength and flexibility,” she says. “The camaraderie and friendships that have developed are priceless. Patients feel encouraged and supported. They have gained confidence and independence.”

The center treats not only the elderly, says Peterson, but people of all ages (even kids) who have a wide variety of ailments. Still, the older folk are the ones who came out full force in support of Smith.

Marvis Wall, 58, who has had a liver transplant and hip replacement, says, “Water therapy is the reason I am moving and walking.” And Smith, he says, is much more than just a “wonderful, caring individual. … She knows everything there is to know about caring for the pool — heat, chemicals, air temperature — everything. She is at poolside keeping track of all the therapists, children, 95-year-olds and their families.”

“We love her,” Wall says, “and if anyone deserves an award, it is our Mary Smith!”