The 33-second video “BTS Grammy” shows a sunny silver-haired woman grinning from her perch in a hospital bed, surrounded by pictures and dolls of her favorite band, BTS.
The video’s star, known to her grandchildren—and now to @btsgrammy1930’s 32,000 followers on the TikTok video-sharing platform—as “Grammy,” is Mary Beth Alexander, a dynamic widow from Aurora, Ohio.
Alexander, 90, has devoted her life to meaningful work and relationships.
A skilled poet who used to write verse for the American Greetings card company, she also spent decades selling her original wildlife paintings and raising four daughters with her beloved husband, Jay.
She later cared for Jay at home during his long years of decline.
In early 2021, Alexander found herself under the care of others, as she fought her way back from bilateral hip fractures.
Her rehab journey prompted the video, which celebrates both Alexander’s spunk and her love for the seven-member boy band from South Korea.
“I’ve never been a groupie before,” she said. But after her daughter Colleen introduced her to the K-pop band three years ago, she became “smitten” and learned all she could about the BTS crew and Korean culture.
“In fact, we had tickets to go to South Korea,” she said. “And then of course COVID hit and we had to cancel our trip.”
Two broken hips
In the midst of the pandemic, Alexander faced another huge hurdle.
She lost her balance on a small step and fell, breaking both hips and four ribs.
The fall happened at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Wende and Chris Clark, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she had planned to spend a few weeks over the holiday season.
Weeks turned into months, thanks to Alexander’s devastating tumble. On Jan. 5, she landed in Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital’s ICU in extreme pain.
After running scans and X-rays to reveal the extent of Alexander’s injuries, members of the acute care and orthopedic trauma teams met with her and Wende to explain the treatment options.
Because of her advanced age and complex injuries, the medical team couldn’t offer the family a clear-cut decision.
“The first thing we do is … individualize the patient’s care,” explained Medardo Maroto, MD, the orthopedic trauma surgeon on call when Alexander arrived. “What are their needs? What are their expectations?”
In Alexander’s case, the team offered two possible pathways: surgery to repair the two hips or palliative care to keep her comfortable as she lived out her days.
In sharing this information, Dr. Maroto said, he and his colleagues tried to paint a clear, honest picture of what the future could look like under either option.
If Alexander chose to undergo surgery, recovery wouldn’t be easy, he said. To get back on her feet, she would have to pour herself into physical and occupational therapy.
But her positive attitude and underlying good health would take her a long way.
“You’re probably not going to be perfect after this, and you’re going to be slow,” Dr. Maroto told her, explaining that bilateral hip fractures are challenging and rare.
If she chose palliative care, she would be restricted to bed, with medications on board to manage the pain. As commonly happens with patients her age, she would likely die of pneumonia or another complication of inactivity after a few months, her doctors said.
At first Alexander expressed concern about the notion of surgery.
She questioned whether she would pull through and worried how her decision and its aftermath might affect her family.
Yet, after taking time to talk with her children, Alexander realized she still had so much to live for—including her first great-grandchild, who would soon turn 1.
“I kind of wanted to be around to watch him grow up,” she said. Plus, “they told me what the alternative would be, and I didn’t like it.”
So the day after her fall, Dr. Maroto took her into surgery, where he repaired first one side and then the other, inserting rods in both thigh bones.
Though there are risks to fixing two hips in a single surgery, the team kept a close eye on Alexander’s vitals and found it safe to go ahead.
“We proceeded and everything went well—and she ended up being a rock star,” Dr. Maroto said.
Once Alexander opted for surgery, the medical team’s No. 1 goal became helping her make a meaningful recovery—getting her “back to doing the things that she loves with the people that she loves,” said Elizabeth Steensma, MD, an acute care surgeon and intensive care/trauma specialist who cared for Alexander throughout her time at Butterworth Hospital.
Though Alexander had a couple of rough post-op days in the ICU, she bounced back and set her mind on working with the hospital therapy staff.
“She was one of those patients that you knew in your heart of hearts she was going to do well because she wanted to do well,” Dr. Steensma said.
“She was bound and determined that she was going to impress the therapists so that she could go to acute rehab.”
The plan worked.
A week after her surgery, Alexander transferred to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital.
But not before introducing her Butterworth Hospital care team to BTS.
“She taught me who they were—I didn’t even know,” Dr. Steensma said.
“She had a different pair of (BTS) socks for every day of the week. And she would just light up every time you would talk about it.”
Meeting a new team of physical and occupational therapists at Blodgett Hospital gave Alexander a new opportunity to share the K-pop love.
“We would listen to BTS every single day during therapy … once she could get up and move and jam out a little bit,” Lauren Van Seters, PTA, said.
“It was adorable to see how excited she got.”
During her six weeks of inpatient rehab, Alexander progressed from needing at least two people to help her with everything—getting out of bed, standing, taking a few steps—to requiring minimal assistance from a single person.
She came off her pain medications.
She moved from using a Rifton Pacer—a weight-bearing gait trainer—to using a walker with forearm platforms to a standard four-wheeled walker.
She went from being able to take six steps, with assistance, to taking 53.
Every day she added to the number until she topped 100 steps.
“It was gradual, and I got cheered for every advancement,” Alexander said. “It was heartening.”
That kind of progress is a big deal at age 90, Van Seters said.
“As far as I know, we have never seen someone her age … have bilateral hip fractures and survive it and come to therapy,” she said.
“That alone kind of tells you how much fight she has in her.”
Once discharged to Wende’s house, Alexander hired in-home physical therapy services to keep pushing her forward.
A contest with her 1-year-old great-grandson kept her motivated: Who would be the first to walk without assistance?
Alexander’s ultimate goal is to move home to Ohio, where her husband lies buried and her friends await her return.
Wende’s goal? To reschedule their mother-daughter trip to South Korea.
Alexander isn’t so sure about that, nor is Dr. Maroto.
But he won’t rule it out.
“If she keeps moving forward at the pace that she is, maybe she will prove me wrong,” he said. “I hope she does.”