Retirees find new purpose in Panama
If you have ever dreamed of escaping the 9 to 5 and following your dreams and then doubted that you could, remember others have already! Allow us to introduce you to more of our fellow “Escapee’s”.
Their answers may inspire you too to follow your dream.
Why move overseas?
In 2007 Loni (now 62) and Mike O’Grady (66) were lucky to survive the rock fall and 64 ton boulder that crushed their car in a major slide on the Big Island of Hawaii. Loni woke four days later to find that she had already undergone two surgeries to repair the injuries sustained as their car was hit, flipped and then hit by a following car. During the next 18 months, she had eight surgeries and slowly progressed from a wheelchair, to crutches and to a cane.
Mike was released from hospital after one week with five broken ribs, a broken collarbone, sternum, and wrist, one year later he had knee surgery and two years after he had to have both knees replaced.
Although the site “was graded # 38 in severity out of 200 potential rockslide sites on the Big Island in 2005 by a company hired to complete a rock fall hazard index, ranking severity of potential rock fall sites for remediation. The chief highway maintenance engineer for the island, was unaware or the study findings, and the fact that he was supposed to begin remediation of those sites”.
They had lived and worked on the Big Island as a speech-language pathologist and school social worker for years. They loved the warm climate and during their free time, they worked at the local Parrot sanctuary and looked after their own gold macaw and two cockatoos.
Following the accident, ‘with both of them denied compensation from the state run program; Mike had to return–still recovering from his injuries–to a modified desk job to earn an income”.
The harsh reality of having to survive on one income as Loni was unable to return to work plus ongoing medical expenses was a huge financial drain. Retirement seemed to be further away than ever.
As anyone who has visited Hawaii knows, it costs a lot to live there, which meant they were struggling to maintain their lifestyle there. There was also no way they could retire there or fulfill their dream of living Oceanside. They started looking for alternatives and spent countless hours researching via internet, forums and emailing expats in the area.
What were they looking for?
They had a very clear idea of what they wanted. “We were looking for a country that was stable politically, was safe, was tropical or subtropical, and was much less expensive, with the possibility that we could live oceanfront”. They settled on Panama.
Photo Credit: Mike O’Grady
When and how did they move?
In November 2012, after selling or giving away their belongings, including their beloved birds, they flew to Panama. The popularity of Boquete as a retirement destination had peaked their interest and was first on their itinerary. After only two weeks, they realized this was not the place; neither was the lifestyle of nearby Bocas Del Toro even though living oceanfront was possible.
On December 15th 2012 they arrived in Playa Uverito on the Azuero Peninsula. They “fell in love with the place and the locals who showed us what Bienvenido (Welcome) really meant”.
It took them a few weeks to find a permanent place to call home here. Thanks to a Panamanian veterinarian, their new home is a one story glowing yellow cottage perched just feet away from Playa Uverito’s beach. The wide shady veranda fanned by the steady ocean breeze is dotted with hammocks, wicker rocking chairs, dogs, dog toys and beds. Papaya, Bananas and limes grow in their yard, as do a number of wire enclosures for housing the abandoned and starving beach dogs they rescue.
From her wicker rocker, surrounded by her dogs, with a rescued puppy in her lap, Loni explains the dilemma that they faced. They loved living in Hawaii, their work and the work they did with the Parrot sanctuary, which was a big part of their lives there. However, they knew that there were other places “which would allow them to not only recover their pre-accident lifestyle, but to achieve an even better lifestyle”.
The biggest challenges for them?
Was making the decision to leave, because they had only a limited moving budget they had to give up their two cockatoos and their blue and gold macaw to make the move. They also miss family and friends but still manage to go home regularly.
Loni continues, “I have worked hard on a daily basis to heal myself after the medical experts had finally told me that “this was all they could do”. I have slowly improved to my current level of functioning. Quite frankly, I am more content now, after this close brush with death, than I ever have been”.
How does their new life compare with what they left behind?
Within days of arriving, they noticed the large number of dogs suffering from starvation and disease, roaming the beach and town in search of food scraps. They quickly saw that their love, compassion and caring were needed here too, this time for furred rather than feathered friends.
They started by bringing a little food to the beach each day, identifying and befriending the dogs who appeared in the most need. The numbers of starving, diseased and abandoned dogs kept expanding. Soon they were feeding and housing nine of them and looking for ways to help the rest.
Using their own funds, donations from local businesses and with help from Boquete’s Los Amigos des Animales and Animal Avocates of Pedasi, they are now able to provide food, shelter and love for twenty dogs. With the help of these associations and Spay Panama,each dog is spayed or neutered and nursed back to health and eventually placed in a forever home.
They may be retired but they are busier than ever. On my first visit they were overseeing construction of a new enclosure, cleaning poop out of the pens, cooking chicken livers (to supplement the dogs diet) and handing out ear scratches and belly rubs as they went. They also walk the beach every day, checking on the health of the other beach dogs and on the lookout for new arrivals. Sadly, they have seen dogs thrown from cars or simply left behind to fend as best they can.
Within one short year, they have upgraded to oceanfront living, are healthier and happier than they have ever been and live comfortably on their retirement income. They have been warmly welcomed into their community and have discovered a sense of purpose in establishing their shelter Adopt a Dog Azuero. Visitors are always welcome and donations of food, collars, leads and cash are all gratefully accepted.
Loni and Mike’s advice to others is simple. “Decide what is important in your life. Make a checklist and do the footwork via research. Email expats in that area and ask questions. Screw up your courage and just do it!”
Loni also adds, “I am not the person that I was prior to the 2007 accident, I am changed/different. I am grateful for all I was given in life, everything that was taken away, and for what I still have. We are lucky people. Today I try to see “the silver lining” of whatever problem that confronts us. I am alive. I am content. I am grateful”.
To find out more about their new purpose in life or to donate (donations are very welcome, dog food is not a cheap item in Panama) please visit Adopt a Dog Azuero and use the PayPal button.
There are more Escapee profiles to come. We look forward to hearing your feedback, comments or ideas for further profiles.