At 105 years and counting, Sue Campbell of Huntsville is near the top of the list of Alabama’s oldest residents.
Despite being blessed with good genes, Sue’s family says she wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of Huntsville Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Rony Najjar.
Rewind to April 2018. A few weeks after celebrating her 100th birthday, Sue – known as “Mama Campbell” to friends and family – developed a potentially fatal bowel obstruction. She was rushed by ambulance to Huntsville Hospital, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center. Dr. Najjar, the on-call trauma surgeon that night, told the family that without emergency surgery to remove the obstruction, Sue would almost certainly die.
But operating on someone that age was risky, he cautioned, and the odds of a full recovery were slim.
“There was only a little bit of hope,” Dr. Najjar recalled. “But we banked on that hope.”
Over the course of two surgeries on consecutive days, Dr. Najjar and the Operating Room team removed 3 ½ feet of small intestines and then carefully reconstructed Sue’s digestive tract and abdominal wall. She spent three weeks in the hospital recovering.
She remains the oldest patient Dr. Najjar has operated on in his 28-year career as a surgeon.
“It’s so heartwarming that she is still alive five years later,” he said. “Really, it’s astonishing.”
If you met Sue today, you’d never guess her age. She rarely misses a Sunday morning (or Wednesday evening) service at her church, Westlawn Baptist. She cut her own grass until she turned 99. She visits her favorite beauty shop every Friday, loves fried chicken and has a great sense of humor. Above all, she cherishes spending quality time with her large family, including seven great-great grandchildren.
“She’s still enjoying life,” says daughter Glenda Humphrey.
When Sue was born on Feb. 18, 1918, Woodrow Wilson was president, World War I was raging in Europe, and Charlie Chaplin was Hollywood’s hottest (silent) film star. Sue graduated from the old Riverton High School in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, and married Robert Campbell in October 1940. For nearly four decades, the couple operated C&M Cash Store in Huntsville’s Five Points neighborhood.
“It was a mom-and-pop grocery store – the kind that doesn’t exist anymore,” Glenda says. “They let customers who didn’t have enough money run a tab and settle up when they got their paycheck. They delivered groceries right to your door. For some older customers, they would bring the groceries inside and put them up in the pantry for you.”
When COVID-19 hit and assisted living facilities went into lockdown, Sue moved in with Glenda and her husband, George Humphrey. Although she has been diagnosed with heart failure and can’t see well due to macular degeneration, she is happy.
“Our entire family is just so grateful for Dr. Najjar,” says Glenda. “He gave her almost 5 ½ extra years of life, so far, that she has enjoyed to the fullest.”