Caregiver of the Month Spotlight
The love that both Warren and Donna share is very special. Donna is 35 and Warren is now 37. Caregiving knows no boundaries, nor does a stroke.The "Carr" Family is a story of strength, courage and love. It will touch your heart and inspire you in your role as a caregiver.
Love Is the Best Medicine
Twenty years ago I met the lady who would become my wife, and on the 10th of this month, we will celebrate our 15th anniversary. God always said He would never give us more than we could handle, and after the obstacles that my wife and I have experienced, I truly believe that.
Donna and I met while we both were still in high school (she a freshman and I a junior). We attended the same school and church in California prior to Donna and her Mom moving to Oregon in her senior year of high school. After she graduated, I drove to Oregon, helped her pack her bags, and moved her back to California where she stayed with friends for the next couple of years. We did everything together and enjoyed each other's company constantly, and as our relationship evolved we married on August 10, 1985. It's easy when you love the one you marry.
In 1990 we had Joshua, and 1992 saw the birth of Jessica. With the birth of our kids, Donna became a stay-at-home mother. We were fortunate that I had a job which paid well enough to allow her that choice. We lived in southern California until time for Joshua to begin school. We then moved to Oregon and never looked back. It was a hard decision for all of us but one of the best we've made. For the next four years we enjoyed the rivers, lakes and mountains. We became an outdoor family as we explored and hiked, and I don't think we ever spent a weekend at home.
In August of 1998, both my sisters (along with the family of one) came to visit. The three of us hadn't been together in years, so it was a wonderful reunion. My youngest sister left after a week, leaving my oldest sister remaining with us a while longer. Two days later, life as all of us had known it changed forever. Donna returned to bed from a shower complaining of dizziness, and within a few minutes her voice became slurred and her eyes fell shut. I awoke my sister, she called 911, and that began a very lengthy hospital stay along with tests too numerous to mention. After 3 CT scans, 2 MRIs, a spinal tap, EEGs, EKGs, a brain wave test and lab work, the doctors still had no solid answers. They scheduled Donna for an Angio to the brain, and the day she went through that was the worst day of my life. They found a blood clot in the Brainstem, CVA or stroke-however you want to say it. The doctor told me she would never get better and advised me to look into nursing facilities. The brainstem effects all of your motor skills (eating, talking, moving, operating your eyes, etc.) It can also effect your heart and breathing but we were fortunate as that never happened. I later met with 3 or 4 other doctors, none of whom painted a very pretty picture. But I wasn't ready to give up yet. I wasn't holding up too well, and had it not been for a nurse in ICU, I don't know if I could have made it through that evening.
Donna spent the next 7 days in ICU before being moved. She had stabilized a bit, but by this point she was "locked in." She wasn't able to talk, move, eat, open her eyes -- nothing. It was as if she was in a coma, but she could hear and understand. Over the next four months we worked on communicating with eye blinks, sticking out her tongue or moving a little finger, but nothing seemed to work well. She spent the next two and a half weeks at this hospital before being Life-flighted to RIO (Rehab Institute of Oregon), over 300 miles away from our home. RIO became her home for the next four months and I made the 5 hour drive 2-3 times a week. She spent much of her time in rehab and the rest of her time crying.
After Donna's being in Portland for nearly 3 months, I received a phone call one day from her speech therapist. She put Donna on the phone and for the first time in three months, Donna was able to say her first words. "I LOVE YOU." It was such an awesome feeling after months of nothing. I'll never forget that day.
As the holidays rolled around, Donna was wanting to be in the hospital less and less. For Thanksgiving I cooked a turkey in my hotel room and took it to the hospital. Donna was beginning to eat a little but she had to be careful, so 3-4 bites was all she could manage, but the kids had fun eating and playing in her hospital room. By December the snow had begun and I was taking Donna for rides in the wheelchair. Yes, I did get her out in the snow! People looked at me as if I were out of my mind, but I knew Donna better than anyone and that's always been her favorite weather. It took me the next three weeks of writing letters and meeting with doctors and nurses to convince everyone that Donna needed a pass for Christmas, and it was a week before it was approved. I borrowed a friend's Suburban (Donna couldn't sit up very long at this point) and the next three days were ours. By now, Donna was beginning to talk and eat again and her eyes had been open for a little while. Her left eye pointed outwards and she had double vision, but she was starting to get some movement back in her arms and legs. She was taking close to 25 meds daily, mostly through her peg tube (feeding tube directly into her stomach), and it was through the tube that she was still primarily being fed. We had Christmas at home. When I got back to Portland I felt a new confidence about her coming home and started pushing in that direction. After another couple of weeks, we left Portland hopefully to never return.
Almost home! We had one more week to spend at the local hospital before coming home. The kids and I were more than ready to have Mom back, wheelchair or not. When Donna first came home the house resembled a hospital room, with an electric bed in the living room and all. Within the next few months we formed a routine and progress was made. She was now able to hug and even tickle the kids again. She took a few steps while holding my hands. We hired a couple of caregivers so I could continue to work. She began a regular exercise program which she still does daily. Donna's main goal now is to walk and take care of the kids again. It will take more work, but I have faith that she'll make it. After all, if she's strong enough to put up with me.....
Our spiritual life has always been an important part in our marriage. After our wedding, we went our separate way from the church but we always knew that God was there to support us. We tried various churches, and since Donna's stroke I've attended several but never felt quite comfortable with any of them. Added to that was the amount of driving I was doing back and forth to see Donna, which left me with little time. Still, I prayed daily. After Donna returned home, it was a hard adjustment and we basically stayed home, but now we have actually settled into a church that we both feel comfortable with. It is a Baptist church here in Medford, Oregon, where we've met a few people and continue our involvement. .
I have the most wonderful family in the world and am so glad that we are all together again. Donna's been home for almost a year and half now and we are getting active again. We have a few more obstacles to overcome, but God gives us our strength.
God bless all,
Warren, Donna, Josh and Jessi
EMPOWER, NG CAREGIVERS features the "CAREGIVER OF THE MONTH SPOTLIGHT". If you know of a unique caregiver who you would like to honor or perhaps submit yourself, please send a jpg photograph (if one is available) along with your story. All submissions must be received by the third week of each month to be considered. In the subject line, please type CAREGIVER SPOTLIGHT SUBMISSION. Submit your entries here
© Copyright Gail R. Mitchell.
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