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Introducing The Family Caregiver of the Year Winner: Patti H

Valerie Henderson
Written by Valerie Henderson on Tue Mar 02 2021.
Introducing The Family Caregiver of the Year Winner: Patti H

After a year of unprecedented demand on caregivers, we introduced the Family Caregiver of the Year Awards not only to uplift caregivers and amplify their stories, but to provide monetary rewards to a group that sacrifices their own well-being and finances to provide the best quality of life to their families. 

We wanted to hear your stories, learn about your challenges, and, most importantly, celebrate your achievements. 

The response was overwhelming. We received over 100 nominations, and the stories you provided detailing your own journeys as both caregivers and recipients were thoughtful and moving. We wish we could have chosen every one of you, but after careful consideration, we have selected three winners, with first place prize going to Patti H. 

Patti H., a 911 dispatcher, has been a caregiver to her 85-year-old mother for five years. In 2016, Patti began supporting her mother after she suffered physical injuries as a result of a series of falls and began losing her eyesight due to wet macular degeneration. A couple of years later, Patti welcomed her brother into her home and became his primary caregiver after he became bedridden and completely blind. “I am so glad I am able to help my mom and my brother,” said Patti in her submission. “I admit, sometimes it is overwhelming, but I just keep reminding myself that someday they may not be around, and, although I will be very sad, I want to feel I did what I could to help them.”

We asked Patti to share any advice or insight into the caregiving process – and she more than delivered. See below for a Q&A with our Family Caregiver of the Year Award Winner – Patti H. 

Patti, How did you decide to provide in-home care for your mother and brother?

It’s not so much that I made the decision to do it – it just sort of happened.  My mom, who is 85 years old now, had a series of falls in a relatively short period of time in 2016, the last of which put her in the hospital and then rehab for several weeks. She lives by herself, and once home, she could no longer drive or do anything other than simple household chores. I go to her house daily to do laundry and upkeep and take her shopping and to various appointments because she no longer drives. My mom is a retired R.N., and she took care of her mother in another state the last few months of my grandmother’s life. I want to be able to do the same for my mom (although, I hope I have her for many more years). 

My brother has had poor health for over 20 years due to diabetes. He is also totally blind. When he first moved in, he was able to do some things for himself – including moving around the house or heating up food I had made for him if I was at work, but over time his health has become worse. Since 2019, he has been mostly bedridden. He can use a walker to get to the bathroom most of the time, but it is very difficult for him. For his few doctor visits outside the house, he must use a wheelchair.

I’ll be 60 years old this year, and even though it is exhausting at times, I feel fortunate that I can still help my family when and where they need it!

How do you physically and emotionally take care of yourself while caring for your brother and mother?

There are definitely days I am exhausted, both physically and mentally, but taking care of myself so don’t get sick is very important. I have been a vegetarian/vegan for 36 years, and feel this is one aspect that has helped in keeping me as healthy as possible. I go to my chiropractor once a month for the stress I hold in my shoulders, neck, and back. I watch webinars when I can that pertain to health or other aspects of my life that I enjoy.  

I joke about “de-stressing” by going to my night job as a 911 call taker, dispatcher, and trainer, which I’ve done for 32 years. But in all honesty, I always enjoy coming home. Answering 911 calls gives me perspective, and reminds me how lucky I am compared to a lot of other people who are perhaps experiencing the worst day of their lives.

For my emotional well-being, I have other passions in life that bring me joy and help me to get into a positive frame of mind when needed.  One of my biggest passions has always been animals, and I continue to donate to various animal charities. I have a National Wildlife Federation-certified yard, and I try to take a break once in a while to enjoy watching the dozens of birds, butterflies, deer, squirrels, raccoons, and skunks that play in my yard.  I also enjoy cooking when I have time, and my brother likes a lot of my vegan dishes (although, for him, I do manage to feed him non-vegan food, too).

What advice would you give to someone considering a full-time family caregiving role?

If possible, hold on to your passions in life to “escape” to, whether it be a hobby or favorite pastime.  Although you probably won’t have the same amount of time you used to have to enjoy it, try to allow yourself some time whenever you can.  

Your life will change dramatically – every decision you make will have to include or work around your family member for whom you are caring (what food to buy/cook, what days can you make appointments for yourself, etc.). I don’t know how many times I’ve had to change MY appointments to accommodate the appointments for my brother and my mom.  

Caregiving can be a financial burden – look into resources that can help, from free donations from local organizations to monetary help from other family members.

Know that you may be cleaning soiled sheets, towels, and clothes on a routine basis. You and your mop will become friends (I used to hate to mop)!

Your emotions will be up and down, but you will also find out that you are stronger than you thought you could be!  If you have access to an employee assistance program at your workplace, they might be a good resource if you need to talk to someone.  

Most importantly – realize your limitations, and set boundaries.  Accept that sometimes you can’t do it ALL (definitely one thing I’m trying to get better at)! 

What is the most rewarding aspect of this role?

Helping my family!  Family comes first in my book. Someday they won’t be here, and I don’t want to look back and wonder if I did everything I reasonably could to help them.

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Valerie Henderson
Valerie Henderson

Having written for companies ranging from MTV to the Olympics, Valerie Henderson spearheads Carewell's communications and PR efforts. A resident of Park City, Utah, Valerie enjoys four of the things her region is famous for: hiking, independent film, a house full of kids, and weak beer.