CICOA Caregiver of the Year
What does it take to be an extraordinary caregiver? CICOA is proud to recognize its three 2016 Caregiver of the Year finalists, each with an inspiring story of courage, sacrifice, strength and creativity while caring for another. The winner will be honored during CICOA’s annual Signature Breakfast. Each of these local, unpaid caregivers brings to the task a unique strength — an essential tool in their caregiver toolkit.
Nomination letter by daughter Kelli Towles
“My dad, Gayle Towles, has said on numerous occasions that he was always meant to be a caregiver. Until her death from colon cancer almost 20 years ago, he was with my mom daily, never leaving her side and even retiring from a coaching/teaching job he loved to care for her full time.
“A few years after my mom’s death, my dad met and married his current wife, Kitty, who in January succumbed to Alzheimer’s. He had been a full-time caregiver for her for the past eight years, and at age 81, said that as long as he was able to care for her, he would continue to do so. Kitty was completely dependent on him for several years, unable to walk, see, speak or go to the bathroom on her own. My dad fed her, changed her diapers, drained her throat, provided her oxygen and nebulizer, kept her meds organized and performed numerous other duties to keep her comfortable, happy and as healthy as possible. He dressed her quite fashionably, put makeup on her, got her hair done and took her anywhere he could, from the grocery and church, even Pacers games. Toward the end, she was unable to communicate on any level, but he was as proud as a peacock to have had her by his side. Even on the days he received relief, he said he missed not being with her.
“My dad is an inspiration to everyone he comes in contact with. Many times when he was out in a restaurant with Kitty, feeding her every bite, strangers would come up to him and comment on his love and patience. Some even paid for their dinner without saying a word.
“The example my dad has provided for his great-granddaughters cannot be underestimated, showing them what it is to care for someone without expecting anything in return. When he said his vows for better or worse, he truly meant every word. As with all caregivers, there are struggles, but he never complains. The hospice nurses who assisted him were amazed at how kind, gentle and patient he is, and have indicated that my dad’s love and care are what kept Kitty going for so long.
“My dad is the epitome of caregiving, and was certainly placed on earth to show others what it truly means to love.”
Nomination letter by Amanda Avant, IU Health professional
“Janelle and her husband, Patrick, dated for more than six years and have been married for three. On Feb. 10, 2014, at age 34, Patrick was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure due to a familial cardiomyopathy.
“Originally, Patrick received a BiVAD Centrimag device intended for short-term recovery and a bridge to a heart transplant, spending four months in the ICU. In June 2014, a complication led Patrick to a Left Ventricular Assist Device pump, which was disheartening news to the family.
“During this time, Janelle juggled caregiving responsibilities with mothering her 13-month-old child and figuring out how to provide for her family. She had to receive training on the ventricular assist device before Patrick could be released to go home and wait for his transplant. He wasn’t able to work and money was tight.
“With all this information thrown at her so quickly, Janelle didn’t bat an eye. She was available at all times and communicated well with Patrick’s health care team. Many young VAD patients struggle with the device, as it requires a huge lifestyle change for both the patient and the caregiver. If it weren’t for Janelle, Patrick may not have stayed on track. Within the year, Janelle became pregnant again. As if this family hadn’t already faced enough stress, their little girl was born prematurely in 2015. Even as a new mom with a baby in the NICU, Janelle managed to take care of Patrick. It’s amazing how far a person’s strength can be stretched — Janelle is a prime example and came out shining in the end.
“The baby girl regained her health and came home, but in November 2015, Patrick fought an infection in his LVAD — a dangerous issue that can be life-threatening. Again, Janelle rose to the challenge, keeping Patrick on track with medications and medical management. Patrick has had ups and downs, but is currently awaiting his new heart. The journey isn’t over, and Patrick will continue to see our cardiac team for the rest of his life, but Janelle puts us at ease knowing he’s in good hands. Without Janelle, Patrick would not be here today. She stands out as one of our best caregivers of the 65 patients and their loved ones we treat here in our clinic.”
Nominated by Sharen M. Waters, friend and hospice social worker
“I’m not nominating Rene Gatlin because she does more than others, although it’s likely she does. And I’m not nominating her because she provides care with uncanny patience and considerable grace, although she does. I’m nominating her because of her heart, her story and who she is.
“Several years ago, Rene volunteered to move her mother, Irene, from Arkansas to Indianapolis to single-handedly care for her in her home. Rene’s mother didn’t raise her; her grandmother did. Irene was unable to because of cognitive limitations, and now needs total care assistance.
“Rene wakes throughout the night to feed her mother, in addition to serving her breakfast around 10 a.m., when she takes a break from her work-from-home job designing and managing computer software programs for a large hospital in Arizona. Because Irene can’t eat from a spoon, she is on a pureed diet. Rene orders freshly prepared, pureed meals for her in a variety of cuisines. To preserve her mother’s quality of life, and also to eliminate risk of aspiration, Rene must dispense the meals drips at a time, alternating with sips of drink. As you can imagine, this takes a very long time. After breakfast, Irene gets her daily wash, during which Rene changes her (sometimes manually eliminating waste), transfers her and changes sheets before returning to work.
“Lunch and dinner are just as time-consuming, but I’ve never witnessed Rene complain or appear stressed. She’s consistently calm and offers care with grace. She takes time to talk with Irene and actively listen, though her mother’s speech is often garbled beyond comprehension. It’s uncommon for bed-bound individuals to avoid skin breakdowns, but because of Rene’s attentiveness, her mother was able to for a long time.
“Rene would often transfer her mother to her wheelchair just so she could feel sunshine on her skin. Quality of life was Rene’s mantra, and she said she would provide it for however long her mother had left.
“Because of the care Irene was afforded, she no longer needed hospice support. Ms. Gatlin has left quite an impact on me. Not only was she attentive to her mother, but she was always available to her mother’s health care providers, asking questions and always seeking to learn more. She is a true partner in her mother’s health care.”
Rene Gatlin continues to care for Irene in her home in Indianapolis.