We are proud to honor
2011 CAREGIVER OF THE YEAR
In this 1st annual contest, the Hampton Roads Chapter asked members to submit a short note about why his or her caregiver deserved to be selected as the “Caregiver of the Year.” After reviewing several wonderful submissions, the Hampton Roads Chapter is proud to honor Mr. Vincent Elia as the “2011 Caregiver of the Year.” Vincent’s caring and dedication to his wife, Lorraine, is evident from her nomination letter. Lorraine’s letter is below:
I would like to nominate my husband, Vincent Elia, of almost forty-two years for the 2011 Caregiver of the Year. I was first diagnosed with primary progressive MS in February 2004. At the time of my diagnosis, I had been a registered nurse for thirty-eight years and was working two jobs, as well as being a wife and mother of three children (although at that time they were in their 20s). We were living in New York, and despite my diagnosis being primary progressive MS, my neurologist was very aggressive with therapies. We started with Intravenous steroids almost every three weeks as well as Rebif. Balance was a major issue for me, and shortly after my diagnosis, I fell and broke my left arm (my weak side). Thank goodness I am right handed so I could still perform many functions independently.
My husband Vin and I started to attend as many MS seminars as we could, and we realized that there weren’t many treatment options for primary progressive MS, other than symptomatic medications. Without the support of my husband, family and friends, I would have been devastated. Although initially I functioned fairly well, the MS was advancing quickly, despite the Rebif and almost monthly intravenous steroids. My physician switched me to Tysabri, but I then developed optic neuritis; after four total doses, I was switched to a chemotherapy drug, Novantrone. My husband was by my side for every doctor visit, every treatment and continual seminars.
Depression is a big factor after initial diagnosis, and it can show up continually, but family and friends were always there. But as a full time caregiver, my husband is the one who listened to my fears and tears, like “Where would I be in several years?” I knew that my nursing career was coming to an end, and I had dreamed of becoming a nurse from the age of nine. As the MS progressed, and four rounds of chemotherapy did nothing but debilitate me more, the neurologist told us what we knew: There were no other treatments that would affect the disease. I was facing a life of dependency, and we knew the strength of our relationship would be put to the test.
We moved out of the house we had lived in for thirty years, where we had raised three children there. But I needed to live somewhere without stairs, and somewhere small enough that my husband would be able to take care of the house. When we were barely settled into our new life—four years after my diagnosis—I broke my left leg, requiring surgery, and then fell and tore my rotator cuff, which meant more surgery as well as physical therapy. I’ve had two other major surgeries as well. Throughout it all, Vin stood by me, bathing me when necessary, sleeping at my hospital bed and transporting me all around. We go to MS support groups, and he not only gets me seated, positioning my walker or scooter, he does the same for other members. He is the caregiver for the group and never misses a meeting. Sometimes, caregivers don’t receive support and recognition. All the attention, caring and support goes to the person with MS and caregivers are the strength for all of us with MS.
Besides his job as a school bus driver for special needs children, he is an active volunteer in our church, and still does almost all the housework. He does little things without even asking—like walking me from the car to the house in the rain and then going back to unload groceries; helping me stand up from the sofa when my leg is too weak to support me; leaning over to kiss me or hold my hand in the car when I get quiet during a drive for no reason. He has incorporated my abilities into his life in a way that makes me feel cared for but not that I am a burden. On good days, when I go out on my own, he stays in touch through text messages to make sure I’m okay. And on bad days, he listens.
His biggest support to me is emotional. One of the biggest hurdles has been adjusting from my active life—my career as a nurse, working 40-60 hours per week, going out with friends, and taking care of a house—to staying home alone 4-5 days a week. It is frustrating and sad, and sometimes I am overwhelmed. But Vin never complains. He tells me that I took care of everyone for years, and now it’s my turn to be cared for, and this way we can do more together. With his help, we enjoy our life—going to the beach, or shopping, or to dinner with friends and family. I may worry about my health and how disabled I will be in the future, but I know that I have a partner who will see me through it. My husband is the best, and is a true caregiver by nature, and I thank God he is mine.