2015: Milana Riggs
Milana and Charlene were friends since age seven—the inseparable kind. When Charlene got sick, she told her friend that she didn’t want her parents to live in a nursing home and asked if Milana would care for them.
“Honey, piece of cake, of course I will,” Milana promised.
Milana has made good on that promise, caring for Mr. and Mrs. Bradley for 10 years.
An adventure begins
A restaurateur and a chef before retiring from the airline industry, Milana had catered for such stars as The Rolling Stones and Elton John. She brought that same sense of adventure when caring for the Bradleys.
“I engaged them in life,” said Milana. “We tried new things that they’d thought about, but didn’t do.”
They stopped for sodas at the chocolate shop on Monument Circle, visited the L.S. Ayres Tearoom and the Indiana Roof Ballroom and went off-track betting. They talked about the past, about film stars and music from their era.
“I also gave them a sense of the future,” said Milana. “We discussed gay rights and other issues of the day and watched BBC news programs.”
Over time Mrs. Bradley’s dementia progressed, and Mr. Bradley became more fragile. In 2011, at the age of 101, just four days after celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary, he passed away with his wife and Milana by his side.
Mrs. Bradley then moved into Milana’s house, where she could enjoy the flower gardens and socializing with neighbors. Today, at 103, Mrs. Bradley has slowed down, but she still made it to the White River Yacht Club for St. Patrick’s Day where guests doted on her.
Milana credits her Serbian heritage for her commitment to the Bradleys: “We are a strong people. We believe in valor, integrity and loyalty to the death. When you give a promise, you do it no matter what the cost.”
2014: Mark A. Lee
Mark A. Lee, Indianapolis, Ind., was named the 2014 Caregiver of the Year at the fifth annual CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions’ Signature Breakfast at the Ritz Charles in Carmel, Ind. The Caregiver of the Year Award honors one personal caregiver in Central Indiana who models courage, sacrifice, strength and creativity while caring for another.
Lee is one of the estimated 65.7 million people in the United States who provide care for an elderly or disabled family member. According to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 66 percent of caregivers are women. However, caregivers also can be husbands or adult sons who selflessly and compassionately care for a loved one.
Mark is a devoted son who, from 2011 to 2013, helped to care for his father Jim, who had Alzheimer’s and emphysema. A professional photographer, Mark moved his computer and other equipment to his parents’ home in 2011 and continued to operate his business, Great Exposures, while taking care of his father.
Initially, Mark shared stories about his dad on his Facebook page. Friends encouraged him to share more about the challenges of being a family caregiver, and he started to chronicle his experiences in a NUVO Newsweekly blog named Raising Dad. Readers welcomed his candid, heart wrenching and sometimes humorous accounts.
Jim Lee passed away Sept. 13, 2013. After the funeral, Mark and his friends formed a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and raised almost $3,000. Mark is currently working on a book about his dad, tentatively titled “Raising Dad.” Mark said he is humbled about being named the Caregiver of the Year and acknowledges that family, church members and friends helped too.
“They say it take a village to raise a child,” Mark said. “It also takes a village to help someone with Alzheimer’s.”
2013: JoAnn Fowler Combs
CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions presented the 2013 Caregiver of the Year Award to JoAnn Fowler Combs, Indianapolis, Ind., during its fourth annual Signature Breakfast at the Ritz Charles, Carmel, Ind.
“Taking care of people—from the youngest ones to now older adults—it’s been a journey, but also a gift from God,” said Combs. “And to meet so many people in the community who are involved in the same mission of caregiving…it was a blessing to be there and to receive this honor. It’s something I never dreamed of.”
Combs’ daughter, Patrice Searcy, nominated her for the award.
Searcy said, “My mother truly epitomizes selflessness, courage and strength. She is more than deserving of this recognition and so much more.”
Widowed at age 32, Combs raised her two children as a single parent, owned her own business, and served as a daycare director at two area centers while selflessly caring for many members of her family, including her mother and second husband until their deaths. Later, she tended to her former son-in-law for four months after he had a debilitating stroke.
In 2006, Combs began taking care of her sister who is paralyzed and suffers from mental illness, as well as her first mother-in-law, who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease. Combs currently provides their personal care, cooks their favorite meals and takes them to doctors’ appointments. Her mantra of service does not stop with her own family. She also serves on the Parish Council of the St. Rita Catholic Church, and she is Grand Lady (president) of the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver.
2012: Pauline Reeves
The winner of the 2012 Caregiver of the Year Award was Pauline Reeves, Lebanon, Ind. Reeves said she was “surprised and humbled” to receive the award.
Cindy Hickson, director of personal services at Boone County Senior Services, nominated Reeves, noting her selflessness, dedication, creativity and patience while caring for her husband, Mike.
According to Hickson, Reeves educated herself about Lewy Body Dementia after Mike was diagnosed with the disease in 2006. Lewey Body Dementia is a progressive brain disorder with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Her knowledge of the disease would prove vital when Mike was admitted to the hospital for gallbladder surgery. Reeves was able to alert a nurse that a drug she was about to administer could have deadly consequences if it interacted with Mike’s other medications. Later, the hospital pharmacist thanked Reeves for advocating for her husband, and she was asked to lead a panel discussion about the disease for physicians.
For six years, Reeves has prepared his favorite meals, made home modifications and planned family vacations she knew her husband would remember and enjoy. In addition, she helped other families by starting a local Lewy Body Dementia support group.
Hickson wrote in her nomination, “She [Reeves] is still 100 percent a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. She loves caring for her grandchildren and getting together with family and inquiring about how everyone else is doing. How she finds the strength, we will never know.”
2011: Carissa Denny
CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions presented the first annual Caregiver of the Year Award to Carissa Denny, Greenfield, as part of its annual Signature Breakfast. Carissa was nominated by her mother, Cynthia Flick, for her courage, sacrifice, strength and creativity in overcoming the sometimes-overwhelming stresses and obstacles associated with providing care for her son, Wyatt.
Wyatt, the youngest of Carissa’s three children, was born with several disabilities and suffers from Moebius Syndrome, hip displacement and club feet. He spent the first eight months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit and then another facility before coming home to his family in March 2004. While he is only 6 years old today, he already has undergone several surgeries and currently lives on a ventilator, tracheotomy tube and feeding tube.
In her nomination, Ms. Flick described the care her daughter provides for Wyatt: “[Our daughter’s] husband is a truck driver and is gone on the road a lot due to his work. Carissa works three 12-hour shifts in the lab at Hancock Regional Hospital and is taking classes three days a week to be an LPN. A nursing agency provides some care for Wyatt to help relieve some burden off our daughter. When no nurse is provided, our daughter is left with less sleep to attend to her son who needs 24/7 care. In December 2010, Carissa had to have a defibrillator put in due to heart problems. As you can see, the stressful life she lives day by day is taking a toll on her health. She is a very determined mother and gets things done.”