The Changing Face of Caregivers

Men Now Taking Lead in Care for Loved Ones

James and April Proctor (Family photo)
James and April Proctor (Family photo)

An AARP report in 2009 found that 34 percent of caregivers surveyed were men. Nine years later, 40 percent of the 40 million Americans caring for a loved one is male.

Both male and female caregivers enter their role in the same way, which is usually unexpectedly.

Prince George’s County resident James Edward Proctor III, a 55-year-old IT project manager for the federal government, said his wife April was 47 when she had a hemorrhagic stroke in April 2017 while attending a softball game of their then-17-year-old daughter August, was pitching.

James, who was not at the game, said the softball coach who noticed the symptoms of April’s stroke called 911.

“It was touch-and-go because they were not able to get her stabilized for the helicopter transport to Georgetown University Hospital,” James said. “They were preparing us for the worst.”

Once April was stabilized for transport, she was taken to Georgetown University Hospital. Her initial prognosis was a 20 percent chance for survival.

April spent 70 days at Georgetown University Hospital. The stroke was so severe that she had very little movement and recognition from her left side of her body and no verbal cues. There was a low level of awareness of the people and hospital staff she knew.

“She was too injured to begin physical therapy at that point, so we worked toward getting her to a nursing home/rehabilitation facility,” Proctor said.

In June 2017, April was transferred to a skilled nursing facility in LaPlata, Md., where she is today, more than one year after the stroke. She began speaking again in March and can maneuver her wheelchair a bit.

In April, James went back to the Georgetown University Hospital’s ICU and neurological units with his wife in a wheelchair to deliver cupcakes to the nurses that had cared for her a year ago.

“People need to remember that the practitioners appreciate seeing your progress,” he said.

Proctor said he has drawn on his faith, his family and stroke support groups to get him through the traumatic scenario. He researched everything he could find about the type of stroke April suffered. James met with health care professionals in Virginia and talked with stroke survivors.

Now very knowledgeable about his wife’s condition, Proctor has created the website myloveonehadastroke.com in hope of helping others.

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John Clemons, 63, lives in Huntersville, N.C., with his wife of more than 30 years, Corine, who is a four-time cancer survivor.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, shortly after she and John married. Twenty years later, the breast cancer returned as stage 3. She then had a cancerous growth on her neck which was removed.

John Clemons with wife Corine (center) and their daughter Diarra (Family photo)
John Clemons with wife Corine (center) and their daughter Diarra (Family photo)

Then Corine was diagnosed with a carcinoma in her skull which was removed. Years of cancer treatment has put Corine’s body in a debilitated state leaving her with motor skill and cognitive challenges. She has had three skull surgeries, one for the carcinoma and two others to drain fluid.

She also has suffered debilitating falls — once down a flight of stairs and another time in a bathroom, hitting her head against the toilet while on a cruise in October 2016.

“With that fall, she started having convulsions for more than a day before they airlifted her off of the cruise ship to a hospital in Puerto Rico,” Clemons said. “The ship was stopped in the middle of the ocean and I had to watch her being airlifted in a basket to the helicopter. Then I was alone on the ship.”

Clemons got off the ship the next day, flew to Puerto Rico and worked with bilingual doctors at the hospital where his wife had been taken.

Walking and long interactive conversations are now difficult for Corine. Her cancer has been in remission for five years, but she has also been diagnosed with lymphedema in her left arm because of the removal of lymph nodes. Her left arm has very little use because of that condition.

Her current needs call for day-to-day care. Clemons handles his wife’s personal care and takes her to medical appointments.

Clemons found an adult day care center for Corine twice a week. A certified nursing assistant stays with Corine when he needs to be away for appointments or overnight trips. He found about the range of caregiving services by contacting the county Area Office on Aging and various social service agencies that are found in every state.

Their daughter, Diarra, recently moved to Huntersville from upstate New York to be with her parents. She is settling in to establish her career as an attorney while getting accustomed to being in a co-caretaker role with John.

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Both Clemons and Proctor talk about the emotional, physical and spiritually taxing role of being a caregiver. There is very little time for self-care, which can, in turn, affect the caregiver’s health.

“When you’ve been with somebody for 30 years who has helped you, then you want to help them,” Clemons said. “But then you realize it is physically impossible. You then have to make decisions that are painful.”

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