A caregiver is a care giver; the difference for us is that we have the psychological effects of their military experiences to deal with in addition to the injuries.
What are you most excited to do as a Dole Caregiver Fellow?
I’m most excited to continue giving a voice and a face to caregiving. Our job is typically behind the scenes and if we do it well, no one ever knows the struggles we face or the triumphs we experience.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
Read everything, put a date on it, and keep it (even if only a scan). Get everything in writing and keep a copy of everything you sign.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
My life is no longer my own. Things can be going smoothly and with no notice, the course of the day has completely shifted, and everything must be adjusted to meet the needs of our veteran. There isn’t a second shift coming to relieve you nor is there a more experienced individual coming in to assist, you are your own cavalry.
Katie Ferguson Guidry was nearing the top of her game when she met her now-husband Barry. She was an experienced public relations executive and volunteered in her Lafayette, Louisiana community in every civic and nonprofit organization she could find. For almost 25 years, Barry had served as an infantry and special operations commander in the Army/Army National Guard and rose to the rank of Major. In 2010 he signed his retirement paperwork with a month and a half leave before his retirement would be official. On his first day of vacation, Barry injured himself in the Ouiska Chitto River, suffering a spinal injury that resulted in quadriplegia, paralysis of all four limbs. Barry and Katie had dated six months prior, and married a year and a half later.
For almost two years, Katie continued to work but eventually left to become Barry’s full-time caregiver. For two career-oriented people, this was a hard change. For Katie, it was challenging to transition from being a high-powered professional to being defined as Barry’s wife. Still, it helped them realize what was truly important in life: their relationship. Every day Barry achieves something new is one of Katie’s best days.
Katie’s responsibilities have changed over the years. In the beginning, there was little Barry could do himself. Over the months and years of therapy, Barry gradually improved to what is considered a functioning quadriplegic and has regained much use of his arms and some of his hands; he can even drive himself to therapy. Today, the care Katie provides has evolved but is still a full-time, hands-on role. She is Barry’s medical advocate, appeals coordinator, diagnostician, psychologist, nutritionist, physical and occupational therapist, housekeeper, entertainer, certified nursing assistant, chauffeur, errand runner and more.
Katie understands many military caregivers are unaware of the assistance available to them and wants to help caregivers utilize these life-changing resources. Katie believes Louisiana has fewer resources than other states and wants to change that, too. Her charitable and philanthropic spirit did not dissipate when she gave up most of her volunteer work; she is just channeling it toward caregivers’ needs.