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“Telegraph” freelancer honored as outstanding caregiver

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Walt Schaefer poses for a photo with Teresa Nichols, a member of the Caring Like Karen Committee. (Courtesy Photo)
Walt Schaefer poses for a photo with Teresa Nichols, a member of the Caring Like Karen Committee. (Courtesy Photo)

By Erin Schurenberg

Inspired by caregiver Karen Mason, Patti Alderson founded the “Caring Like Karen” awards in 2012, with six categories of honor, each recognizing an outstanding caregiver who emulates the love and patience Mason showed in her lifetime. Mason came to care for Alderson’s elderly mother after losing her husband to a long illness. “She was an instant fit with my mom and our household,” Alderson said. “She was unsurpassed in the quality of care she provided. The fund was formed to honor others like her.” Mason died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer.

Each year, six regional recipients are selected. The nominators seek to recognize an individual who serves with a high level of quality and compassion in some caregiving capacity. A committee of area healthcare professionals, nursing home administrators, home care coordinators, and caregiving peers collectively decide the winners. The six award categories are: Hospital/Hospice, Nursing Home/Retirement Community, Home Care, Physician, Child Caregiver, and Family Caregiver.

The 2018 award recipients were honored at a luncheon on Sept. 28. Walt Schaefer, editor for “Moeller Magazine” and regular contributor to “The Catholic Telegraph,” received the 2018 award in the Family Caregiver category. Melinda Zemper, a fellow member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, nominated Schaefer for the quality of care he provides to his wife of 35 years, Rose Mary. She has struggled with the progression of Alzheimer’s for the last eight years.

When Rose Mary’s symptoms appeared, Schaefer researched the disease. Much online reference was made to “the long goodbye.” Schaefer found this label depressing. Neurologist Dr. Rhonda Schatz brought a more constructive perception. “The doctor sees Alzheimer’s like a diary in reverse where the pages are being torn out from the most recent first,” said Schaefer. “Alzheimer’s is a disease of phases and a series of plateaus. I’ve decided that the best way to cope is to make the best of what we’ve got.”

What the Schaefers have is a strong foundation rooted in decades of love and their Catholic faith. Schaefer’s love and respect for his wife echo in every comment. He admires her long history as a first grade teacher. As a long-time police reporter and columnist for “The Cincinnati Enquirer,” Schaefer never lost sight of the flexibility his sweetheart showed him in the beginning. “She was beyond loyal and understanding. In all of our years together, I have never seen her flustered until this disease struck,” he said.

The Schaefers have neighbors and the community of St. Maximilian Kolbe who care and help. They have an excellent neurologist and the Alzheimer’s Association with its 24-hour hotline and supportive counselors. “I am humbled by it all. There are lots of people with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s,” said Schaefer.

What he does not mention is that he helps supports his adult daughter, Alison, and her daughter, Annie, who live with him and his wife. At birth, baby Annie had a five percent survival rate and was one of the most critical cases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Annie received brain surgery. Although blind, unable to talk, fed by a feeding tube and unable to walk, Annie lives and loves and is cherished by her family. The world of a person with Alzheimer’s disease begins to shrink as some activities or past-times become difficult, if not impossible. Going to Mass is no longer safe if the person wanders. Schaefer tries to keep Rose Mary social with a normal weekly routine that includes going to the same restaurants, taking rides in the car, and visiting doctors.

“Walt keeps a positive attitude, organizes a team of health care workers, and looks at life with equanimity and humor,” wrote Zemper in her nomination essay. “I would feel lost in this world without a strong Catholic foundation and the conviction that God has a divine plan for both of us,” Schaefer said.

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