Q&A with a Caregiver, Patricia “Mama Pat” Willburn

In honor of family caregivers across the country, National Caregivers Month recognizes the dedication individuals have for caring for their loved ones after a serious illness or injury. Often providing care around the clock, caregivers are not only their loved one’s parent, spouse, or family member, they are their advocate. Read on for Q&A with one of Nexus’ most popular caregivers, Mama Pat.

How long have you been a caregiver?
I have been Ferris’ guardian since December 1994, and the next year, I moved him to Nexus Specialty Hospital. When I first started, I was with Ferris 24/7, seven days a week. It was scary and unknown at first, but it got better. Now, Nexus has given me the title of Family Advocate. I’m here for the families at the beginning of their journey. I let them know I’m here for them during this difficult time and I’m here to answer questions and give advice – not medical information, but about how they’re going to get through this journey.

What do you do in your role as a caregiver?
Being a caregiver is an all-day thing. I go Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays as well as Saturdays and Sundays. Plus, if Ferris doesn’t go to Nexus Neurorecovery Center, I visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m there around 11 a.m. to have lunch with him and then I leave around 2:30 p.m. most days. When I first arrive, I clean up his room and make sure it looks nice in case anyone was to walk in. This is his house, so I make it look and feel that way. I even decorate for all the holidays. After the room is in order, I check Ferris and make sure he is clean and comfortable.

I also ask him a lot of questions. When I’m not at the facility with him, I’m running errands for him. Lately, I’ve been purchasing new clothes as we’re heading into cooler weather. It’s also important to note that I spend the night at the facility when Ferris is sick. I also ask him every day before I leave if he wants me to stay and sometimes he says yes and I stay the night.

What challenges do you face as a caregiver?
The biggest challenge is that I need more time to make sure he is happy and comfortable. He loves Nexus Specialty Hospital, but he isn’t their only patient. He also can’t talk, so because I’ve been taking care of him for almost 25 years, I help out the nurses and communicate with them for Ferris.

What tips do you have for other caregivers?
I know this is a scary time, but don’t underestimate yourself. Being a caregiver does put an extra load on your shoulders, but everything will be okay and you’ll become more comfortable with your role every day. I’d say specifically, know your loved one and what they need so you can advocate for him or her. You also need to be strong and make your loved one’s needs be heard. You also need to stay healthy yourself. Make sure you get your vaccinations and take time to relax and recharge.

How do you maintain your health (mental, physical, and emotional) as a caregiver?
I think it’s important to realize you’re not living life just for you anymore. Because of that you really have to take care of yourself. I do my yearly check-ups for wellness, get vaccinated, and take my vitamins and medications. As far as relaxing, I do family tree research. I’m part of a couple organizations, including Daughters of the American Revolutions and the War of 1812. It takes my mind off everything else. Working with Ferris also makes me relax because I’m taking care of him. I’m thinking of another person.

How has Nexus helped you be the best caregiver you can be?
Everyone at Nexus is my family and they are always here to help. I’m with Ferris at Nexus Specialty Hospital more than I’m at my house, so the facility is more of my home than my own house is. The nurses are like my children. We’ll eat meals together and even celebrating birthdays. Other patients are also my children because their families live far away and can only visit once a month. I check in on them and make sure they’re happy. The Cassidy’s are part of my family as well. Dr. Cassidy really saved Ferris and he continues to help me to this day.

Meet Mama Pat’s Son, Ferris Willburn
Ferris Willburn joined the Nexus family in 1995 after an accident in a machine shop caused him to lose three parts of his brain, affecting his short-term memory, decision making, and personality. After being told Ferris would be a vegetable for the rest of his life, Patricia Willburn, Ferris’ mother, advocated
tirelessly until she found Nexus Health Systems and Dr. Cassidy.

Read Ferris’ Story