The daughters of a former Island Hospice patient, moved by how positively their mother responded to being given a baby doll, formed a nonprofit to collect money to purchase dolls for Alzheimer’s patients at Oxton Place, an assisted living facility in Savannah, Georgia. Two of our Island Hospice employees, Debbie Feliciano, RN, and Ken Sharpe, Spiritual Counselor, got involved as well. Together they raised over $2,000 for MeMa’s Babies Mission.
These actions caught the attention of the Spirit Newspaper of Pooler, Georgia. Here’s their story, written by Sandy Roach:
“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.”
– Phillip Brooks
Claydie Perkins celebrated her 81st birthday in June with a family party on the Alzheimer’s wing of the Bryan County Health and Rehabilitation Center. Her legacy will not lie with the gifts she received this birthday or even with those abilities taken from her by disease, but for her inspiration to restore dignity and add a few more happy days for others battling Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Disease, a brain disorder identified in 1906 by German Psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, is both progressive and irreversible. Claydie Perkins is part of an estimated 5.3 million Americans who will endure gradual decline in memory, language skills, perception of time and space.
At the onset, problems are mild: difficulty in learning new information or forgetting to do commonplace tasks like lock a door or turn off a cooking burner. As the disease progresses, patients often have problems remembering recent events or directions to familiar places. Their frustrations grow as they struggle to find the right word to express themselves; to express there is still a living, breathing, caring human being behind those pleading stares.
At present there is no known cure and the disease can span 3-20 years varying with age at onset, other medical conditions and the level of patient care. As researchers continue to investigate proteins and enzymes, plaques and tangles for a cure, caregivers are always on the hunt for creative and successful ways to improve the quality of care for the afflicted. And that’s how Claydie Perkins inspired her caregivers to improve not only her days, but those of countless others.
Claydie’s two girls love their Mama, but caring for an Alzheimer patient means committing to a “36-hour-day.” When Glenda Key and her sister Ann Perkins Smith knew Mom needed round-the-clock care, they placed her in a long-term facility. Glenda divided her time between visiting Mom and her Bloomingdale hair salon clients. Ann commuted from her home in Florida to spend time with Mom.
When an opening came at the Bryan County Health and Rehab Center in Richmond Hill, the sisters were delighted to move Mom closer. But how would Mom react to the move? To reduce her stress, the sisters decided to give her a baby doll to take with her to her new home. The light returned to Claydie’s eyes. She loved the baby she named Abigail.
“Claydie just makes my day,” says Debbie Feliciano mirroring her patient’s full-face smile. As an Alzheimer Care Manager with THA Group‘s Island Hospice, Nurse Debbie can often face time with difficult patients. “Claydie is a delight. I just love her smile and pleasant disposition. She’s quite a dignified lady.”
So when Nurse Debbie saw the positive impact the baby doll had on her patient, she was thrilled. “The senses are still there even though many other things are failing these patients. They still have the ability to nurture and care for another, …maybe it’s a desire to be useful, …to have someone depend on you for a change.”
But Claydie’s baby was too popular. Other patients kept “borrowing” her and the sisters had an idea. Did Nurse Debbie think others could benefit from a companion? She did and about a month ago, “MeMa’s Babies Mission” was launched. In the following weeks the Mission, aided by Island Hospice Chaplain Ken Sharpe, began to purchase and place over 30 baby companions. Patients are offered a life-like baby doll or pet animal to be their constant companion. No one has refused.
Ann is spending more time in Georgia these days and has taken on the roll of doll scout. “Everyone else has jobs so I have the spare time to look for the dolls. They are not easy to find. With Debbie’s help we locate soft dolls with eyes that open and close, non-allergic, hairless and 18”-20” that is close in size to a real baby. Some of the patients, especially the men, seem to prefer an animal baby. We can only accept new dolls that meet health standards and when I find them I usually clean out the shelves.”
During a recent trip to Florida, Ann stopped by a Wal-Mart in Brunswick.
“I was purchasing the last seven baby dolls on the store’s shelf when a lady asked me what I was going to do with all those dolls,” recalls Smith. “I explained about Mama and the babies. She gave me $20 on the spot. We shared a hug and I think I left the store in tears. People have been so generous.”
Mission babies and supplies, such as clothes, are funded solely by community donations. And you would be surprised at where some of the donations are coming from.
“I’ve gotten quite a few donations from area funeral homes,” says Chaplain Sharpe. “I really haven’t had to beat the pavement. When people hear about the reaction these babies evoke in Alzheimer’s patients they just give.”
Funding the mission is important, but organizers say the most trying problem is finding the right babies. MeMa’s Babies Mission is actively seeking a supplier. If that entity can offer a bulk discount, even better. Anyone with inquiries about the program, wants to contribute or forward information are asked to contact the mission through their Facebook page, MeMa’s Babies Mission, by sending a private message. The mission serves all area memory care facilities, homebound and has recently sent a baby to North Carolina.
“I started this project with the hope of helping others like my Mom with Alzheimer’s and with everyone’s help we are moving forward on this mission,” says Glenda Key who watches her Mom spend hours talking to and cuddling Abigail. “I just want to thank everyone for their wonderful donations and encouragement. I hope everyone will visit our Facebook page and see what a difference a simple baby doll can make in someone’s life.”
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