The Heart of Caregiver
Only 2.5 million Americans, less than a single percent of our population, served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nine out of 10 Americans do not have a direct connection to more than a decade of war. However, those that have, often through multiple tours of duty and long deployments, carry burdens many of us couldn’t imagine.
One of those people, Army Sergeant Anson Curry, served 15 months in Iraq, and a second combat tour in Afghanistan as an infantry soldier. On August 5, 2011, a grenade exploded in his bunker. The 25-year-old sergeant was severely and permanently brain injured.
But Anson did not have to deal with his injury alone. His wife Minie was by his side throughout the following years of grueling rehabilitation. Anson and Minie were in a new war, fighting one small battle at a time.
"It's for better or for worse and I told him you are not fighting this fight alone. This is our fight," said Minie. “I keep telling him it’s not your battle, it’s our battle.”
What follows is Minie’s story - a story of one woman’s undying devotion to her husband and her three children, two of whom have special needs. It’s a story everyone needs to read to better understand what families like the Curry’s have gone through and will continue to go through for decades to come, a little recognized war fought right here on our own soil every day.
Rehabilitation at Palo Alto’s VA and Fisher House
Following time at the Kandahar field hospital, a brief stay at Landstuhl, Germany, and numerous surgeries at Walter Reed Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., where he was on life support for the first 5 ½ weeks; Anson and Minie were sent to the VA Polytrauma Center in Palo Alto, Calif., for the "Emerging Consciousness" program where he underwent medical stabilization.
“That grenade in Afghanistan not only forever changed the course of Anson’s life…but also Minie’s,” said Scott Skiles, chief of social work services on the VA Polytrauma Unit at Palo Alto. “Our nation’s commitment to Anson also has to extend to Minie, who has and will care for him over the years. The war in Afghanistan won’t end for them as the combat mission comes to an end. The war, for them, has a direct impact for the rest of their lives…and so should our care for them.”
Scott was referring to programs like Fisher House, where Minie and other members of the Curry family lived for more than nine months while Anson was receiving acute and rehabilitative care for his brain injury.
“I told God that if he let Anson live, that I would be there to take care of him. So I owe God. And I thank God every day,” said Minie. “But as determined as I was to be there for Anson, I just don’t know how I would have done that without the Fisher House. I would have let both Anson and God down. I am so thankful for my beautiful home at Palo Alto. So thankful for Fisher House.”
Minie was not the only family member to stay at Fisher House. To give her brief respite, Fisher House flew family members, through its Hero Miles Program, to Palo Alto to be with Anson. One of them was Anson’s brother, Christian Curry.
“Even when Anson was at his very worst, Minie never gave up,” said Christian, who also stayed at Fisher House with his partner. “I believe that every step Anson has taken was because Minie was there to encourage and love him. Without a Fisher House, that never would have happened. I really don’t know where Anson would be today, quite frankly, if Minie had not been staying right across the street.”
A Day in the Life of a Caregiver
Fast forward to four years later. The Curry family now lives in San Antonio, and Minie cares for 90 percent of Anson’s needs along with taking care of her children.
She starts the day – every day – at 6 am, when she gives Anson his medicines – 19 in all. At 7 am she sets up his feeding pump that will feed him continuously until 1 pm. At 8 am, more meds. By 9 am she is taking care of Anson’s oral care and bathes him. He’s in his wheelchair around 11 am, when she will take him to doctor appointments, community outings, or walks around the neighborhood -- on Sundays there’s church. More meds at noon, 2pm, 6pm and 8pm. A couple of days a week a physical therapist comes in to work with Anson in the afternoon.
By early evening it’s time for more meds and getting ready for bed. But it doesn’t end there. Every two hours throughout the night Minie has to rotate Anson to avoid skin breakdown and bed sores.
Then it starts all over the next morning.
“There have been many struggles and challenges. I won’t lie. But there have also been the small pleasures of life that make it worth the fight. While it may seem repetitious to others, it is not to me because all Anson has to do is smile when I enter the room and all the work, all the effort, all the sacrifice is worth it,” said Minie, her eyes suddenly watering.
Watching them together says it all.
“Anson, you really look hot in that sweater today,” Minie says, reaching over to give him a kiss and whisper something in his ear that not only brings a huge smile but moves him to raise his left hand – his way of saying “Yes, you bet!”
To Minie, it’s Anson who gives her strength and inspires her. To demonstrate how committed she is to Anson and her family, Minie asked a special friend, a pastor from California, to come and perform a renewal ceremony of their vows. All three children – and the dog – were there, along with men from Anson’s unit and many other friends and family.
“Minie is one of the strongest women I know,” said Brad Greiner, Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Church, Escondido, Calif., who eagerly accepted the invitation to renew Minie and Anson’s vows. “She has defined what love is. Love is not a feeling, it’s an action. Minie epitomizes the very essence of love.”
And the ceremony began.
“So Anson, do you take Minie to be your bride?” A quick left hand reaches into the air.
“And Minie, do you take Anson to be your husband, in good times and bad and in sickness and in health?”
No one has ever meant it more.