Return to #CaringScholar Stories Student-Caregiver Scholarship Story: Rachel Elibri

A #CaringScholar of Summer 2016

The Student Caregiver Scholarship award provides three (3) university students in the United States with a $1,500 #CaringScholar grant for tuition and/or books, based on each applicant's compelling 1,500-word essay or two-minute video story submission.

Rachel Elibri is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University who plans to pursue a career in nursing and is caring for her father, who suffered from a brain injury. Rachel was among more than 725 student-caregivers and 25 finalists who applied for the latest round of #CaringScholar grants, and was chosen by a panel of senior care expert judges as one of just three recipients. This is her caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

Who are you caring for and how are you involved as a caregiver?

“Over, under, around and through, meet Mr. Bunny Rabbit, pull and through,” I said out loud as my teacher watched me intently. It was a stressful day in kindergarten as all my classmates had been dubbed with a certificate for shoe tying and today is my day to shine. I pull the strings the tight, stand up proudly, and accept my certificate with open arms. I race home from the bus stop to show my dad the new accreditation (mom was at her 2nd job, so I would show her later on.)

I open the door to the basement stairs and trip over the empty beer cans, credential still in hand. As I look up I see my dad mouthing to me to call 9-1-1. I reach into his pocket to retrieve his phone all while trying to ignore the choking and gasping. “9-1-1 what is your emergency?” the operator said so calmly. “Hi, my dad told me to call you. He’s an alcoholic and he’s turning blue. I think he’s choking,” I said as if I have had this script memorized. “Okay sweetheart. We’re sending help. I need you to use the phone and hit your dad on the back, okay?” she said. That day I received my second certification as the caregiver of my alcoholic father.

The job requirements included frequently checking his respiratory rate and position while passed out, vomit/urine clean up, beer stocking, and out of bed assistance. I stuck around despite his suicide ideation, heart attack, and felony. I excelled in my position as caregiver so much so he gave me a promotion. I was a sophomore in high school when my father’s brain hemorrhaged and he suffered a traumatic brain injury due to the excessive alcohol abuse. He remained in a coma for 6 months.

I cared for him, as he laid motionless, relying on machines to breathe for him. After he woke up, he was no longer the man I once knew. He was not able control his motor functions or emotions. He would cry helplessly every few minutes. I changed his diaper when it was full and spoon fed him when it was time to eat.

As the years continued to pass and I entered college I continued to care for him and aid in his recovery. I am currently a junior in college and his recovery has plateaued. He still has a significant amount of blood in his brain, double vision, speech impediment, impaired gag reflex, muscle deterioration, right-sided weakness, and tremors. He is completely dependent on others. I assist him with all of his activities of daily living. Through the bathing, feeding, transferring, and dressing we have built a foundation for a new father-daughter relationship.

How has your role as a caregiver influenced the decision for your major/career path?

My dad suffered a traumatic brain injury when I was 14, exposing me to many medical professions and facilities. I witnessed a variety of procedures and asked questions to better my understanding of his condition and recovery. I helped the nurse stir the liquidized meals that we would insert directly into my dad’s stomach through a surgically created hole. It was intriguing, not only the treatments, but also the relationships I built with nurses and patients. Being immersed in my dream atmosphere confirmed the passion streaming through my veins since I was a young girl. With each handshake, I learned more about the myriad of fields to which I desire to devote my life.

Over time, I understood what we each shared. We are laced with the same drive, stitched with a similar sincerity to help and heal. As my dad was transferred from hospitals and assisted living homes, I naturally got involved with the other patients, both the physically and mentally ill. I wanted to become knowledgeable of each condition I encountered. Most of the patients I met could no longer speak and used other modes of communication. There, I dedicated myself to bridging the communication gap by learning and teaching sign language. All of my life experiences as a caregiver have contributed to my insatiable desire to pursue a career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist. When the time came to decide where to further my education, I researched and ultimately committed myself to Virginia Commonwealth University.

How would this scholarship be helpful to you in your current student-caregiving role?

My father did not have health insurance when he suffered the traumatic brain injury. All of his bills and additional needs come out of the pocket of my family. My dad requires a significant amount of care to prevent him from losing his progress physically and mentally. He needs occupational, physical, and speech therapy. He requires a wheelchair, eye patch, and walker.

My mom has provided for my sisters and I for the last two decades by herself. At times she has worked three jobs, while receiving our groceries from the local church. She currently has three children in college. She is truly inspiring, as she has always ensured we have everything we need. I have had a job since the legal age of employment in Virginia. At times, I have worked two jobs while pursuing my education.

I currently work as a care partner in an intensive care unit to help pay for my tuition, rent, and additional academic needs. I often have to work consecutive 12-hour shifts in order to make ends meet for my family and myself. This scholarship would make balancing being a student-caregiver more reasonable. This scholarship would allow my mom to breathe. It would make it possible for me to work a little less and pursue my degree in nursing.

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