Junette and Johnny Clayborn, both former teachers, have cared for their daughter Colleen, now 52, who was hit by a drunk driver while she was running in 2007. Colleen, a former English teacher, suffered severe injuries to her brain and body, followed by a stroke, and spent two years at rehabilitation centers before going home to her husband and two teenage sons. Her parents moved her to their Harrison, Ark., home in summer 2014 after Colleen’s sons graduated from high school so that her husband, Mark, can continue to work. Colleen can use only her left hand and has limited speech; she uses a wheelchair and requires around-the-clock care, which her parents provide.
I do the hands-on care: I bathe and feed her and give her medicine, schedule doctors’ appointments, give her eye drops four times a day, and keep her daily records and her medical records up to date. I order all her medications, pick them up and organize them every week. Johnny helps me dress and move her because I can’t do any heavy lifting for medical reasons. If I cut up her food in pieces, she can feed herself with her left hand. Someone needs to be with Colleen constantly, so I only do the shopping once a week.
We developed more than 26 different ways to make our routines easier by modifying our home and getting the right technology, supplies and equipment. To make it easier to roll her over in bed, we put a soft, thin blanket under her bed pad so Johnny can grab it and pull her toward him instead of using her shoulder. We made a marker that slides back and forth on the headboard to help us remember which side we placed the pillow on to get her off her back after changing her during the night — that way we know to place it on the other side the next night. And I make her gowns like hospital gowns by cutting up the middle of the back to about the shoulder blade area — this makes dressing and changing her so easy. Colleen’s husband is a great help, too; he comes and stays with us on the weekends, takes her out to eat, and goes to most of her medical appointments with us.
One of the hardest parts is that Colleen can’t form sentences, so she can’t tell us what she needs or when she hurts. We have to watch closely to see if she’s developing rashes, infections, bruises or other medical problems. We haven’t slept through the night in years because we have to get up and move her at night so she doesn’t get bedsores, or change her if she soils herself. Sometimes I think I just can’t pull myself out of bed one more time — but I do.
The first two or three years, I cried most of the time. It’s horrible to see the changes that came with her tragedy. Plus, the plans we had for retirement went out the window, especially because we had taken care of my mother for three years until she passed, and then three years later Colleen was injured. When you’re in this 24-hour situation, there’s little free time for yourself. But I’m a mother first. This is what we do because of our love for our daughter.
She’s completely helpless. She lost half the left side of her brain, and we have to do everything for her. I’m a former basketball coach and a former basketball player, so I learned from her physical therapists how to handle her daily exercises. I’ll massage and move her shoulders, arms and legs, with push and pull moves, rotational movements and stretches. Sometimes she pushes back — any little thing she does makes her so happy, and that’s exciting for me. We have a standing frame that holds her up and she has to hold it with her left arm; she doesn't like it, and sometimes she yells, but this helps maintain her leg strength. We’re trying to build flexibility and muscle strength, a little bit every day.
I also teach her numbers and letters and to recognize pictures of family members. If you give her cues, sometimes she can answer with a word or two. She loves to watch TV, especially old Westerns, Seinfeld and Law & Order. I’m optimistic about her coming out with more language, and I’m still optimistic that she’ll be able to walk someday. My coaches always told us: Never give up. So I don’t.
I love my daughter and I’ll do anything to help her and take care of her. The way I was brought up is: When you bring someone into the world, you’re responsible for that person, and you have to do what you have to do. My father died when I was 3, and my mother, who only had an eighth-grade education, raised five children, so I appreciate everything and I don’t really get down because we have so many positive things in our life. That includes the technology that’s available to help us and the two sons that Colleen has. We lived close and did things with her family, so it’s only natural that we continue taking care of Colleen.
— As told to Stacey Colino