July 31, 2008

Queen of Caregivers for a Day

By Rob Ikoku, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

Jul. 31--CARRBORO -- While Orange County residents were sweating in the late-July humidity or dodging raindrops Wednesday, the day could not have been better for 71-year-old Frankie Gray.

Gray is a Carrboro resident and full-time in-home caregiver for her older brother, Ernest Sellers, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. For her work with her brother, the Eastern N.C. Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and the Chatham Council on Aging crowned her Queen of Orange County Caregivers Wednesday, and provided her with an array of special gifts and privileges.

"It takes a lot of time to understand what Alzheimer's is all about," she said at a ceremony outside the Carolina Coffee Shop in front of friends, local politicians and curious passersby. "You can make a difference in that person's life. You know that is not the real person, but you can bring up some of the memories of the things they used to know."

The contest Gray won aimed to reward a local resident who takes care of a family member or loved one with a chronic disease. As part of her special day, she traveled via Prime Time Limousine around Chapel Hill and Carrboro to various businesses which had donated products and services, including Whole Foods, Eastgate Hair Styling and Lorraine Lewis, a relaxation therapist.

"Thank you for honoring us with your presence," Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said to Gray during the ceremony. "I've never had the opportunity to welcome royalty to Chapel Hill."

Gray was nominated for the award by Lisa Vira and Mavis Gragg, Carrboro-based attorneys who specialize in estate planning and who regularly work with Gray. They have seen her struggle to deal with her older brother, who needs constant care due to the debilitating effects of his dementia.

"She has to encourage him to get out of bed," said Gragg about the former UNC Hospitals employee and certified nursing assistant. "I think she's a prayerful person. She's going to keep him as long as she can."

State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, said Gray, whom she knows well, had shouldered much of the burden of her brother's deteriorating health.

"It's one thing to be in the spotlight of human beings and people," Kinnaird said, "and another to be in the spotlight of God. Thank you for everything you do."

After the dignitaries had spoken, Gray used much of her speech to urge those listening to prepare for old age so they would have the necessary means to cope with long-term care.

"It will happen to you next," she warned. "We need health care insurance to help our families."

The newly appointed Queen of Orange County Caregivers was gracious to those who had assembled on her behalf.

"Thank you so much for giving me this day," she said. "It's a day I will never forget."


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