Seventeen years ago, Amber Vallejo made a solemn promise to herself to honor the memory of her sweet 8-year-old daughter by helping others. She has never stopped. Since Sept. 23, 2015, the CAREGiver of the Month has continued her mission with the Home Instead Senior Care® franchise that serves the Northern Shenandoah Valley, including Winchester and 25 other communities.
"I have been a CNA since my daughter died in 2000. It is my way of keeping my daughter's heart going. Every mom has as many hearts as she has children," said Amber, whose daughter Chelsea died in her sleep a couple of hours after contracting a rare, virulent flu strain that attacked her heart in the form of a dime-sized infection. There were no symptoms.
"Even if the doctors would have caught it, she would have needed a heart transplant. People were dying unexpectedly at that time in our area of California. There was nothing medically anyone could do. I would have a hard time living every single day, if not for my 21-year-old twin boys and serving the people I take care of. My daughter's death has reminded me daily that you never take any day for granted. I tell people I love them often, and whenever I leave them."
Amber also had "two" mothers who passed away. When Amber was a year old, her birth mother died in a car accident that was caused by a 15-year-old drunk driver. Her mother's best friend raised Amber, but she died from the flu just 11 months after Amber's daughter died.
"I am a survivor, and I choose to channel my energy in ways that produce positive outcomes for others. People who need help matter to me, and I am thrilled to come alongside them," Amber said. "I really believe it is my calling to help people until the day I die. Every client is like one of my parents. They all deserve love and respect, and I would do anything for my clients."
Virtually no situation is too much for Amber, who loves caregiving so much she works every day of the week and plans for "hours off" instead of "days off." She added: "My responsibility is to take care of people. If it was my mom or dad, I would do anything to help him or her. I try to make an impact."
She made such a strong initial impression with one client that Amber received an 11 o'clock call one night. Amber, laughing as she told the story, said:
"She was my first client. I had worked 11 straight overnight shifts and was looking forward to three days off. The client said, 'You are supposed to be here. Can I call the office and ask for you?' I laughed it off and told her all would be good. On my first night off, I received a call from the office at 11 p.m., and I was told, 'She wants you now.' It made me feel good because of the high level of trust and love she had for me. When she accompanied her husband out of state for his successful cancer treatments, I took vacation."
Recruitment & Retention Coordinator Sherry A. Heltzel said, "Amber is quick to fill in and do a short-notice shift. She is hard-working and has a busy caregiving schedule. She is a joy."
Amber moved to Virginia from Pennsylvania in 2012, where she had been working as a CNA in a facility. Amber prefers the one-on-one care Home Instead Senior Care offers. "I don't work in a facility because not everyone is like me, and I say that as humbly as I can – I really do. I would get upset if my co-workers didn't put everything into the residents' care."
Amber added: "Seniors are dependent on you. If you don't help, you are telling them, 'You are not important.' I also felt badly for the system, because there is a need for a higher level of staffing and care. There is not enough manpower. Residents sometimes have a feeling of being abandoned. It is so sad, because companionship can be frowned on. It's in some facility rules that service comes first, and must be carried out as quickly as possible. No chitchat. You are not allowed to use nicknames or pleasantries unless it is written into their care plan."
The 11 p.m. phone calls and demands that Amber come to family dinners are proof Amber takes her job seriously. Her clients are glad she does.
All Home Instead Senior Care CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded
and insured. For inquiries about employment, please call 540-722-8750
or apply online. For further information about our home care services, please visit Home Instead Senior Care.