The beautician was deeply impressed when she saw CAREGiver Karon Nowalk's interaction with seniors at her beauty shop. The hair stylist kept mental notes and later requested Karon's assistance with her parents. Moreover, she was thrilled when Karon was honored as CAREGiver of the Year for Home Instead Senior Care of North Austin, Round Rock and Sun City.
"In my salon," the business owner explained, "I serve elderly clients and observe their helpers from different agencies. Karon stood out. Her appearance is that of a warm and loving personality who has a compassionate manner. The more I got to know Karon, the more I was convinced she would be a great CAREGiver for my parents as well as a referral for a friend. When the day came to find help for my parents, I called Home Instead Senior Care and I told the office I'd love to have Karon if she was available. Luckily for me, she was."
The daughter provided an even more detailed list of superlatives.
The beautician added: "Working with the elderly can be challenging and tiring because of mood swings, stubbornness and health issues, but Karon encourages and sometimes refocuses them to put them at ease and directs them to complete beneficial tasks.
"Her outstanding cooking skills benefited my mother, who is diabetic and requires a special diet to help with her gout. My mother is doing so well that the home-health nurse said she could go off insulin if she maintains the good-eating habits. This reflects Karon's care and diligence in monitoring mother's diet."
Home Instead Senior Care franchise owner Tyson Murphy said: "Karon is a bundle of energy, sass and love all wrapped into one. You never know what she might say, but it is likely to make you smile, laugh out loud and/or feel loved. Karon's passion shines through. Karon has shown her heart through selfless acts of kindness and love. She takes the lead when a reluctant or downright grumpy senior isn't sure what needs to happen. Karon always shows respect, but she can exercise a balance of persistence and patience. She will say she is tired just before she takes off to do something else on her endless 'to-do's list.' Karon has never met a stranger because of her warm personality and loving spirit. Her willingness to show love and support in any circumstance demonstrates her ability to build trust with whom anyone she comes into contact."
Tyson added, "It is an honor to have Karon Nowalk serve the seniors in Austin, Texas, and to select her as our CAREGiver of the Year."
Client Care Coordinator Jennifer Legalos remembered when Karon went through the new-employee orientation in June 2015. As the staff was assigning shifts to the novice CAREGivers, a fill-in shift opened for a female client who had middle-stage dementia and personal-care issues, and lived quite a long way away. Karon claimed the shift despite knowing she'd have to leave immediately and drive across the traffic-snarled Austin roads during rush hour. "She hopped in her car to help the client and hasn't looked back since," Jennifer recalled. "Her energy and enthusiasm are at the same level to this day. She brings a smile to not only her clients' faces, but to those of us in the office as well. We never fail to exchange a hug or a 'love ya!' with Karon."
When Karon is assisting a client, Tyson, Jennifer and the rest of the staff know they don't have to worry no matter what the challenges are. "Karon's abundance of skills allows her to not only handle the many different situations she faces with individual clients," Jennifer said, "but she anticipates needs on every level."
Jennifer pointed out Karon is a client advocate and is always looking for ways to better serve her clients. "Whether she is bringing homemade soup to share, staying on top of medical appointments or providing hospice care in someone's last days, Karon always is compassionate, thoughtful and giving. Karon demonstrates 'Living Home Instead,' which means she builds trust, takes the lead and shares her heart every day," Jennifer said.
One of Karon's clients faced additional needs when her legs mysteriously stopped working, and even Mayo Clinic doctors were stumped. "With personal care, I moved her from her scooter to the shower. She apologized each time, but I insisted it was my duty," Karon said. "Instead of waiting for her request, I would initiate the shower by saying in a cheerful way, 'Let's go do it.' That put her at ease. Sometimes it's how you help more than just helping. I also asked if she wanted to go out to eat because that is what she previously liked. She'd say, 'The transfers might be an ordeal.' I told her that was totally fine."
One of Karon's memorable moments occurred when a family of 16 – plus friends – gathered at a hospice client's house a day before the client died. Relatives had come from as far away as Omaha, Nebraska. Karon immediately took the initiative and prepared a large home-cooked meal that most could have sworn was professionally catered.
As one of the client's sisters worried about the immense kitchen task, Karon said: "I was sincere when I told her, 'Chill! I've got this.' I bought three chickens and kept the meal simple, including preparing butternut squash. I wanted to do this because I knew everybody was stressed out and tired. People were complimentary, so I felt good about serving them because it's not about me. It seemed during the two weeks before my client's death, I was preparing meals two to three times a day, but I enjoyed it and I got to meet many family members."
The massive family-and-friends dinner itself wasn't nearly as difficult as the meal preparation Karon faced while serving her client, whose medical issues presented difficult challenges.
"Her diet practically eliminated sugar and salt, so there's not much else as far as seasoning food or making it taste good," Karon explained.
"Cooking is a skill I like to share with others. Unfortunately, I could not generate what I prepare best because of her diet restrictions. I adjusted and found recipes and ways to prepare the best I could. I used lemon a lot and had experience using it because my dad had a heart condition. I used a lot of Mrs. Dash seasoning and flavor blends because they are salt-free and sodium-free."
The caregiving experience warmed Karon's heart despite the sorrow surrounding the loss of her client. "She was one of 11 children, and it was a tight-knit family. It was one of the coolest things I've seen – the family camaraderie was awesome. I remember a touching moment when a 4-year-old grandson climbed up on my client's bed and stayed with her," Karon recalled.
One special moment came when the client was hospitalized and Karon had to leave late one night. "I joked with her and told her I had 'a knuckle sandwich' for her if she wasn't better in the morning. She giggled," Karon said.
The client's husband offered a tribute to Karon, writing: "This is the only way our family can describe what Karon Nowalk brought to my wife: We wanted a caregiver – we got an angel."
The husband explained: "I'm sure every family who brings a caregiver into its home to help a loved one has varying apprehensions as to whether he or she will meet all expectations, especially when the needs were as extensive as my wife's. It took one day for us to realize Karon was more than the standard caregiver. Her care for my wife went beyond our expectations because her compassion and commitment to my wife's needs were amazingly apparent. Above all, Karon became my wife's best friend. To the rest of us, Karon became a part of the family."
The client's husband added: "My needs included a flexible week with different days and starting times, which Karon embraced. When my wife required hospitalization, Karon went to the hospital, providing comfort and companionship. When we brought my wife home for the last time, Karon was so engrained into our lives that I requested her services seven days a week. She again embraced the assignment without hesitation. Karon was with us through the day my wife passed away. It was obvious Karon didn't lose a client, she lost a dear friend. I firmly believe God sent Karon because He knew we needed more than just a caregiver. We needed the strength and support that few can provide. Karon will forever be remembered as a part of our family."
In the days before the client died, Karon whispered to her, "It's OK to let go. Don't hang on if you feel ready. People will understand." During the evening before she passed, she called me on the phone and chatted briefly, and that meant a lot. In my client's true nature, she waited until everybody was gone and passed away between 4 and 5 a.m. I think her wish was not to make people any more sad than possible."
Situations such as that and many others are a confirmation to the CAREGiver of the Year that her job is a "God thing." Said Karon: "I do have faith. Every time I turn around, God is there. I prayed for this kind of job for a long time. It is like receiving manna from heaven. I am doing what I enjoy most in the whole world."
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