Home Instead® Care Professional of the Month Mike Luft is a man for all seasons. Because of his caregiving skills, common sense and wisdom, people-person skills, comedic sense of humor and exceptionally quick wit, he can help virtually any client. And, because of his empathetic spirit, Mike often assists and comforts hospice clients at owner Kelly Hutchison’s award-winning Home Instead franchise in Itasca, Illinois.
Mike truly deserves his “man for all seasons” label. Here are some tidbits about him:
- For one, he is a great cook whose meal preparation has received high marks from NASCAR crews as well as Home Instead clients. “I was perfecting smoked meat before anyone was doing it,” he said. “I can do a lot with marinated hamburger.”
- Mike is a car mechanic who worked on NASCAR and dirt-track racing teams. Now this benevolent soul works on some of the neighbors’ cars when they need repairs. Some clients love to talk about cars and mechanical things, and Mike is their man.
- He was a chemical firefighter for Thermo Fisher Scientific in Hanford Park, Illinois. That conversation can take up a whole evening.
- Mike has worked with racehorses after having grown up around them and becoming familiar with some of the top horse owners and trainers. “I picked the No. 21 horse at the Kentucky Derby, which was the winner. I also had the correct exacta,” he noted. Because of the former Arlington Park, racing has a good amount of interest in Chicago.
- He is a Stage 4 cancer survivor. “The medical people found the cancer on a Tuesday, and I underwent 7½ hours of surgery the next day and spent the next 28 days in the hospital. I lived through the crazy cancer,” Mike said.
Before arriving at Home Instead in 2016, Mike had been a caregiver off and on for about 20 years. “I mostly had helped family and friends and friends’ families before I became a professional caregiver. I consider myself to be ‘an amateur nurse.’ I know a lot about emergency first-aid methods because I’ve had the training, but it’s also in the blood, because most of my cousins and many of their kids are paramedics and firefighters. I love to chat with them about what they do and what they’ve seen,” Mike said.
Mike was ready to work at a Chicago-area nursing home, but he also had applied at Home Instead and took a job with the in-home care franchise. “I applied, was interviewed, accepted the job, went through orientation and training and took my first assignment in a short time, all within a week,” Mike recalled. “Kelly and his Home Instead staff are great. I’ve worked with some of the top NASCAR race crews, and they are not nearly as organized and detail-oriented as Kelly and his staff. They are beautiful people and a heck of an organization.”
When he talked about what he does, Mike interspersed the word “blessed” repeatedly, and for good reason. He survived late-stage rectal cancer. “I am blessed to be doing what I am doing. The primary cancer doctor in my area of Chicagoland said he had never seen a case so bad. I was off work from Home Instead for a year before returning a year ago. When I was recovering from cancer surgery, I missed helping people. I am checked every six months at a hospital. So far, so good. It’s full speed ahead with Home Instead,” he said.
Mike remains passionate about his job. “When the office calls and asks,” he said, “I’ll go, even if it is 2 a.m. and no matter what the challenges are. They shift me around to different situations. I will take care of anybody.”
Meal preparation is important to most clients, Mike said. “I put myself in my clients’ shoes and ask what I would want from someone who is taking care of me. Good food scores highly on the clients’ ‘want’ list.” Mike elaborated: “I had a hospice client for one year-plus. He was supposed to make it only a few months when I went to him. Meals were a big thing to him. The family supplied the ingredients, whatever I needed. The client was a military cook, a good one. He said he never tasted food as good as mine.”
Mike added: “The go-to plate for the client was breakfast. Everything had to be just right. He was among the most picky people I’ve had, but he deserved to be because he was a very good military cook. Scrambled eggs had to be dry. The hash browns had to be almost crispy. I mixed in sausages. Little things made a difference for him.”
Mike said there sometimes is a delicate conversational balance when interacting with clients. Some are spiritual, and some are not. “I’ve worked quite a bit with hospice clients, with many of the assignments as a live-in Care Pro for four days a week. A lot of family members cannot emotionally handle hospice duty with a loved one. It’s sad, a tough thing to do. I want to help people as they get closer to ‘the finish line,’” he said.
“I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and I still read the Bible. When I am asked, I usually tell them we’re all waiting on entering ‘The Promised Land.’ I try to give them answers when they ask. I’ve heard, ‘Where do we go when we die?’ I try to help all the clients where they are spiritually. I try to understand my clients’ beliefs so I know what to say.”
Asked what his future holds, Mike said: “Weeks, months, perhaps years from now, I still will be helping people who can’t help themselves, as many of them as possible. I want to do it on behalf of Home Instead. I’ve gotten other professional offers — nursing homes, hospitals and private duty— but will never leave Home Instead. Mr. Kelly and his organization are the best.”