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HAND: “If I’m Feeling Down, She Lifts Me Up”

When Mary J. St. Clair’s husband, Johnny, developed Alzheimer’s, she became his caregiver.  That’s in spite of the fact that she was battling major heart problems at the time.  Mr. St. Clair passed away in 2013; a year later, his wife found herself needing assistance in order to live independently.

Fortunately, HAND was there to help. These days, she doesn’t know what she’d do without her in-home attendant, Guillermina Durkin, who spends several hours helping her every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  “I don’t even want to think about it,” says Ms. St. Clair of the woman she affectionately calls “Gigi”.

The two women bonded almost immediately and relish each other’s company.  “She’s always happy and jolly and we laugh and have a good time together.  If I’m feeling down, she lifts me up; we’re just good friends and I love her dearly,” Ms. St. Clair says. The feeling is mutual as far as Ms. Durkin is concerned - “I like working with her because she is always happy and always welcomes me at her door with a smile.”

Ms. St. Clair, who is 83, still suffers from heart problems.  As a result, she takes 22 prescription drugs each month, a complicated task for which she relies on help from Ms. Durkin.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the invaluable assistance her attendant provides. “I used to be an immaculate housekeeper but since my [health deteriorated], my home would get really, really messy and of course that upset me.  Gigi comes in and cleans up.  She straightens out my apartment, makes my bed, and washes my dirty clothes.  She cooks for me - and by the way, she’s a wonderful cook,” says Ms. St. Clair.  In fact, on the days Ms. Durkin isn’t helping her, Ms. St. Clair eats food prepared by Ms. Durkin on her most recent visit.

The attendant, who has worked for HAND since 2014, looks forward to her visits to the south Austin apartment Ms. St. Clair calls home.  “This isn’t a job for me.  I enjoy helping her,” she says.  For that, Ms. St. Clair feels very grateful - “She waits on me all of the time.  She has me so spoiled!”