When Cathy Dandelakis’ son entered the FACES program, little did she know that this was only the beginning of her involvement with Lutheran Services of Georgia. LSG’s FACES program places individuals with developmental disabilities in supportive host homes where they can thrive.
Cathy holds 37 years of knowledge and experience serving medically-fragile populations as a mother, a teacher, a nurse, and a caregiver. Her passion for caregiving began while in nursing school. During the summer, she worked the night shift on a cancer ward as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN). Along with caring for the physical needs of her patients, she provided emotional support and companionship for patients in their final moments. “I worked with people who were sleepless, who were sad, who were angry, who were lonely, and many would pass away with no family in the middle of the night,” she recalled. Cathy’s presence reminded them that they were not alone. There, on the cancer ward, she discovered that nursing was more than a career for her—it was her calling.
After Cathy’s son entered FACES, LSG asked Cathy to help train the support companions who would become her son’s primary caregivers. Cathy agreed and was of such tremendous help to FACES staff and volunteers that LSG asked Cathy to provide training for other host homes. She began writing protocol for FACES case managers, sharing best practices for working with medically-fragile people.
In January 2013, Cathy agreed to join the LSG staff. Her current role includes handling administrative work connected with LSG’s medically-fragile clients, visiting host homes, writing healthcare protocol, and training LSG staff and caregivers. Cathy is always on-call to provide respite assistance or guidance for caregivers and case managers. “As a mother of a very handicapped person,” she remarked, “I know the value of respite. Everyone needs respite, and more than once a year. They need it frequently to replenish themselves, to replenish their souls.”
Cathy’s passion and expertise are immensely beneficial for LSG staff and clients. Cathy used her familiarity with the medical world to advocate on behalf of Matthew*, a nine-year-old boy in LSG’s specialized foster care program. Matthew has SMA Type 1, a rare disease that kills most infants born with it within their first two years of life. Given Matthew’s extreme fragility, the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services expressed concern about his care. Cathy visited Matthew’s foster family and nurse, and then reported back to DFCS that Matthew was indeed receiving great care. Now, Cathy visits the family every few months to check in on their needs. Thanks to the collaboration of Cathy, the foster family, and Matthew’s nurses, Matthew has not been hospitalized for over six years, a truly remarkable accomplishment.
LSG thanks Cathy for using her knowledge, skills, and love of caregiving to help provide excellent care and bring healthy tomorrows to individuals and families throughout Georgia.
*Name has been changed to protect the client.