DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (WLOX) - There are 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation aims to empower and support America’s military caregivers.
This year, the foundation named South Mississippi caregiver Sherri Piper a 2020 Dole Caregiver Fellow.
Six years ago, Sherri Piper’s husband Jay was injured in a parachuting accident during a combat training jump. Jay Piper suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.
“He landed on a concrete runway and that broke both of his heels,” Sherri said. “And, he suffered a TBI because he hit his head. He damaged both of his knees, damaged both of his shoulders, damaged his pelvic region, his lower back, his neck. He was wheelchair-bound for three months after that, and it just steamrolled from there.”
It took a year for the Pipers to learn the full extent of Jay’s injuries. Sherri’s role as a caregiver came when scans revealed the full extent of Jay’s injuries from the accident.
“My day consists of helping him bathe, helping him groom. He has memory issues due to his TBI. I do medication management for him. I do most of the driving because when he wears his bilateral ankle braces he cannot drive the car. In between surgeries he does physical therapy, we do physical therapy at home. He still has possibly three more surgeries to go and then, of course, physical therapies each time with that so we’re pretty busy,” she said.
Jay has already undergone eight surgeries since his accident. Still, he has more surgeries to come.
Jay’s accident certainly changed the course of the Pipers’ lives. Sherri said they never expected to retire in their 40s, but they are making it work. Her children have also taken the accident and Jay’s recovery well, immediately jumping in to help her.
“They hopped right in. They gave my husband his medication, they gave him his shots. You know, they helped me get him dressed. You know, I can’t say enough great things about my kids. They were so resilient and still are.”
Sherri now has six years of experience as a caregiver under her belt. She wants to use that experience and her role as a 2020 Dole Caregiver to inspire and help others in similar situations.
“They want to bring resources to caregivers, support to caregivers," she said. "There is a community online called HiddenHeroes.org that you can go to, so you have a sense of community.”