Carmel Taibi-Lehn – Caring for a Spouse with Spinal Cord Injury and Chronic Pain

Carmel’s journey as a caregiver began when a car accident totaled the vehicle and broke her husband Dale’s neck in three places. What was initially perceived as an isolated event extended to 20 of her 26-year marriage, during which time Carmel became the primary caregiver for Dale and the sole provider for her family, all while shouldering the expectations of a corporate leadership career.

Post car accident, Dale was stabilized in a halo brace for 12 weeks and Carmel was challenged with tightening bolts that penetrated her husband’s skull. This was just the beginning of hours, days, and years in surgery waiting rooms, recovery rooms, hospital rooms, treatment and rehab facilities, step down units, and long-term care facilities.

Two years later, an unrelated tumor was found growing inside of Dale’s spinal cord. The successful 8-hour surgery to remove it led to months of rehab, where despite all odds, Dale progressed from a wheelchair, to a walker, to learning how to walk again.

But the tumor grew back. This time, Dale was left a paraplegic.  5’3” Carmel cared for her 6’3” 230 pound. husband.  Bathing him, helping him to transfer to the bed, toilet etc., and lifting his wheelchair in and out of the car became a part of Carmel’s daily routine as she tried to maintain continuity and support in their young son’s life.

In 2016, Dale was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer, which resulted in a year of treatment, long-term care, and finally, hospice care.

The effects of chronic progressive illness – physical, emotional, and spiritual – are cumulative for patients, caregivers, and family members. In Dale’s case of spinal cord injury, the physical effects included pressure ulcers, debilitating neuropathic pain, muscle atrophy, urostomy, and colostomy.  For patient, caregiver and family, the effects included having a living room with a hospital bed instead of a couch, a master bedroom for one, isolation, depression, physical and mental exhaustion, and ever-present conflicting emotions.

While Carmel came close to unraveling, she now views this experience as a gift. She learned the importance of how to ask for help and how to graciously accept the kindness of others. She learned that while caring for someone you love is important, self-love is essential. She learned compassion and patience, innovation and creativity, influence and advocacy on behalf of her husband and herself.  Carmel found that these lessons made her a better leader and she brought leadership lessons to caregiving.

Carmel has integrated what she learned from her personal caregiving experience with her professional expertise to create a unique coaching approach to develop empowered caregivers who can provide for their loved ones and embrace their own journey of self-awareness, growth, and strength.

An MS in Counseling, and certifications in Leadership Coaching, Development and Change Management complement Carmel’s professional expertise and personal education as a caregiver. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Chronic Pain Anonymous (CPA) – a fellowship of people from all walks of life who live with chronic pain and chronic illness, co-founded by her husband Dale.