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When “for sicker or poorer” really happens to young couples

February 8, 2015 10:07 pm

How Brian and Dorothy make their relationship – and parenting their four children – work with Brian caregiving after Dorothy’s stroke

Brian and Dorothy Blake


For sicker or poorer. The dedication and support in those wedding vows is one of the most important things about such a commitment. But most young couples aren’t challenged by “the sicker” so soon. Dorothy Blake and Brian Kerzetski, of Las Vegas, are one such couple.

In my quest to see how young couples make it through the caregiving-after-stroke dynamic, Dorothy and Brian were kind enough to talk about their relationship, its struggles and how they’re on their way to that white wedding happy ending

When Dorothy unknowingly had a hemorrhagic stroke on Christmas Eve two years ago, she just wanted to go back to bed. She texted her fiancé, Brian, who was downstairs entertaining their guests. Taking in her slurred speech and drooping face, he swiftly called 911. That call saved Dorothy’s life, as she was able to get fast treatment and an early diagnosis.

Their baby was just days old. And the couple, engaged for only a month, had three other teenage children between them from previous relationships. Completely paralyzed on the left side and lacking in all sensation, Dorothy started her 21-day stay in ICU, followed by seven weeks in rehab. Their baby went home from the hospital without his mama.

Still in outpatient rehab, Dorothy, now 36, can now walk with a cane and has minor sensation back in her affected side (only registering touch as pain). She can drive and has no cognitive issues. Her full-time job is being a mother and working on her stroke recovery, while Brian works in construction management.

As the primary caregiver for Dorothy, both Brian and Dorothy agree that they were able to get to this point by adjusting their lives to accommodate for her healing and remaining thankful for the gift of her life.

The logistics worked out so that Brian worked full time while Dorothy’s sister, who owns a daycare, cared for the baby. Her family pitched in with childcare as well. Brian would go back and forth from the hospital as she recovered.

Brian, now 37  says his caregiving philosophy is to support Dorothy in her recovery, encourage her to live a full life, challenge ‎her to be active, all the while not losing in himself. He makes sure to engage in his own self care by keeping involved in his Byzantine Catholic church and trying to make his monthly Knights of Columbus meetings, both of which are a source of constant support in life and faith to him. Brian says he would like to see some support groups for young adult caregivers, especially those who might feel forced into the role.

Another way he faces the challenges of caregiving head-on is with acceptance of the stroke and the present : “It’s a life-changing event. I had to let go of some things and I miss out on some things because of my responsibilities. But I accept that life changes and try not to dwell on the past.”

His advice for other young adult caregivers in a relationship is similar. Brian says to look at caregiving for your spouse as a life-changing event, similar to a wedding or a new baby.

Yet this couple has all three of those factors at play during Dorothy’s recovery.

Dorothy says Brian was committed from the start, and he’s never wavered.

“That was one thing I was worried about,” she said. “I asked him, “Are you sure? We’re not married yet.” A lot of people would just run, especially men. He reassured me he was committed.”

So Dorothy makes it a priority to always tell Brian how much he’s appreciated, and to make time for just them, especially during one or two monthly date nights. Their favorites right now are sharing appetizers and Chili’s and ballroom dancing classes.

“I just try and keep those aspects of our life. But it took a long time to get here,” Dorothy said. “There was a point where I wasn’t independently grooming. It hasn’t always been pleasant and Brian has had to clean up some nasty messes. But we got through all of this and now are at a point where we try to keep our relationship fresh, full of support and avoiding that stale feeling.”

Wedding planning is in full effect, too. The date is set for June 2015.

“We had a really good open relationship that was full of honesty and helped us navigate through this,” Dorothy said. “I knew it was a solid relationship before the stroke but since, we have gotten to a real, solid partnership.”

Sidebar: Stroke after childbirth

The cause of Dorothy’s stroke is undiagnosed, but possibly tied to her childbirth.

“I had been home from the hospital for eight days after giving birth via C-section. I was lying in bed really swollen and all of a sudden I felt this horrible pain in the back of my head, which I thought was a migraine,” she recalled.

But Dorothy says she’s thankful for the stroke, because it’s afforded her more time with her baby boy.

“I look at it as if I hadn’t had the stroke, I would be working a full time job. You’ve got to look at those things,” she said. “I’ve gotten to watch my two-year-old take his first steps, the first time he crawled and roll over.  I went through bouts where I felt bad he went somewhere else. I try to spend the time I get with him in the evenings, holding him and watching a movie.”

A big challenge for Dorothy was bonding with her baby upon her return home from the hospital.  “For the first few months of his life, I wasn’t there,” she said. “I knew my sister or his dad were there for him every day, so he saw them as his caregivers. He didn’t recognize me, and it took him an entire year to warm up to me. But he eventually did.”


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