Mt. Airy woman runs support group for caregivers

It started about more than 20 years ago at a New Year’s Eve party. Eager to roll in 1991, Jean Cunningham invited a group of friends over and among them was Roy Kirkley, an old friend from Germantown High School. Immediately sparks between the two ignited.

And not three years after rekindling their friendship, Roy and Jean became Mr. and Mrs. Kirkley.

Their union grew and flourished for several years until one day in May 2006 when Jean received a call at work from her husband.

“He called and said he felt really bad,” Jean said. Roy was taken to the hospital for treatment.

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Jean spent the next 32 months of her life relentlessly following her husband from hospital to rehabilitation center and back to the hospital. Her life revolved around checking on Roy, advocating for him in a time he couldn’t advocate for himself.

“When [Roy] got sick, I was proud of my friend for the way she stood by her husband,” said Kathy Sutton, longtime friend of Jean and classmate of Roy since grade school. “Imagine having your husband in the hospital almost two and a half years and you go in almost every single day. This was really a difficult situation and she hung in there.”

But after nearly three years battling against his body, Roy was finally defeated in January 2009. He ultimately died of kidney failure with a slew of added complications.

And Jean found herself forlorn and broken. She became desperate for something to wake up for in the morning.


Helping herself by helping others

So last December as a way of regaining her own sanity and sharing her newfound wisdom with others, she launched Boomers ‘R Heroes, a Mt. Airy-based support group for people struggling to take care of their spouses or parents while running their own lives.

She started Boomers ‘R Heroes as a conduit of resources to help people help themselves through difficult times. During meetings, speakers address issues on a wide range of topics, including caregiver wellness and patient care, and information on housing, pharmaceuticals and medical services.

The next Mt. Airy class will be June 18, 2012, 6:30 p.m. at Lovett Library, 6945 Germantown Avenue- 2nd floor conference room.

“She’s working on this and it gives her purpose and this is her therapy,” said Jean’s friend Sutton. “I think if you can have this therapy for yourself and help other people as well, it’s a great thing. I see how it’s making her happy and I hope that something more becomes of it.”

Becky Kerner and Kris Kitts are reporters with Philadelphia Neighborhoods/Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, a content partner of NewsWorks

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