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Life in the Spotlight

A Portage Life in The Spotlight: James “Dougie” Upchurch


Upchurch is the oldest person living person in Northwest Indiana with cerebral palsy, and though he may be 75 years old with numerous challenges, he lives a full and vibrant life at Moses Caregiver Home in South Haven. The staff there, along with friends and family, are doing all they can to keep him in his “home.”

“I have been working for Moses Caregivers for six years now taking care of the elderly,” Renee Griffith, senior caregiver said. “One resident in particular who stands out is Dougie. As a 75-year-old dealing with cerebral palsy, he has pushed past many expectations. Dougie has both physical and mental barriers as a result of the disorder, but a heart of gold.”

Upchurch knows Liz Moses, Moses Caregiver Home owner, as “donut lady,” since she brings in one of his favorite sweets.

“Everyone has fallen in love with Dougie,” Moses said. “He cares for everyone, too. He prays for the other residents.”

Manager/caregiver Melissa Ridgley said Dougie is the unofficial “doorman” of Moses Caregiver Home, as he’s usually near the door in his favorite spot, and always eager to welcome in a new member of the family.

When asked what his favorite part about where he lives was, Upchurch simply stated, “I don’t have a favorite, I like everything here.”

Growing up, Upchurch did his best in school. However, when he was 15, his parents took him to be evaluated by healthcare professionals after removing him from school. It was then that they were told he has the mental capabilities of a 9-year-old, and they lovingly took care of him for much of his life. When his mother and father passed away, Upchurch faced a big change in his life. Luckily his cousin, Valerie Debusk and her husband took him into their home so that he could once again live in comfort with family.

However, as the couple began to age, they knew they couldn’t take care of Upchurch as well as they had for the last decade. Hoping for better care options, they found a nursing home so that Upchurch could get the professional care he needs- but they had no idea what was in store.

In the coming weeks, DeBusk was shocked by the conditions he was living in. She said that Upchurch spent most of his time at the home stuck in a chair or bed. From the conditions, Upchurch lost weight and developed sores and rashes. And it wasn’t only his body that was suffering from neglect.

“You could see Dougie’s soul withering away,” DeBusk said.

His family knew they had to find a better home for Dougie quickly before things got worse. They hoped their next step would change things around for the better.

“We immediately started looking for somewhere else for Dougie and found Moses Caregivers, which is a private home with just seven residents,” DeBusk said. “This is an actual home. It is a duplex opened up in between, and is set up just as your own home would be. This changed Dougie’s life. There, he has his own bedroom, all home cooked meals, and has two to three caregivers on duty, always. The people there actually care for him and care about him.”

In October 2014, Dougie moved in and his family has gotten much bigger since. At first, the staff had to work with Upchurch in moving past the routines of the old nursing home.

“When Dougie moved in, he was very withdrawn he would not participate in activities or games with the other residents and staff,” Griffith said. “Simple things such as open windows would upset him. Dougie was set in his ways of just sitting in his chair and being served his meals. This was a trait developed in the nursing home where he would be left in his wheelchair alone at a table for the day. Since living at Moses Caregivers, Dougie has changed and for the better. Thanks to the dedicated staff, on top of his loving family’s interaction, Dougie has come out of his shell.”

Today, Upchurch never misses a game of Bingo. He and the residents eat together like a family every day and the cook even whips up his favorite foods. Holidays and birthdays are always celebrated together with staff and residents. The staff even threw a circus-themed party complete with blow-up animals and games because Dougie said he’s never been to the circus before.

“It is a wonderful place where life is celebrated,” DeBusk said. “They go out on the front porch to enjoy the weather, have cookouts on holidays, and even have fireworks on the Fourth of July. At Moses Caregivers, they are there to encourage him and comfort him. They understand that these are the places that people will live out their last days. But it is not a depressing location where everyone just stays in their room ignored. They feel everyone should be able to keep their dignity.”

Upchurch has gotten close to his roommates and care staff, and calls them his family. Many of those around him are thankful to call him a friend.

However, after finding his forever home, Upchurch faces a whole different set of challenges. The money left to him by his parents has run out, and his income only covers one-fifth of his monthly care costs. The staff are doing all they can to keep him there and has even started a “Go Fund Me” page in hopes of raising enough money to pay for Upchurch’s living expenses. Donate to the "Go Fund Me" for Upchurch to stay with his Moses Caregiver family at: https://www.gofundme.com/dougiehome

“As one of Dougie’s full-time caregivers, I cannot imagine him living anywhere else,” Griffith said. “This could be an all too scary possibility for Dougie though, as his finances are running out and his insurance does not cover private care. To imagine him living in a nursing home is terrifying. They are terribly understaffed and so many of our great seniors are treated as a room number. Dougie has come so far, and leaving his home for a nursing home would cause him to regress and to be left in a wheelchair staring at four white walls, listening to call lights beep for hours on end- is torture for anyone. So, we at Moses Caregivers are asking for help to keep Dougie home. A Go-Fund Me page has been set up for him where all donations will strictly go to his monthly payments to receive the care he deserves from the people who love him like their own family. Any little bit helps.”

His cousin is worried that if Upchurch has to leave Moses Caregiver Home, he may not be around for long after. However, she is still hopeful that somehow he can continue a happy life with his new-found family.

“Dougie is so happy and in such a loving, caring environment, I don’t want to see him have to move,” DeBusk said. “His care cost [at Moses] is less than most nursing homes and he actually has care there! He enjoys his life. He is always laughing and talking! Please, help Dougie to stay at his home.”

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