How do a young Nigerian man, working as a caregiver, and an older woman who has lived in Fairborn most of her life end up not only crossing paths but actually spending the better part of six days every week together?
Linda Richmond’s life abruptly changed six years ago when she stepped outside her front door and broke her hip and leg. “I was showing my granddaughters how to do cartwheels just the night before,” Richmond said. “And the next day I was having emergency surgery!”
Linda Richmond of Fairborn, a former caregiver, now receives homecare from Francis Olatunji, an immigrant from Nigeria. LISA POWELL / STAFF
At the time Richmond was working as a caregiver herself, as a state certified Licensed Practical Nurse and had been taking care of patients for decades. “I started as a candy striper at Grandview Hospital when I was 15 years old,” Richmond said. “I always wanted to be a nurse.”
But the broken hip was just the beginning of Richmond’s health issues. She went from the hospital into a local nursing home for therapy and eventually broke her pelvis and her hip once again and then had hip and knee replacement surgery. She contracted an infection known as VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococci), which ate away parts of her body and skin and left her in isolation in the hospital.
“I wouldn’t let anyone take care of me,” Richmond said. “I took care of myself.”
Richmond’s isolation at home continued for at least a year and her wounds had to be cleaned regularly. She would often have to go to the hospital to have her wounds cleaned and then return home by ambulance. The wound vac machines were difficult to use and complex and the process was often painful. Recently Richmond twisted her ankle and dislocated the bones in her foot.
“I lived through it,” Richmond said. “I went through more than anyone should go through (but) I’m still here.”
She went through several caregivers during that time and though she had no significant complaints, she never truly had an opportunity to bond with any of those caregivers.
That was until she met Francis Olatunji. According to Tim Homer, president and owner of Synergy Home Care, the service that sent Olatunji to Richmond in September, the story of this caregiver and his charge is unique because of the special bond they share.
“You have a Caucasian and you have an African American and you have an older lady and a younger man and you also have someone who speaks English as a second language,” Homer said. “You would think all of these things would be problematic but they haven’t been. Linda has reported that the relationship works perfectly.”
Olatunji is a Nigerian immigrant who came to the United States three years ago in search of a better life. He lives with his wife and young son just three blocks away from Richmond in Fairborn.
“I think there are many opportunities here,” Olatunji said. “I don’t chase money but I chase a dream because I think if I do better, it will last and if I please you, then you will keep me.”
Olatunji has a strong work ethic, he said, because of the way he was raised, on a plantation with his brothers working hard for everything he got.
“In Nigeria, it’s the children’s job to take care of the parents and grandparents,” he said. “It’s just part of the culture and the law of the land.”
Homer said that caregivers like Olatunji often get the biggest return when they have one-on-one interaction with clients.
“We notice caregivers with big hearts do better in individual settings rather than in a nursing home with several people 10 minutes here and they have to go to the next room,” he said. “They have a drive to do this and it works best when they can interact with individuals.”
But Richmond and Olatunji’s bond wasn’t strong from the start.
“Synergy sent me another young lady first,” Richmond said. “So I had her for bathing and dressing and Francis for just a few days a week.”
But when the other caregiver didn’t pass Synergy’s background check, Richmond had a decision to make.
“They asked me if I was OK with Francis coming six days a week,” Richmond said. “But the very first day Francis had to change me and clean me. he never once made any kind of embarrassing facial expression and he kept saying, ‘It’s OK; I do this all the time’ and he made me feel comfortable.”
When it came time for the first shower with Olatunji’s help, Richmond confided that she was terrified of falling and breaking bones again.
“Francis told me he would not let me fall,” Richmond said. “And that as long as he has been working no one he has cared for has ever fallen. He gives me the secure feeling I need and I know he would never hurt me.”
After just a few months of being Richmond’s full-time caregiver, Olatunji has helped transform her life, allowing her to venture out of her house to shop for groceries and household items and get out for fresh air and sunshine.
“Francis has gone with me to the store and helps me when I get tired and need to push the cart up to the checkout,” Richmond said. “He’s made me have a whole new outlook on the male gender on how they can take care of me because I feel so fragile.
“I also have a lot more respect for the other cultures of the world now. I would have never thought someone from Nigeria would have been in my house taking care of me — on my knees and on his knees. He’s like an angel sent from God.”