Every year, VHA Home HealthCare’s Heroes in the Home Award recognized the extraordinary efforts of a friend of family member who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide a loved one who is disabled, elderly or chronically ill with the support needed to live at home. While Albert Martens – a retired quality control inspector for General Motors in Oshawa – may not be able to leap over tall buildings, his unwavering devotion to caring for wife, Helen, is nothing short of heroic.
Married for over 51 years, Helen and Albert met at a Polish hall dance though, ironically, neither is from Poland: Albert is originally from Germany and Helen, from the former nation of Czechoslovakia. Even though both were seeing other people at the time, a spark ignited that night and Helen agreed to go on a date with Albert the next day. The love-struck couple quickly realized this was the person they had been waiting for and eventually married and had one daughter.
Though Helen suffered from Muscular Dystrophy – a genetic disease which causes the progressive weakness and deterioration of movement-controlling skeletal muscles – it was still in its early stages at the time of their marriage. A few years later, in 1961, however, she was also diagnosed with kidney failure and needed two surgeries. Fortunately, the surgeries were very successful and Albert commends the doctors for “saving her life.”
While over time, Helen’s Muscular Dystrophy began to take its toll, Albert didn’t give the extra support Helen needed a second thought, noting, “I have to take care of my girl.” In fact, taking care of others is not new to Albert who says he’s look after numerous ailing relatives in the past including his father-in-law. “And he never really liked me,” notes Albert dryly. Though bedridden and weak, the truth in the comment make Helen grin from ear to ear.
From transferring Helen from her bed to a wheelchair, to bathing, to household duties, Albert had done it all until a hernia operation over seven years ago forced him to seek extra help from a VHA Personal Support Worker (PSW) and frequent visits from a VHA Nurse, both whom are funded by Central East’s Community Care Access Centre.
“I was just impressed,” note VHA PSW Halina Martyniuk, who nominated Albert for the Heroes in the Home Award and is typically at the Martens’ home six days a week. Impressed, she adds, by his ability to persevere through life’s ups and downs, his devotion to his wife’s care and the obvious love he has for Helen. A love that he openly displays for all to see: a love poem and plaque commemorating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary is proudly displayed on their wall.
Clearly both Albert and Helen are heroes in their own right: Helen for keeping her spirits up even as her physical health and strength declines and Albert for never wavering in his commitment to caring for his wife no matter how challenging.