MESA – Brenda Donovan was just 12 when her mother, Kathy, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Over the next six years, as the neurodegenerative disease took its course, her mom went from using a walker to a wheelchair, and by her senior year in high school, Brenda was her mother’s primary caregiver.

As teammates headed to the basketball court or to the track for practice, Brenda cut back on sports and used a study hall period to lift her mother in and out of the car and drive her to medical appointments while her father was at work.

“That role just kind of started to morph into: Now I’m the parent and she’s the child,” said Donovan, who’s now 49 and living in Mesa.

“For me, looking back, I just thought this is something I’m supposed to do. … It was kind of like a badge of honor. You don’t really realize the effects of it until it’s too late.”

Brenda Donovan keeps a photo of her mother, Kathy, in her Mesa home. Donovan was in high school when she became primary caregiver to her mom. There potentially are millions of young caregivers like her in the U.S. (Photo by Madeline Bautista/Cronkite News)

Donovan, today a nurse practitioner, suspects the burden of caregiving contributed to the depression she battled for years.

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