Leah Smith
2021 Caregiver of the Year Awards: Home Care, Southeast

Leah Smith, CNA

Caregiver Leah Smith always knows just what her client needs, from the tips of his toes to his high-flying memories. As a 42-year veteran of the Air Force, 92-year-old Mr. C and his grown children have come to rely on Leah to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of their blind father. His daughter said that when Leah provided morning care to Mr. C, she would encourage him to wiggle his toes as she dressed him, before making him a tasty, texture-safe breakfast. Attentive to his interests, the two of them would often sit outside where Leah would read articles about history to him, or they’d just listen to the birds and airplanes soaring above. One of those days she shared with Mr. C that she was studying to become a Registered Nurse and he responded, “You’ll be a good one.” We agree! 

Nomination Letter

Written by Lisa B., Mr. C's daughter 

When I first met Leah, I was struck by her confidence, her integrity, her work ethic and how empathetic she was. She has good judgment and knows what she’s doing. There is a very relaxed, welcoming, open and friendly way about her. She has been an excellent caregiver for my dad! 

My dad is 92 years old. He’s a wonderful dad to me, my older brother and younger sister. He is retired from the Air Force after 42 years of service. Dad lost his vision later in life, becoming totally blind due to Macular Degeneration. He had told us it was the one thing he feared the most. He had a stroke in 2018 and has hearing loss, no doubt in part due to working around 4-engine airplanes for all those years. Dad’s ex-wife permanently left him in November 2020. As you can see, he has lost a lot – his hearing, his sight, his mobility and his wife. It is a very scary position to be in. Caregivers in this rather unique situation need strength in areas that not everyone has. They need to be empathetic, safe and knowledgeable with transfers, safe with feeding techniques given his difficulty chewing and swallowing, mindful of the need for frequent verbal cues, and the need to engage with Dad. 

For example, Leah might say, “Mr. C., we’re in the bathroom now and I need you to reach up and grab this bar and stand up” or “I’m going to wash your face now” or “Hold your cup of juice Mr. C.” (so he can drink at his own pace and not choke). There are many cues needed throughout the day and Leah consistently provides this. Another very vital part of the care Dad needs is companionship. He needs to know he is not alone. If you have to go wash clothes or use the restroom, you need to tell him where you are going and let him know when you are back. When Leah does this, he is comfortable and says, “Okay, I’ll be fine.” Leah knows that it is important to fill his day with something he enjoys or is interested in, and that you will be close by. Just knowing she was there was helpful. I’ll never forget them sitting at the kitchen table while Leah was doing study cards or reviewing for an upcoming nursing class exam, and she told Dad what she was doing and explained that she was studying to become an RN. Dad said, “Well, you’ll be a good one.” 

Leah knows that Dad likes history and genealogy, sitting outside for fresh air and just to listen to the birds and the airplanes overhead. She frequently pulled up articles on her phone that she thought Dad would enjoy and read them to him while they were sitting on the front porch. Occasionally I think she would give him “one of those old cigars” as Dad said. Sometimes she would feed him his meals or juice outside so they could enjoy more time out of the house. 

When Leah was doing his morning care, she had a habit of always checking Dad’s feet, asking him to wiggle his toes, and she always put fresh clothes on him. She put on clean socks, undershirt, underwear, and a clean pair of pajamas with a handkerchief in his pocket. She would wash his hair every Sunday. 

Leah likes to cook and she’s good at it! For this past Father’s Day, we struggled with what to prepare for him to eat because he is having increasing trouble chewing and swallowing. While Dad was resting in bed, she made him Eggs Benedict, leaving off the Canadian Bacon and using soft bread instead of English Muffins. I’ve seen these served in nice restaurants that didn’t look as good as hers. Dad ate two! Maybe I shouldn’t mention that she made extra, so I got to sample it too! I’m here to report it was awesome! These are just a few of the reasons why I feel that Leah is one of our caregivers of excellence! 

Leah has entertained Dad, engaged him with informative, interesting articles she read to him, and helped Dad to spend a lot of time outside enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. She keeps him safe and is always thinking of ways to make his life better and encourage him in ways that will keep him healthy. 

Leah also has been very supportive to me and my sister. Dad’s health is steadily and rapidly declining. As his daughter, Healthcare and Financial POA, former RN, and the only family member nearby, watching my Dad near the end stages of his life, the stress and fatigue, pain and worry have been difficult. Leah has been incredibly supportive, with hugs when needed, words of support and encouragement, and let’s not forget the awesome Eggs Benedict!