We just had to post this story by Alexandra Allred about one of our Caregiver of the Month finalists on Valentine’s Day.
The day we met Rhonda Shalton changed the quality of our lives. I spent 15 years without help taking care of my mentally challenged son, Travis. Rhonda came into our lives just we needed her. She was so kind and gentle with Travis. Before I knew it, she had won our hearts. Years of not trusting anyone to take care of my son was behind me, I had the most caring person at my house loving my son as much as I did. Rhonda has helped Travis at all his signings for his book, King Travis, on her own time and has never missed one event he has been in. She’s a loving caregiver.
— Kristin McCullough, Travis’ Mom
Rhonda Calk-Shalton is the kind of caregiver we all hope our loved ones will have.
She came into Travis’ life at a critical time and has been a treasure to his family. For the last six years, she has been caring for a young man who has not been expected to live and held fewer expectations by the medical community.
A remarkable person with an enormous amount compassion.
— Director of a caregiver resource organization.
Twenty-two-year-old Travis’ diagnosis is complicated.
When Travis was four years old, he began having strokes. The doctors diagnosed him with a rare disease called Mitochondrial Encephalopathy Lactic Acidosis with Stroke-like episodes (MELAS). This disease results in seizures, neuropathy, myopathy, and an inability to control his body temperature, leaving Travis mentally challenged with autistic tendencies.
If this weren’t enough, Travis suffers from pica disorder–cravings for food and even non-food items. He eats anything. At 6-plus-feet and 250-plus pounds, he is so child-like, he needs to be monitored constantly so he doesn’t eat anything inappropriate.
It was strongly recommended that Travis be institutionalized because of the magnitude of his problems. Yet, over twenty years ago, his then single mother, Kristin, refused. Due to Kristin’ efforts and an extremely patient Rhonda, Travis learned to walk and talk again after the strokes.
Travis has exceeded all medical predictions and was nominated Prom King.
When he was attending the special education program at the high school, the kids nominated him Prom King–a glorious moment for his mother, new step-father, and Rhonda.
It was at this time that I met the family. I wrote a children’s book about his life that deals with tolerance. But the REAL story behind King Travis:
There are weeks when Kristin and Danny can’t afford to pay Rhonda. Despite her own situation with an unemployed and gravely ill husband, she still cares for Travis because, “He’s so special and I just love ‘im so much. It’s something I can do.” When Kristin had her second back surgery (from caring for her large son), Rhonda was there 24/7. When Kristin nearly died on the operating table and Danny was diagnosed with cancer, Rhonda took this large toddler into her home–for free. Rhonda handles Travis and his outbursts like a champ. She is never riled, never angry, never negative.
I was humbled to and inspired by her story–to have so much going on in her life and still have the strength of character to continue caring for Travis.
— Nursing Home Administrator
Author Alexandra Allred recounts a Day with Travis
Travis can’t always remember how he knows people and must be reintroduced each time.
While reading from King Travis to school children, Travis suddenly stands then walks away after saying “Hello” to people.
Rhonda handles him easily–holding his hand and whispering jokes in his ear after he settles down next to her.
After the reading, we stop for pizza. Travis is a bottomless pit–a result of MELAS and pica. He doesn’t know he is full until it is regretfully too late.
During the 2-hour ride home Travis feels scared. We stop often to let him walk. Picture a 6-foot, large man crying–wailing–next to this short woman as she smiles and whispers little sweet things to calm him.
Rhonda is amazing. She is an angel. I learned she was volunteering on this particularly long and hard day for FREE. For Free?!! Her heart is huge.
— Alexandra Allred
For more information:
- Travis’ Website
- CBS story on “King Travis” – The Most Perfect Boy in the World
- The book, King Travis – The Most Perfect Boy in the World at Amazon.com
Kristin McCullough and Travis do book signings and readings at schools, libraries, and for special interest groups. They educate children and adults about caregiving, the value of education, and love. Kristin and Travis offer hope and joy to families who receive devastating medical news and fear the worst. Publisher and author, Alexandra Allred, writes that 100% of the proceeds from the King Travis book sales are going to Rhonda and Travis’ ongoing medical care.