Caregivers offer comfort to seniors

Caregivers offer compassion

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  • | 7:30 a.m. December 5, 2012
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - FirstLight HomeCare Owner Karen Tucker and caregiver Melanie Oxenreider visit with their Oviedo client, Diane Pisanello.
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - FirstLight HomeCare Owner Karen Tucker and caregiver Melanie Oxenreider visit with their Oviedo client, Diane Pisanello.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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A joyride with a friend at just 17 years old changed John Kirchner’s life forever.

They were heading to a friend’s house, with Kirchner’s friend in the driver’s seat, the gas pedal jammed to the floor as they flew around a corner getting off the highway. His friend lost control of the car going 75 miles per hour, flipped the convertible three times, and took along with it Kirchner’s ability to live a normal life. Because of the accident, Kirchner became paralyzed from the neck down, requiring around the clock care for the rest of his life.

Constant issues with home health aides giving terrible care, or not even showing up, led Kirchner to start his own home health care agency, A+ Home-Aid in Winter Park.

When clients meet Kirchner, they know he can relate to the struggles that come with trusting your everyday life to a caregiver, because he does.

“I understand what you’re going through … I understand just how important it is to have good, reliable caregivers … they’re part of your family,” Kirchner said. “I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Robert Fulton, a client with a family member in need of constant assistance, said Kirchner’s passion and no-tolerance for poor care has been a relief for his family.

“John understands firsthand how imperative the need is for care … it’s not just a business proposition for him,” Fulton said. “It has helped to preserve that family unit that was so very, very vital to us.”

Growing business

The country is aging. Since the Baby Boomer generation started heading into senior territory, 10,000 people turn 65 in the U.S. every day, and will do so for 19 years, according to the Pew Research Center. That makes seniors the fastest growing population for the next 10 years.

The need for home health care agencies is growing constantly, and two right in Central Florida are providing care, while offering a more personal approach. Both offer home care for anyone who needs it, from autistic adults to people living with chronic diseases and seniors. Every disability has different needs, but all of their clients are trying to live independent lives in their own homes for as long as possible.

“If you want to have a life, it’s important,” said Diane Pisanello, who has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and gets care from FirstLight HomeCare in her Oviedo residence.

Without her caregiver Melanie Oxenreider, Pisanello wouldn’t be able to get out at all. She looks forward to those Fridays when she can talk to the University of Central Florida nursing student about her own days helping people as a nurse.

For more information about A+ Home-Aid and John Kirchner, visit For more information about FirstLight HomeCare and Karen Tucker, visit

“I’ve learned so much,” Oxenreider said.

Karen Tucker opened FirstLight HomeCare this May in Oviedo, and serves that area along with Orlando and Winter Park. Taking care of others has always been in Tucker’s heart. While many college students spend their years hanging out with friends and going to parties, Tucker spent two years living with her grandfather, taking him to his doctors’ appointments, buying groceries, taking care of his home and being a friend. She describes it as one of the best times in her life.

He always pushed her to be an entrepreneur like he was and, 20 years later, after dealing with the worry of needing help for her own mother when she had cancer, Tucker says she was pushed to make a career out of helping others. At first she thought she’d just be a caregiver, but with more thought her own dreams and goals expanded. To make her impact bigger, she’d have to open her own home health business.

“The key to this business is having a compassion for people and wanting to help people, so I take a personal responsibility … I really care about my clients,” said Tucker, who’s invited Pisanello over for Christmas. “For me it’s like a dream job … my goal is to make a difference in as many people’s lives that I can.”

Tucker said she has created a team full of people she can tell truly care. Kirchner is much the same, and those same ideals are what he said he looks for in all the caregivers he hires. His own caregivers have become his family, and he loves the energy they bring into his home each day.

“Heart,” Kirchner said. “If you don’t have the right mentality, the right heart for this, it’s not going to work.”

While Kirchner and Tucker were motivated by different reasons to open their home health care businesses, their hearts are in the same place. Tucker said she’d do it for free if she could still make the same impact, and Kirchner said he would never take back his accident because it’s taught him so much and taken him where he is today. Both say they work to bring a true compassion to the industry.

“It’s not just a job,” Tucker said. “It humbles you.”


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