JCC Business Spotlight, September 2017
Shavano Park Senior Living
Published Friday, September 1, 2017

So, you’re 30 years old, and you just received the best news ever—you’re pregnant with your first child. You immediately want to share the news with your mom—the person who knows you better than most. Only the mom you once knew is becoming more and more of a stranger every day.

That’s exactly what happened to San Antonio resident Tarah Harl. Harl had started to suspect that something was amiss with her mom, then 61-year-old Melanie Sullivan. Once active in her community, she no longer seemed interested in going out or participating in her hobbies. Sullivan had stopped cooking regularly. Her home, which for a long time had been warm and inviting, had become increasingly chaotic. Harl scheduled appointment after appointment, trying to figure out what was causing her mother’s behavior. She took her mother to three neurologists and shared her fear that her mother may be suffering from dementia. “They thought I was crazy,” Harl recalled.

Finally, the third neurologist confirmed her worst fear: Sullivan was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s.

That diagnosis started the process of trying to get her mother the right treatment that would give her the best possible quality of life for the time she had left.

Harl became her mother’s primary care giver but knew that she couldn’t do it alone, especially since she had just started the journey of motherhood herself. She made the hard decision to move her mom into an assisted living care community. Harl didn’t feel comfortable giving up control of her mother’s care. “I couldn’t sleep at night, I was so worried,” said Harl. Harl decided to move her mom to another community. At the second memory care community, they met Ashley Shipman, a memory care nurse. That meeting ultimately changed the course of her mother’s care. Shipman remembers meeting Harl and Sullivan. “I fell in love with Melanie immediately, it was just an immediate connection with them both.”

Shipman had unique insight into dementia. She was in high school when her father was diagnosed with the disease, and that experience set her on the path of becoming a nurse. She immediately empathized with the pain and frustration Harl was experiencing, and quickly became Sullivan’s biggest champion and advocate.

Not long after that first meeting, Shipman made the decision to move her career to the newly constructed Shavano Park Senior Living, an assisted living and memory care community located in Shavano Park. There was no doubt in Harl’s mind that Sullivan needed to be where Shipman was. She decided that it was in her mother’s best interest to be with Shipman at Shavano Park Senior Living. Harl knew immediately that she had made the right choice. “Seeing your mother in memory care stinks,” said Harl. “But everyone has been here since the day they opened over a year ago—they really care. I actually really enjoy visiting my mother. It’s a real community.” “They text me about my mother,” she said. “I never have to wonder or worry about how she’s doing.”

Sullivan had always wanted Tarah to have a baby boy and another grandson, so when Harl found out she was expecting her son, she was exhilarated, but also deeply pained. “Emotionally speaking, I don’t have a mom,” Harl said tearfully. “I finally had a son, my mom wanted me to have a boy so bad.” Shipman saw how hard it was for Harl.

“I could not let it go,” Shipman remembered. “I kept trying to think about what I could do to for her.” Shipman hatched a plan that would allow both Harl and her son to be reminded that while Sullivan didn’t always remember them, she did love them deeply. She had a stuffed lamb made at Build-A-Bear, then one night on her late night rounds, she recorded Sullivan as she left a sweet message to her daughter and grandson. Through tears, Harl recalled pressing on the stuffed lamb for the first time and hearing Melanie say “Tarah, I love you.” For most, this may seem a small gesture, but to a woman watching her mother slip away in lost memories, this gesture was a great kindness she has never forgotten.

Shipman is a woman of few words, and what most consider extraordinary, she simply thinks of as her duty and passion. That dedication and commitment to her residents led Harl to nominate Shipman for the Texas Assisted Living Association (TALA) Hero award, a prestigious award recognizing excellence in the assisted living industry. Not surprisingly, Shipman won. Overwhelmed by the award, Shipman still felt underserving. Harl disagreed, obviously. She is able to breathe easy for the first time in years, secure in the knowledge that her mother is well cared for by Shipman and the staff of Shavano Park Assisted Living.

3220 North Loop 1604 West • Shavano Park, TX 78231
210-492-4040 •
Lic. # 144363

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