Dover caregiver recognized by Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Silvia Lopez, shown with her husband Alex, has been recognized by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a member of its 2020 class of Dole Caregiver Fellows. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Silvia Lopez has spent the past decade as a caregiver for her husband, Alex, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a mortuary affairs specialist for 15 years.

For her dedication as a veteran caregiver, Mrs. Lopez has been recognized by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a member of its 2020 class of Dole Caregiver Fellows.

Every year, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation recognizes military and veteran caregivers around the United States as part of its Hidden Heroes campaign, which recognizes the struggles of America’s military caregivers. The 30 members of the 2020 class will join 228 fellows who have been named since the foundation was established by former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2012.

Mrs. Lopez said she was honored when she learned she would be a 2020 fellow.

“It was an amazing blessing for me and for my family,” Mrs. Lopez said. “I’m so humbled to be a part of this.”

There have been two other Dole Caregiver Fellows from Delaware, including Paulette Mason of Wilmington, recognized in 2014, and Beverley Poyer of Frederica, awarded in 2016.

Mrs. Lopez will serve with the other fellows as a leader for the 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States. She will share her experiences as a caregiver with government officials, businesses and nonprofits, then report back to the foundation on how it can best help military caregivers such as herself.

The Dole Foundation selects 25 to 30 fellows each year during a six-month application process. According to Liz Rotenberry, fellows program manager for the Dole Foundation, the group tries to pick a diverse pool of fellows from different states and backgrounds.

Mrs. Lopez said by forming groups such as the Dole Caregiver Fellows, it is easier to give back to more military caregivers across the country.

“I really believe that together as caregivers we can get more support, and we can have more opportunities to take care of our military veterans,” Mrs. Lopez said.

Due to Mr. Lopez’s time served, he suffers from various conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, depression, agoraphobia, Ménière’s disease and skin conditions caused by prolonged exposure to chemicals.

Mrs. Lopez helps her husband by keeping him on track with medications, preparing his food, cleaning his injured skin and supporting him at his doctor’s appointments, among other tasks. She also tries to protect her husband from his triggers, which include the playing of Taps in movies and television shows.

Mrs. Lopez said she is motivated to be a caregiver by her love for her husband.

“This is an act of love,” Mrs. Lopez said. “It is different, our life, but I wouldn’t change it for nothing. My husband is amazing, and I love him so much.”

Mrs. Rotenberry explained that she is glad Mrs. Lopez can represent as a fellow the struggles she and her husband face due to his exposure to toxic chemicals while deployed.

“A lot of what I was looking for in selection were those injuries, illnesses or wounds that haven’t been voiced,” Mrs. Rotenberry said. “I don’t think we talk enough about the toxic chemical exposures to our veterans, and what they’re going through as a result.”

Caring for her husband is not an easy job, and Mrs. Lopez also cares for her five children and one grandchild. Despite this struggle, Mrs. Lopez tries to look on the bright side.

“It is quite a challenge, I think, because my kids have a lot of the same needs, but I also have the amazing support of my oldest three kids,” Mrs. Lopez said. “And actually, all of them know how to help. They’re like little nurses.”

Mrs. Rotenberry said she admires Mrs. Lopez’s ability to overcome so many hardships as a caregiver.

“Not only does she take care of (her husband) in such a big way, she stands by him every day. But she also takes such good care of her five children and her grandchild,” Mrs. Rotenberry said.

Mrs. Lopez’s Hidden Heroes profile notes a lack of reading materials in Spanish, her primary language, as one of the struggles she’s had to overcome when caring for her husband. For this reason, Mrs. Lopez said she wants to help the Hispanic veteran community.

“Being a Latina, I struggled in the beginning,” Mrs. Lopez said. “I had to learn, and I had to study more about it, because for me, it’s natural to understand English, but the medical definitions are a little harder.”

Mrs. Lopez emphasized that not all native Spanish speakers understand English as well, and that as a fellow, she plans to advocate for more documents being provided in Spanish to help those individuals.

Mrs. Rotenberry said she looks forward to watching Mrs. Lopez achieve her goals as a Dole Caregiver Fellow.

“I really feel that she wants to make a change and a difference with the Spanish-speaking community, and offer those Spanish materials. So I am looking forward to working with her,” Mrs. Rotenberry said.

Mrs. Lopez volunteered for multiple nonprofit veterans’ organizations before becoming a fellow, including Heroes Thanking Heroes. She is also studying online at Liberty University for a degree in military resilience, with a minor in Christian counseling.

To learn more about the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, visit its website at www.elizabethdolefoundation.org.