“The main thing I do is help people,” says Lee Bliven II, who spends 80 to 100 hours a week volunteering with organizations that serve people needing care and their caregivers. “Long-term care systems are just out for money. They don’t care about people.” Born in Compton, California, near Los Angeles, Bliven went to fifth grade through high school in Grass Valley, near Lake Tahoe. “After high school, I moved to Seiad Valley on the Klamath River to work for the Forest Service, fighting fires with a hotshot crew,” he recounts. “We jumped out of helicopters in Western states, and in Canada and Mexico.” After his fourth season of firefighting, Bliven visited his sister in Twin Falls, Idaho, and met her babysitter, Susan. He and Susan were married a year later, in 1972, and had two children, Lee III and Vanessa. “Susan’s father was a bookkeeper for a water-well drilling company,” he says. “I started drilling wells as a temporary job. It lasted until 1980, when we moved to Lakeview, Oregon, and I went into business drilling wells.” He kept on drilling when the family moved to Eugene in ’83, and opened his own company in 1990. But Susan’s health declined in the early 2000s, and Lee retired in 2012 to take care of her. “She had four surgeries to remove tumors around her spinal cord on her neck,” he says. “She went into rehab, then memory care. That’s when I became an advocate for seniors.” When Susan suffered food poisoning in 2016, Lee wasn’t informed until the mother of her neighbor found her suffocating in her vomit and had paramedics called. “I got her into a good rehab,” he continues, “then back home in January 2017. She’s home now, and a caretaker comes in five days a week.” Bliven took a course and was certified as a long-term care ombudsman, but he quit in 2019 when COVID shut things down. “I started an outside association called Careworks,” he explains. “It does what the state does, but privately, without restrictions. We help people needing care and caregivers. There are three of us, and I average two cases a month.” Despite ongoing vascular dementia, Susan Bliven finds comfort and a creative outlet in an art making program offered by the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
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