After Plane Crash Injures Wife's Spine, Husband Turns Caregiver, Mirroring US Trend

PHOTO: Doug Cook has cared for his wife Radine in their home on Lancaster, Calif., since she was in a plane crash.
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Life came careeening to a halt for Doug Cook when his journalist wife Radene severely damaged her spine in a Los Angeles plane crash in 2000.

After doctors punctured her spine nearly 80 times for steroid injections, the KFWB radio reporter and once aspiring actress is in constant pain. Radene Cook cannot stand or sit for more than a few minutes at a time and is completely dependent on Cook.

"Our lives were turned upside down," he said. "We liked to do outdoor activities and go to plays and I'd take her out to eat. All that has stopped. And as she has been in more pain, we have become homebound."

Cook, a supervisor at Edwards Air Force Base, is one of 300,000 Americans who are caregivers -- a group that is increasingly male.

The number of male caregivers has more than doubled in the last decade, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. In 1996, only about 19 percent of those looking after older or disabled family members were men, but today, they account for 40 percent.

Doug Cook, 50, not only does all the cooking and cleaning, but has remodeled his SUV to accommodate a mattress so he can drive his wife an hour away to her doctor's appointments.

He also created a "bed-desk system" so his 46-year-old wife can do advocacy work for others in pain -- and use the paintbrushes for the art she always loved.

Cook was recognized as one of the recipients of the 2011 Brave Awards, sponsored by the international pharmaceutical company Shire Of the 10 recipients, three were men, all representing, "respect, courage, dedication, impact and patience."

"We honor a group of folks who are unsung heroes," said Matthew Cabrey, Shire's director of corporate affairs and community partnerships. "Caregiving is often not recognized or even noticed. Disability gets all the attention, and the caregiver is off in the background."

Cook had helped his father take care of his mother for a decade after she was incapacitated by a series of strokes. "I learned that you do what you have to do -- for better or worse," he said. "The commitment is there."

According to the website Aging Care, men can find their new role helping a loved one with dressing, toileting and managing medications "daunting and all-consuming." Often, they report that they are "burned out."

Men often say they often don't feel comfortable with "hands-on" caregiving duties, like personal hygiene and changing diapers, particularly with their mothers. But that may be changing.

"We have grown more compassionate as we have gotten older," said Richard Nix, executive vice president Aging Care. . "It's OK for men to cry now."

But he has noticed in his own life, helping care for his 90-year-old mother has been difficult. "Ironically, if my dad were alive, my sister would be more comfortable than I would. I don't know if that's an old-school thing … or the make-up in our genes."

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