Ypsilanti woman up for National Caregiver of the Year

Talking about her daughter, Jacqueline Owen's eyes squinted as a smile that not even a face mask could conceal formed underneath.

"As a mother, I must have done something right," said the nurse.

Parents can always find something to be proud of in their kids. But on this day, Jacqueline had a special reason to beam with pride. Her daughter, Tyja Owens, a caregiver at Brightstar Homes Health Care was awarded the 2020 Midwest Caregiver of the Year.

"We've had caregivers shortlisted for the midwest nomination before, but we've never actually won it and I think this is only the second time in Michigan," said Sarah Williams, who along with her partner Kevin Williams owns the Ann Arbor location.

"That just makes my heart swell. It's just unbelievable to me that she contributes that much to other people's lives," said Jacqueline

Brightstar Home Health Care has 340 offices nationwide. Every year, clients nominate their caregivers for awards honoring them as the best when it comes to taking care of people. Eventually, one employee wins the title of the National Caregiver of the Year.

When 38-year-old Tyja was asked to come into the office for a performance review, she had no idea about the surprise waiting for her on the other side of the doors.

She had won Midwest Caregiver of the Year. And the client who nominated her is no ordinary client, but Dr. Karin Muraszko, the chair fo the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan and the first woman to head the department at any medical school in the United States ever.

In 2013, she underwent back surgery that left her with extreme weakness in her lower extremities, forcing her to use a wheelchair. 

Sarah read Muraszko's letter during Tyja's surprise party.

"Initially, I had a series of care providers that would come to my home to help during mornings and evenings. But eventually appreciated one person stood out amongst all of them. This person was Tyja Owens," read the letter. "She has made it possible for me to work at the highest levels. I know that I would not have been able to come back from my initial surgery to the level that I have without assistance."

The renowned surgeon often travels the world for conferences. And right alongside her has been Tyja the entire time - during the COVID-19 crisis, no less.

"I worried about her during this pandemic but I knew she had to do what she does, so I had to put that on the back burner," said Jacqueline.

"It's not just people who work in hospitals or facilities or rehab who are heroes, but our caregivers are heroes who go into people's homes every single day," said Sarah.

Tyja is one of the four finalists for the National Caregiver of the Year. The winner will be named in the fall.