WESTWOOD, N.J. — It’s been 20 years since Jean Deer, a beloved Westwood photographer, stopped taking pictures and stopped speaking.
On May 31, 1997, a massive stroke cut short a creative life that had delighted everyone in the Pascack Valley.
He lost the use of the right side of his body.
Doctors are now treating the 76-year-old Deer for a hematoma on his thigh and an infection in his foot, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the family .
During his hospital stay, he contracted MRSA.
With his wife, Ellen, suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, his three daughters — Trine, Erika and Kristine, all of Westwood — have been keeping a 24/7 bedside watch for their dad in his rehab facility.
They rotate shifts because they don’t want him to ever be alone.
When Deer returns home, he’ll have a new need: skilled nursing care, six to eight hours a day.
The expense, $72,000 a year, is too much for a devoted family who have been caregiving without a break for two decades.
For all that time, the three sisters have been taking turns making their dad lunch daily.
“I’ve never taken a job outside of Westwood or Hillsdale, just to be sure I could do that,” said Erika Deer, who also is a photographer.
Their mother has worked two jobs, six days a week, ever since that fateful day in 1997.
Now, though, the family has hit a wall of exhaustion and expense. They need help. They’re not skilled nurses.
“Aphasia is the loss of communication, not intellect,” Erika said.
“By the same token, you can ask my dad lately if the sky is blue. He’ll say, ‘No, er, yes.’”
They never quite know what he means.
In its heyday, Deer’s studio on Westwood Avenue was the place to get portraits taken. He was ahead of his time.
He was doing outdoor portraits before they were a thing.
Before Anne Geddes photographed babies in pots, Deer did it. He used the concept for the class pictures at AmTree Nursery School in Montvale, Erika recalled.
“It’s my career goal to find all those kids and put them in big pots,” she said.
Once Deer did a segment on “Good Morning America” in which he was interviewed about his finger-painting sessions on the backdrop in his studio.
“The other thing he was very well known for with his photography was having his clients wear jeans, white shirts, and no shoes,” Erika said.
“That was kind of his signature look.”
These days and through the years, she said, she has been taken with the calmness with which her father has met his fate.
He doesn’t get frustrated, according to his daughter. He doesn’t get down, either.
“He just appreciates all he has,” she said.
To contribute to the fund for the Deer family, CLICK HERE .