‘He depends on me all the time, he’s the joy of our home’

Country’s top carers honoured at the annual Family Carers Ireland award ceremony

 Mary Keane (centre) has been caring for her son Michael (second from left) for 40 years. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Mary Keane (centre) has been caring for her son Michael (second from left) for 40 years. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Mary Keane was just 19-years-old when her son Michael was born premature, he has had cerebral palsy since birth and she has been his carer for the last 40 years.

From Belmullet, Co Mayo, Mary was one of dozens of carers honoured at the annual Family Carers Ireland award ceremony in Dublin on Friday.

Michael cannot read or write, and his mother helps him dress, shower and shave every morning. “He had to have 24 operations before he could walk . . . He depends on me all the time, he’s the joy of our home,” Mary says.

“I had some hard times with Michael when he was small, I didn’t think he’d live and then to be told at four years that he wouldn’t walk but he did thank God. I kept pressing on and on and I got him eventually walking,” she says.

When he was a child Mary travelled with Michael to England for operations on his legs.“It was winter, I remember I would have to push him every morning in a wheelchair up this big hill in the snow to the hospital, but you know I didn’t mind,” she says.

Mary was nominated for a carer’s award by her daughter Stephanie and her other son.

“I decided to nominate my Mam because she never rewards herself, she always rewards others. Looking after Michael 24/7, it is a big part of her life. She took on the caring of my nanny who we lost in February this year, and she minded her for at least 15 years along with Michael,” Stephanie says.

Hailey (11) and Amanda Golden from Balla, Co Mayo at the awards. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Hailey (11) and Amanda Golden from Balla, Co Mayo at the awards. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Young carer

Hailey Golden (11) was one of four Young Carers of the Year, honoured for her work helping her parents care for her three brothers who all have special needs.

She has learned Lámh, a type of sign language, to communicate with her brother Conor (9) who has autism and is non-verbal, and without Hailey the “household wouldn’t be able to function,” her mother Amanda says.

“One of the main things she would do is at night time, because the boys have a sleep disorder as well, she would get up to Conor while myself and my husband are with the other two boys,” Amanda says.

“Conor loves Westlife, so does she, and his favourite song is You Raise Me Up, so he would always have it on his little radio and [Hailey] would go in and sing that for him at night, and be giving him hugs and be telling him stories,” her mother said.

Matthew McCartin (17) from Co Wexford is congratulated by his mother Martina and members of the Unsung Heroes Family Carers Choir during the Netwatch Carer of the Year awards at the Westin Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Matthew McCartin (17) from Co Wexford is congratulated by his mother Martina and members of the Unsung Heroes Family Carers Choir during the Netwatch Carer of the Year awards at the Westin Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Hailey said she did not know what to make of winning the award, and that her life was “no different” to other families.

“I want people to know that people like Conor should be treated properly like everybody else would and they shouldn’t be ignored . . . I love my life, my brothers are like my best friends,” she says.

Matthew McCartin (17) from Co Wexford was also honoured as one of the Young Carers of the Year. Since he was five-years-old Matthew has helped care for his father, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease and is wheelchair bound.

Both Matthew and his mother Martina are part of a choir made up of family carers who performed at the award ceremony.

Marcin Filakcares for his wife Ola who suffers from Locked-in Syndrome. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Marcin Filakcares for his wife Ola who suffers from Locked-in Syndrome. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

‘I said no’

Marcin Filak (38) was awarded Netwatch Carer of the Year for the work he does looking after his wife Ola, who suffers from locked-in syndrome, and their two children.

The family moved to Ireland from Poland in 2016, and Ola had a stroke three weeks after giving birth to their second child, and now needs 24/7 care.

After nine months in the Mater Hospital and ten months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Ola returned home this June.

“I try fight about this because there was problem, the hospital want to send her to the nursing home but I said no,” Marcin said.

With the help of family he also looks after his son Piotr (13) who has autism and two-year-old daughter Anastasia. Trying to explain what happened Ola to his son was a “huge shock for him”, Marcin said.

The family applied for 94 hours a week of home help from the health service, but were approved for 74 hours, which Marcin said he did not think was enough.