Carer of the Year: An amazing woman who always puts others first

Paula Robinson looks after her mother with Alzheimer’s and her father who has cancer


When her mother developed Alzheimer’s and her father wasn’t able to cope with her, Paula Robinson brought her parents back from England to live with her in Cootehill, Co Cavan in 2010. Her round-the-clock care for the two of them, who are now both bedbound, earned her the title of Carer of the Year on Wednesday.

She was among 30 carers and their families who were honoured at the Carers of the Year 2017 awards ceremony, sponsored by CarePlus Pharmacy, in Dublin.

One in 20 people in Ireland is a family carer, providing up to €10 billion in unpaid care each year. As demographics change it is estimated that by 2030 one in five people will act as a carer to a family member. The Central Statistics Office’s Irish Health Survey findings showed 10 per cent of the population provide care for someone.

“We host these awards to recognise the huge contribution of our family carers and young carers. It is fantastic to be here today and see 30 carers from counties across Ireland represented to celebrate with their families,” said Catherine Cox, head of communications for Family Carers Ireland.

Along with award-winning carers for each county, four young carers also won awards at the ceremony for their work caring for family members with an illness or disability: Jack Cooney (10) from Tipperary; Adam Hyland (14) from Clondalkin, Co Dublin; Alannah Donnelly (15) from Offaly; and Alexandra Ajoi (15) from Sligo.

Paula Robinson, Carer of the Year 2017

Paula Robinson from Cootehill, Co Cavan, provides around-the-clock care for both of her parents: her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and her father who is battling bowel cancer and now has dementia. They live with her, along with her husband and her two children, aged 14 and 20.

Both of her parents are Irish but had moved to the United Kingdom, where Paula and her sisters were born. Several years ago, she and her sisters decided that her ailing parents would move to Cootehill to live with her.

“About 10 years ago Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so about eight years ago Dad wasn’t coping very well so we had to make a decision and we decided that they would come and live with me in Cootehill. So they moved over in 2010 and have lived with me ever since.”

When her parents originally moved to stay with her, her father was not in poor health, but he has since suffered from bowel cancer and now has dementia.

“He’s doing good, and then he has moments where he doesn’t know who I am, but he’s 92, so he’s not going to be perfect.”

Both of her parents are now bedbound. Paula sleeps in the same room as her mother to ensure her safety, and often feeds her as she has no desire to eat.

“She can’t feed herself and she’s never hungry so I would feed her.”

Paula’s four sisters – who all live abroad – and her friends from Cootehill nominated her as Carer of the Year. Her family describe her as an amazing woman who always puts others first and has a very positive outlook on life.

Fiona Kelly Campbell, Wexford Carer of the Year

Fiona Kelly Campbell from Gorey, Co Wexford, cares for her three children, Jay (20), Sam (17) and Daniel (8).

Both Sam and Daniel were born prematurely. Sam has cerebral palsy and has had several surgeries since his birth, and Daniel has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal. Sam was diagnosed with a rare kidney condition, FSGS nephrotic syndrome, when she was 12. It is an auto-immune illness, and she has had a lot of treatment since her diagnosis and is frequently in and out of hospital and clinics.

Speaking about life as a carer, Fiona highlights the ups and downs associated with the role. “It’s good. Things are as they are. I’m a mam, but I’m also unfortunately a carer to my three as well, so life is tough, but it’s fun as well at times.”

Donegal Carer of the Year Kathleen McBride with her son Martin McBride (20) at the awards ceremony. Photograph: Mark Stedman
Donegal Carer of the Year Kathleen McBride with her son Martin McBride (20) at the awards ceremony. Photograph: Mark Stedman

Kathleen McBride, Co Donegal Carer of the Year

Kathleen McBride from Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, cares for her 20-year-old son Martin, who has Down syndrome. He has a number of heart problems, has previously had a stroke and a knee and hip operation. He is non-vocal.

“I have to talk for him, someone has to be with him all the time. I’ve been caring for him since he was born. It’s not easy, it’s really not easy.”

She emphasises how lonely it can be being a family carer. “Caring can be lonely, it can be isolating. If you’re older when you become a carer you have your life done, but these last 20 years I would have had no friends. People would go out and I’d say well I can’t go, and then you’d drift apart, and then you’re on your own.”

To combat this, she attends a support group for carers in Dunfanaghy.

“We have a wee support group in Dunfanaghy, there’s 20, maybe 30 of us, and we meet every first Friday and we share different wee things, and it’s great. If I don’t know something, somebody else will. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

Helen Kelly, Co Clare Carer of the Year

Helen Kelly from Ennis, Co Clare, cares for her 30-year-old autistic son and her husband. Her husband had a bleed to the brain last year which resulted in a severe stroke. He is now in a nursing home in her area, and while her son goes to a service run by the Brothers of Charity in the morning she goes to the nursing home and cares for her husband there.

Today is her first day out in 14 months since her husband’s stroke.

Helen appeals to the Government to better support carers. “I appeal to the Government to not exploit family carers, and not to exploit a labour of love.”