Carer of the Year: ‘Family is everything to me’

Karen Smith cares for her four children, her parents and volunteers in her spare time

Karen Smith from Co Louth with her daughters, Megan (13) and Chloe (23), after she was named Netwatch Family Carer of the Year at an awards ceremony held in The Westin Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

Karen Smith from Co Louth with her daughters, Megan (13) and Chloe (23), after she was named Netwatch Family Carer of the Year at an awards ceremony held in The Westin Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Mark Stedman

 

Karen Smith’s days are busy. She is a single mother of four children, three of whom have additional needs, cares for her parents and regularly volunteers with two local organisations.

The 41-year-old from Drogheda, Co Louth was the deserving winner of the Netwatch Family Carer of the Year award on Thursday.

Ms Smith provides around-the-clock care to her children, whose ages range from 23 to 13, and some of whom have been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, dyspraxia, ADHD or Asperger’s syndrome.

She also cares for her 74-year-old father, who has developed blindness due to diabetes and her 70-year-old mother, who has emphysema.

“It’s constant attention. It’s a constant need. On a daily basis, I have to do different things for my dad, like take him to appointments and stuff. I’ve never been away overnight,” she explained.

“It can be a nightmare trying to balance it all. I feel like I’m always doing three things at once. It’s a lot of work.”

Ms Smith said she spends what little time she has off to pursue her hobbies of photography and volunteering.

“To keep sane, I’m a photographer and give my skills free to charities, especially anybody locally. The least you can do is give a little bit back,” she said.

“I joined up with a volunteer group last year called Cú Chulainn blood bikes. I needed five pints of blood last year when I was sick and I wanted to give back when I could. I also volunteer with East Meath defibrillator unit and we actually teach people how to use defibrillators.”

Stress-related

She has had her own battles with health herself, having recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and requiring regular medication to deal with it.

“It’s all stress-related. I think I wore myself into the ground,” she says of her condition.

But despite the impact the work has on her both physically and mentally, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“Family is family. Family is everything to me. I am glad I’m a carer to my children and my mum and dad. I’m glad I’ve looked after them. They mean everything,” she said.

Ms Smith said she was completely taken aback when she was announced as the winner of the award, but “absolutely delighted”.

She was nominated by her youngest daughter Megan (13) who described her mother as “a legend and hero”.

She said her mother looked after them all their lives and “she never complains and always puts her children and the community first”.

Catherine Cox, head of communications and policy at Family Carers Ireland paid tribute to the award winners, adding that caring is a “demanding and emotional job”.

“Nobody asks to become a carer and yet, for those who do, they take on the responsibility with kindness, love and dedication,” she said.

“We, as a society, must ensure that this love is not taken for granted and that family carers are not only recognised but truly supported to care safely for their loved ones.”