THERE ARE 187,000 people caring for someone in their family across Ireland.
Of those, 6,500 are young people.
Today, two of them were given awards in recognition of their work.
Jennifer Carroll, a single mother who provides full-time care for her two children, Alex (8) and Ava (3) was named Carer of the Year. Both children have Osteogenesis Imperfecta – a genetic disorder where bones break and fracture easily. Children and adults with this disorder also have muscle weakness, joint laxity, scoliosis, dental problems and hearing loss.
Jennifer also has the disorder and has had 15 fractures including both legs, both wrists, ribs and skull. Son Alex has had a number of fractures to his ribs, skull, legs and arm. Alex is awaiting an operation on his arm to have telescopic rods inserted to straighten it.
Daughter Ava has had three fractures. She is a wheelchair user and is awaiting an operation on her femur to have telescopic rods inserted to straighten her leg.
Jennifer travels with the children at least six times a month to our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. These are long days often leaving at 8am and not getting home until after 8 pm. Both children attend for check-ups every six weeks.
They have treatment every three months – infusions of Pamidronate to strengthen the bones, bone density scans and regular blood tests to monitor the treatment.
Jennifer’s daily routine includes getting Alex ready for school where he has a special needs assistant. Back home Jennifer exercises with Ava to help prevent muscle weakness from sitting in her wheelchair. A simple tumble on a carpeted floor can cause a fracture and Ava has to be supervised at all times.
The Young Carer of the Year is Donagh O’ Sullivan (12) fromCork who helps care for his younger brother, Diarmaid. Diarmaid has special needs including autism and global developmental delay. He is non-verbal and has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Diarmaid needs full-time care and is completely dependent on others for all his needs.
His mother, Julie O’ Shea, has three other boys aged 14 to 18 and while the other brothers are helpful she says Donagh is “exceptional and always go the extra mile”.
“He stays with Diarmaid for hours, playing with him, tucking him into bed at night, making sure he has his favourite toys and giving up his bed regularly for his brother when he becomes upset.”
Catherine Cox, Head of Communications of The Carers Association said: “We had a very high level of nominations for this year’s awards, with a significant increase in the young carer category.
“While caring is a very challenging role, family carers provide care with love and it can be a very rewarding experience.”