‘Family is everything to me’

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 organizations.

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

Ms. Smith takes care of her children day and night, aged 23 to 13, some of whom have been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, dyspraxia and ADHD, and Asperger’s syndrome.

She also cares for her father, 74, who has developed blindness as a result of diabetes and her mother, 70, who has emphysema.

“It’s constant attention. It is a constant need. Every day I have to do different things for my father, like taking him to appointments and stuff. I’ve never been out for a night,’ she explained.

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

Ms. Smith said she devotes the little time she has free to her hobbies, photography and volunteering.

“To keep my sanity, I’m a photographer and I give my skills to charities for free, especially everyone on the ground. The least you can do is give something back,” she said.

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

Stress related

She has had her own struggles with her health as she recently contracted Crohn’s disease and requires regular medication to cope with it.

“It’s all stress related. I think I carried 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 happy to be a caregiver for my children and my father and mother. I’m glad I took care of them. They mean everything,” she said.

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

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

She said her mother has taken care of them all their lives and “she never complains and always puts her children and the community first”.

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

“No one asks to be a caregiver and yet, for those who do, they take the responsibility with kindness, love and dedication,” she said.

“We as a society need to make sure that this love is not taken for granted and that caregivers are not only recognized, but really supported to care for their loved ones safely.”

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