Supporting Local News

Charity provides respite and key supports to carers in need

For the past 41 years, Carol Graham has been a dedicated carer for her son Damien.

As one of the thousands of family carers who provide vital care for a loved one, Carol, who lives in Ballybane in Galway City, says it’s a role she does with love and despite its challenges, “I wouldn’t change it for the world”.

But there are times when she needs support which is not easy to come by, causing huge distress for her, and for her son Damien who has Down syndrome.

“I’ve been a carer for Damien since he was a baby. I’m on my own with him – it’s only me and him,” says Carol.

“I know I shouldn’t but I’m always thinking to myself that if something was to happen to me, what would happen to Damien. Who would look after him?”

Over the past two years, Carol’s own health difficulties left her requiring surgery on her back and hip, and as she faced into being admitted to hospital on both occasions, her son’s care needs were her absolute priority.

As she went in search of support from the HSE though, she was met with stories of staff shortages and inadequate resources – neither of which were any comfort to a worried mother who knew if she didn’t look after herself, she couldn’t care for her son.

It was then that she turned to Family Carers Ireland, a charity that supports 500,000 people like Carol across the country with a variety of services including emergency care planning, respite, peer support groups and counselling.

For Carol, it was their willingness to step into the breach and provide carers to help her and Damien while she recuperated from surgery that made all the difference.

“I had to have major surgery on my back and on my hip. I also have diabetes, and I’m not getting any younger,” says 62-year-old Carol.

“I’ve been a member of Family Carers Ireland for a long time, but I went to the HSE first to look for a carer to help me, but they told me I’d have to be 65 before I could get that.

“It was then that I went to Family Carers Ireland and a lady called Mary came out to interview me. She couldn’t have been more helpful and they organised for two ladies to come out to us each day, one in the morning and one in the evening for two hours at a time,” she says.

Knowing that his mum was unwell was hugely distressing for Damien, says Carol, but having the support of those two carers was a huge comfort for both her and her son.

“Any time I went into hospital, Damien would cry and cry. We got some respite and he was alright for a few days, but then they’d ring because he was looking for his mum. Because it’s only the two of us, we’re very close.

“So many of his friends’ mums have passed away and that’s something he’s very afraid of. But the carers that came to us were so good and kind. Even though Family Carers said they were finding it very hard to get carers, they promised they wouldn’t leave me stuck,” says Carol.

“They rang nearly every day to make sure we were okay, and the carers they sent were just brilliant. To have them there, to get Damien up in the morning and dressed, to read him stories and to reassure him that I was getting better made such a difference.”

He was comfortable because he was at home, she says, “and it put me at ease because for those few hours, I knew I could rest”.

Being a family carer is rewarding, says Carol, but it can be difficult and isolating.

“It’s a constant, constant worry. Only for Family Carers, I don’t know what I would have done. If I won the lotto in the morning, I would give it to them for all they did for me”, she says.

As a charity, they are filling a gap that Carol believes is being missed by the State, and if carer hours were available to every family in a situation like hers, it would be life changing.

“Even if it was only for an hour, to talk or ask if there’s anything they can do . . . it really livens your day when you see them arriving.

“Damien goes to two centres – to Arts Alive in town from Monday to Friday and to another centre in Riverside on Friday. That gives me a rest. They close in the summer and it’s just me and him then.

“But a carer takes off a lot of the stress for you and stress is an awful thing. When it gets on top of you, you don’t have the energy to do anything. But when Damien gets home, he’s full of beans – he wants dinner, to go for a walk, to read stories,” says Carol.

A bit of extra support is huge, she adds, “because it’s hard to do it all on your own”.

“I know I’ve had a hard time with my health but I wouldn’t change Damien for the world – I love the bones of him,” says Carol.

Family Carers Ireland launched its Heart of Gold national fundraising day in Galway last Friday in the Menlo Park Hotel.

For the month of June, they are asking local businesses to host a workplace coffee morning or organise a fundraiser to support their work.

For more information or to register for a Heart of Gold pack, email

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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