13 – 19 October 2019 is National Carers Week. It’s a time to acknowledge and celebrate the love and support unpaid carers provide to those who need them. Medibank Triage Services Business Support Officer Emma Versaico speaks about her journey as a carer for sons Olly and Archer.
Mucopolysaccharidosis I (MPS I) is part of a group of rare genetic disorders that affect a person’s appearance, physical abilities, and general development and organ function. It is what Emma’s son Olly was diagnosed with in 2009 when he was 15 months old.
“We had a few issues with his health and were in and out of the hospital. We thought maybe he was just a bit delayed in reaching his developmental milestones. We eventually spoke with a paediatrician who recognised his symptoms as being MPS,” Emma says.
“It started a whirlwind of tests and hospital visits. At the time, I was studying Nursing full-time but due to the diagnosis and the extra care Olly required, I decided to put my studies on hold to become his carer full time.”
Olly during his hospital stay.
Soon after, it was confirmed that Olly’s condition was terminal and at the end of May 2010 he sadly passed away. It took Emma and her husband Darren years to want to try having another child again.
“We didn’t have other children at the time, Olly was our world and our priority. When you experience having an unwell child, you will always have this feeling within you that things won’t go 100%.”
Deciding they were ready to give it another go, they had a healthy baby girl named Stella in 2013 and a few years later had their son, Archer.
Stella and Archer.
“When Archer was about a year old, we were worried he wasn’t meeting his milestones. After what we went through with Olly, it was hard not to have concerns. We had a paediatrician and clinical specialist nurse assess and observe him and his behaviour,” explains Emma.
“It was brought to our attention that he was displaying characteristics of autism. In April this year, I began feeling quite overwhelmed trying to juggle work and Archer’s appointments and requirements. I was stressed mentally and had a lot of anxiety so I decided it would be best to take time off work. My team leader and peers were extremely understanding and supportive of this decision.”
Emma says it was important for her to take this step and look after herself to be able to be the carer that Archer needed her to be.
“What I’ve learnt is that self-care is such an important aspect in the life of a carer. It’s the oxygen mask theory – you need to take care of yourself to be the best support for those you’re caring for, otherwise, you’re no good to anyone.”
Emma keeping Olly company.
For Emma, it’s through educating herself and passing information onto others about Olly and Archer’s experiences that she feels she’s truly making an impact.
“We tried to be as positive as we could during Olly’s journey. Even though we lost him too early, we always celebrate his life and try to bring attention to his condition,”
“Same with Archer, it’s about ensuring ongoing conversations about autism. We need to be strong enough to talk about it, that’s how we’ll be able to remove any stigma.”
Emma is passionate about the important role a carer can play in a person’s life. It’s not only about attending their appointments, but it’s also about doing everything to ensure they’re receiving the best quality of life possible.
“Some people who need help and support don’t have anyone else, they might not have a loved one to provide care for them,” she explains.
“Carers are amazing and sometimes the journey is extremely difficult. Despite this, we need to remember that we are valued and loved not only by those we’re caring for but beyond them. It’s an admirable role and it’s a position I hold very close to my heart.”