Carers Week Day 2: Young caring heroes

Young star: Ashley, seven, with his mum Mandy

Young star: Ashley, seven, with his mum Mandy

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It’s usually a parent who checks a child is safely sleeping

In the Blackpool home of Mandy and Ashley it’s the other way round.

Ashley, seven, looks in at his mum between 2am and 4am nightly, “to make sure she’s alive.”

It’s the only way the Bispham schoolboy can be sure mum Mandy has not slipped into a life-threatening diabetic coma.

The pair live alone and Mandy says her little boy has saved her life time and again.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Ashley,” says Mandy, who developed insulin-dependent type one diabetes at 13.

“He goes to bed and then gets up at between 2am and 4am to check I’m not having a hypo (hypoglycaemia).

“Overnight, my blood sugar drops so low I pass out. He comes in and says ‘mummy’. If I don’t answer him he checks my blood sugars or rings his dad or granddad.

“He’s done that four years now.”

For Ashley, who watches for any sign his mum’s condition could be changing, it’s simply part of his daily and nightly routine.

“I worry a bit,” he adds. “I get scared if she goes into hospital. So I go in and say ‘I love you’ and if she doesn’t answer I check and ring my dad or granddad up. If she replies I go back to bed happy.”

Mandy admits: “He worries more at school, sometimes the school will contact me so they can reassure him.

“At night those words are a trigger, I love you. If I don’t respond he checks properly. If I’m OK I say goodnight, love you son, and he goes off back to bed. Sometime he stays at my side for hours if my blood sugar’s dropped and he’s making sure I’m getting better. It’s amazing what he does for me.”

But the pair’s sleep patterns are finally stabilising. Mandy’s new insulin pump, rather than the old reliance on injections, is helping control her diabetes.

“Before, I was all over the place, I’d snap at Ashley and he’ll say ‘ mum, check your sugars’. I’d be having problems overnight two, three times a week. It’s a lot for him to put up with and I do feel guilty about it.

“He’s been looking after me since he was three. I feel I should be taking care of him – he’s been diagnosed with dyspraxia and has some other issues but he’s the best son in the world and he loves and looks after me. He’s my lifesaver.”

Ashley is now one of a group of Young Carers who meet every week at Claremont community centre, Blackpool, for fun, friendship, football – and food.

“I’ve had a hot dog and I don’t know how many biscuits…!”

Mandy adds: “He was one of the hidden carers until about a year ago. Now he comes to the club. It’s a lifeline for him. It enables him to be a child and cut loose and have a break with other young carers – and just be kids together.”

Ashley’s friend Lily, seven, helps her mum and two older sisters Katie, 10, and Louise, 15, look after their dad Chris, 40, a former builder who was studying to be an architect before a heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism redefined life as they all knew it.

All of the girls, who are home-schooled, have their role to play. “We couldn’t manage without them,” says mum Sarah, who put aside her own studies to become an accountant.

The couple have been together for 20 years, married for 19.

“It was a difficult time for us all but we’re strong and coming through. For the girls it’s a joy to come to youth club.

“They would love to go on more carer trips and outings, too. They meet other children who are carers. They don’t feel different, they are not made to feel different.”

Chris admits: “I couldn’t ask for a better family. We still have fun together.”

Another young carer at the club, Bethany, nine, helps look after her four-year-old profoundly disabled sister. “It can be quite hard work as she can’t really tell us what she wants although I’m good at understanding her.

“Sometimes she gets frustrated. And it’s 24/7 because she wakes me up a lot, especially singing nursery rhymes. I really wanted to have a little sister so I could play with her and it’s not quite turned out as I thought but we play in a different way.

“She’s very charming and I love her a lot.”

Activities are organised by Blackpool Carers’ Centre staff, including current Young Carers’ Champion Amy, who is taking a gap year from university to thank the service for helping give her that option.

“It’s easy to miss out on the fun stuff in childhood when you’re a carer,” says Amy, who’s cared for her mum since the age of 13. “You get locked into the lifestyle.

“The worst thing is it can cost you friends and your childhood and education. The most positive thing is it makes you independent.

“The youth club is a great break for them – and me. That’s why I do what I can for young carers and young adult carers.

“It’s crucial they can just be themselves. We are also really looking forward to the very first Young Carers Day – at the Sandcastle Waterpark on Friday, June 13.”

To assist financially, or as a volunteer, become a crusader for the charity, or to refer a carer for help, call Blackpool Carers on (01253) 393748, or use the contact form on the website www.blackpoolcarers.org. You can follow @blackpoolcarers on Twitter.Email kay@blackpoolcarers.org or write to: Blackpool Carers’ Centre, Norman House, Robson Way, Blackpool FY3 7PP