3 Incredible young carers and their stories

Thousands of youngsters across the country are supporting family members living with illness, disability, mental-health problems or substance abuse. We hear three stories of courage, hope and inspiration.

Emma and Matthew's Story

“We’ve been caring for Mum all our lives” 

Young Carers

Emma, 16, and Matthew, 15, live with their parents Denise and Andrew, both 51, in Cheshire.

    “I’ve been a carer all my life,” says Emma. “I was injecting Mum with insulin when I was three. The first phone number I learned was 999.”
    “I’ve been helping Mum since I was three as well,” adds Matthew. Mother Denise, a former teacher and hotel manager, has had hard-to control Type 1 “brittle” diabetes since she was 13. And she has reduced primary warning signs that she’s going into a hypo, where the blood glucose drops too low.
    “When I have a bad hypo, I can no longer speak, think or do anything,” she explains. “Too little or too much sugar could kill me. I live on a seesaw.”

Husband Andrew works shifts as a process chemical operator, knowing that Denise is in safe hands with the children. They have learned to spot when their mum is falling into a hypo.
    “She goes pale and starts shaking, and her eyebrows change shape!” says Emma, to general laughter. “We make her sit down and give her a drink of milk with sugar and a straw, because Mum sometimes finds it hard to swallow,” she continues. If Denise is too weak, they rub jam or glucose gel into her gums. “She does get argumentative!” says Emma.
    “You fight having sugar because you know it could kill you,” adds Denise. “It’s very difficult for the kids.”

The teenagers regularly take pinpricks of blood to check Denise’s blood glucose level and can change her insulin pump if necessary. This is a delicate procedure that involves putting a canula into her stomach. Three years ago, Denise had a stroke and she also suffers from multiple cluster migraines that exacerbate the stroke symptoms.
    “Everything she does slows down,” Emma explains, “Her speech goes, one side of her face drops and she can’t move.”
Denise adds, “It’s so frightening— sometimes I’m afraid I’ve had another stroke. Emma will massage my hands while Matthew checks my blood. They stay with me until I ‘come back’, which can take an hour. Emma is so gentle and caring with me. She tells me she worries every day that they will come home from school and find me dead.”

Emma, who has a part-time waitressing job, adds, “Matthew and I text Mum through the day. I can come back from sixth-form college to check on her and my grandparents live round the corner. When Mum isn’t well, I cook, do the ironing and change the bins. I like housework! I don’t think of myself as different to anyone else—it’s just how my life has always been. And Matthew helps loads too.”
   “I do hoovering and washing, set and clear the table, and do some cooking,” Matthew says. “I pick up two bags of food on the way from school on my bike. I keep my phone on me so Mum can contact me. I try not to worry, but I do.” Matthew, who has an array of Scout awards, has also started up a YouTube channel called Wacky Wizard, so he can record his thoughts and speak to other young carers.

    “We’re a really strong, positive family and have lots of laughs together,” says Denise. “Emma and Matthew are extremely close but also want to kill each other at points! I’ve just had three months of not being well and the children have been doing everything for me. “I feel very lucky to have them. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the help I get at home. Emma and Matthew are going to be exceptional adults. I’m so excited to see what they make of their lives.

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