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Inspirational student has been a carer for both parents since childhood
Tuesday 31 December 2013
'I could dress myself before I even learned to speak': Inspirational student has been a carer for BOTH parents since childhood
A teenager from Shrewsbury who has been caring for both her parents for a decade has been nominated for a Women Of The Year Award.
Sarah Thomas, 19, cares for her mother Carole, 56, and father Ray, 59, who suffer from multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia respectively and has been looking out for them since she was a toddler.
As well as looking after her parents Sarah campaigns tirelessly to gain better recognition and support for other young carers, and to support the MS Society.
Most children enjoy a carefree childhood, free from adult responsibilities. But for as long as she can remember, Sarah has had to play the grown-up.
'People were amazed to see me put my own shoes on before I could speak, but it was what I'd always known,' she says. 'I didn't realise I was doing more than other children.'
When Sarah was 6, her mother had a serious relapse and her father was hospitalised with blood poisoning.
For the first time, I was able to understand the seriousness of our situation,' she says.
As her mother's health worsened, she took on increasing responsibilities: preparing meals, doing housework and helping her to the bathroom, causing chronic back pain.
'Young carers are often accused of being extremely serious, and even bullied,' says Sarah. 'But we're just caught up in bigger problems.'
Determined to make a difference, when she was eight Sarah became a representative for the Young Carers' Forum set up by the Red Cross, which provided carers the chance to be playful and make up for their lost childhood.
Then, aged nine, Sarah was taught how to give her mum injections. 'It was daunting, but I tried to take it in my stride,' she says.
Five years later, another devastating blow hit the family when Sarah's dad was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease and fibromyalgia.
'He used to be a builder, so it was hard for us to watch him deteriorate,' she says.
'Everyday tasks can be difficult for him on a bad day, whether that's lifting and carrying or putting on his coat. I help him wherever I can.'
With first-hand insight into carers' issues, in 2010, she headed to Downing Street with the Red Cross to question David Cameron on what support the government planned to offer.
One of the issues she raised was her restricted opportunities to study at university - a problem she overcame by studying an Open University degree. 'At a normal uni I'd worry about the fees - they'd go to waste if something happened at home and I had to leave.'
When Sarah was invited to carry the Olympic torch in 2012 she used the opportunity to raise money for her local branch of the MS Society, and has volunteered with the charity for over ten years.
Today, she continues to campaign alongside caring for her parents, setting up an awareness group for those crossing over from child to adult carers at her college, and training to provide emotional support on the Carers UK phone line.
'I'll never stop campaigning and building awareness for carers of all ages,' she says. 'I want to break down stigmas attached to us and help get the support we need.'
Sarah hasn't let her unusual childhood stop her living her life, and in 2010 met her fiancé, Sam Eaton, 21, through a mutual friend.
'I've always been happy to sacrifice partying to help out at home, but I used to worry it would stop me meeting someone,' says Sarah.
'Sam has made my life complete.'
Jenna Mahoney of the MS Society says: 'Sarah's been caring for her mum since she could walk. She's volunteered for her local branch of the MS Society since she was a teenager and played an active role in raising awareness of MS and the work of young carers.
'She's kept both issues high on the agenda. She's an inspiration to us all and well worthy of an award nomination.'
Sarah has been shortlisted for the Campaigner category The Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards 2013 with Vauxhall Adam
The above originally appeared here.
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