AN ambulance paramedic who gave up a full-time job when his young wife suffered a severe stroke has been named Laois Carer of the Year.
Former county hurler John Bergin (54) from Castletown, who has cared for his wife Kathleen at home for the past five years, was nominated for the award by his sister Paula Dooley.
“I was very surprised. I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” John told the Laois Nationalist when the results were announced last Thursday.
The family’s lives were completely overturned when Kathleen suffered a devastating stroke at the age of only 51, when the youngest of their four children was still in school. She subsequently suffered a second stroke and was in hospital for months, as every facet of her life was affected. She lost her eyesight and had to learn how to walk, talk and do other everyday things as if for the first time.
John recalls: “It happened totally out of the blue and it was a big shock. There was no indication beforehand that anything was wrong. She simply woke up one day with a very bad headache and that was the start. It took some time to be diagnosed, as it was an untypical stroke and even as a paramedic I didn’t recognise all the symptoms.”
When Kathleen came home from hospital, John took carer’s leave for two years as she needed 24/7 care. Since then, he works one day a week as an emergency ambulance paramedic but otherwise is his wife’s full-time carer.
He says: “It works excellently for us, as Kathleen is looked after by someone she knows so well and I’m there with her most of the time.”
The couple have been married for more than 30 years and have four adult children, Niamh ‒ John, Laura and Ciara and one grandchild, Liam. Until the late 1980s, John was very involved with Castletown GAA Club and played hurling at all levels, from U14 right up to senior and was a member of the Laois senior hurling team.
John will be presented with the Laois Carer of the Year title tomorrow, Wednesday 31 October, at 11am in Abbeyleix Manor Hotel, when his friends, family and well-wishers gather to celebrate his richly-deserved award. He will also go on to represent Laois at the national awards ceremony on Friday 23 November at the Westin Hotel, Dublin.
The well-known annual awards programme, run by Family Carers Ireland, recognises carers for the extraordinary hard work and dedication involved in caring for their loved ones every day.