Lea's independence vital

After being diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy Lea Ahearn's life has changed

Life & Style
Lea Ahearn has accessed the National Disability Insurance Scheme to get back her independence.

Lea Ahearn has accessed the National Disability Insurance Scheme to get back her independence.

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Lea Ahearn didn't ever think that one-day she would need support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

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Lea Ahearn along with her partner Ian McDowell were working hard on their two properties in the Tansey district and she didn't ever think that one-day she would need support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

At the time, the couple had two farms one 120 hectares, the other 323ha and overall ran 100 Droughtmaster breeders selling the progeny as weaners, and grew grain and hay.

Ms Ahearn also worked at the neighbouring dairy, working two shifts a day over four days, following by four days off.

In 2016, she was fatigued, and found she needed to sleep during the day and that it was difficult to stay focused and motivated.

"I would come home from the dairy morning shift and sleep to get the energy to head back for the afternoon shift," Ms Ahearn said.

It was during a visit to the doctor about a persistent cough, she commented about her eye movement and that changed everything.

Ms Ahearn said when discussing her cough, she told the specialist that her eyes don't work either.

He said, 'What do you mean?'

"I said they don't go up and down, they don't go sideways, they don't move, and from that he picked up that I could have mito otherwise known as mitochondrial myopathy."

Since starting to use her NDIS funding in late 2019, Ms Ahearn has found a new purpose in her day and is excited by what lies ahead.

She uses her NDIS funds to employ support workers to take her to the gym and pool, attend appointments and to catch the train so she can meet with family and her support group.

"It gives me a purpose to get up in the morning because I think 'yes, I know I'm going and I know someone is going to come pick me up," she said.

"I go to the gym with the support workers because I couldn't go by myself, be active and then they drive me home.

"And the same with swimming, I go swimming and that keeps me active and we talk to other people there which is lovely.

"I've also learned to train travel and I can go between Maryborough and Nambour, and I don't even have to change trains to go and see my son in Ipswich at Redbank.

Ms Ahearn also attends the Mito Foundation meetings at the State Library in Brisbane and gets to meet and talk with all the people about her illness.

However, these physical activities will stop due to the coronavirus restrictions.

A new screen reader is one piece of equipment bringing joy to Ms Ahearn as it means she can access more information online and gives her options for the future.

"The thing is I'm not going to be more active in the future, I'm going to be less active and I need the technology because that's my future," she said.

"There's a whole world in that little screen and I'm going to be able to access it as it will help me stay connected with my family and community.

"I want to learn technology for a lot of reasons, there's a lot of interesting things you can learn."

Ms Ahearn has signed up for computer lessons and although her internet connection can be patchy, she is philosophical about it.

"The internet's not always flash, but that's okay."

Ms Ahearn also draws inspiration from international body fitness guru Melinda McCauley who has the internet work-out video sessions 'Train Like a Girl'.

Ms Ahearn, aged 55, looks back now and is amazed at how much her life has changed.

"The hardest thing is I'm not a farmer anymore," she said.

"I can't go out there and physically do what I used to do.

"But at least now I accept and understand why I can't do it anymore.

"That's my independence and that's delightfully wicked."

Ms Ahearn shared her story to help encourage other farmers with a disability to find out more about how the NDIS can support them.

The Ahearns have since sold their larger farm, keeping their 120ha, and reduced their cattle numbers to 35 breeders. Mr McDowell said they had downsized due to Lea's sickness as it was too much for him alone. "It is not viable to employ anyone in place of Lea."

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