Louise Remmerswaal, a 44 year old mother of two, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 11 years ago. According to the MS society, over 21,000 Australians have been diagnosed with MS. There is no known cause or cure and the disease is always unpredictable. Louise has progressive MS, which means her condition may continue to deteriorate over time.
For some this news might have been a heavy blow to their optimism, but Louise has persevered through her diagnosis to make her life work for her.
“I was diagnosed in November 2001. I stopped working due to fatigue and also because MS is so unpredictable, I didn’t want to take on a job that I couldn’t give 100% to,” says Louise. “It was very difficult being diagnosed with two young daughters, and being at home not working meant I started to feel depressed. Everything deteriorated quite quickly; I went from walking unaided to a cane and then finally a wheelchair.”
“I decided I needed to get out and do something so I started volunteering at Youngcare in January of last year.”
Youngcare Apartments is a living facility for younger Australians with 24 hour care needs, who might otherwise be living in aged care. Wesley Mission Brisbane provides the staff and service at Youngcare Apartments.
“I was on the design committee for Youngcare Apartments so I knew about it from that. I’m very passionate about Youngcare because of the great work they do and also because of my condition,” Louise says.
Louise is able to live at home with her family and drive using a specialised vehicle. “I’m holding onto that independence as long as I can. I’m lucky that the MS has stayed in the lower half of my body. It’s only when I start to take on too much that my left arm starts to get weak –what’s so great about being here is that they completely understand that I might need to take a break from time to time,” she says.
MS can put a huge strain on families and marriages, but Louise says she’s seen good things come from her diagnosis. “I think I’m actually a better mum for volunteering so my focus isn’t entirely on my girls; I have other interests and hobbies. My marriage too is stronger. Being at the MS Society I have seen marriages fall apart, but I’ve been so lucky that my partner and I have grown closer,” she says.
“I also don’t cook anymore as I can burn myself in the kitchen – but we’ve discovered that my husband is actually a far better cook than me, so I’m happy and the girls are definitely happy!”
Louise says her volunteering experience has been wholly positive. “It’s a lovely place to come and work; I really look forward to my two days that I’m here.”