Looking back now, Lea Ahearn is amazed at how much her life has changed.
Living the life of a farmer in Tansey, west of Gympie, Lea worked hard with her partner, Ian, on their property. She never thought she might need support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
In 2016, Lea found she was fatigued, needing to sleep during the day and finding it difficult to stay focused and motivated. During a visit to the doctor about a persistent cough, a comment about her eye movement changed everything.
“I didn’t know what was wrong. I had a cough – I just thought it was night air, cold air, morning air, you know from working out in the weather with the cattle,” Lea recalled.
“We were talking about the cough, and I said my 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 he picked up that it could be mito (mitochondrial myopathy).
“That’s where it all started. The hardest thing is I’m not a farmer anymore. I can’t go out there and physically do what I used to do. But at least I understand why I can’t do it anymore.
“I still think I’m bulletproof. I’m still trying to plant trees but it comes back to bite me. I give it a go, I give it my best and then I get tired and face plant the pillow.”
Since starting to use her NDIS funding in late 2019, Lea 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 get to the train station where she can travel to 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’. I know someone is going to come pick me up.
“I try to fulfil everything that I said I wanted to do. I wanted to learn technology, I wanted to be active, and I just wanted to be out and about.
“I go to the gym with the support workers because I couldn’t go by myself, be active and then drive 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 learned to train travel, which is excellent. 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.
“Mito Foundation has meetings at the State Library in Brisbane and I get to go and meet up with all the people, which is lovely.
“That’s my independence and that’s delightfully wicked.”
One piece of equipment is bringing Lea the biggest excitement. A new screen reader means Lea 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.
“There’s a whole world in that little screen and that’s the way I’m going to be able to access it. I want to learn technology for a lot of reasons, there’s a lot of interesting things you can learn.”
Lea has signed up for computer lessons and although her internet connection can be patchy, she is philosophical about it.
“Internet’s not always flash, but that’s okay. Learn to be patient. You learn to appreciate so much.”
Gympie area locals who would like to find out more about the NDIS or attend a workshop can contact Carers Queensland NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community Program on 07 5489 2200, GympieLAC@carersqld.com.au or call 1300 999 636.