Karen Smith’s days are busy. She is a single mother of four children, three of whom have additional needs, cares for her parents and regularly volunteers with two local organisations.
Ms Smith provides around-the-clock care to her children, whose ages range from 23 to 13, and some of whom have been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, dyspraxia, ADHD or Asperger’s syndrome.
She also cares for her 74-year-old father, who has developed blindness due to diabetes and her 70-year-old mother, who has emphysema.
“It’s constant attention. It’s a constant need. On a daily basis, I have to do different things for my dad, like take him to appointments and stuff. I’ve never been away overnight,” she explained.
“It can be a nightmare trying to balance it all. I feel like I’m always doing three things at once. It’s a lot of work.”
Ms Smith said she spends what little time she has off to pursue her hobbies of photography and volunteering.
“To keep sane, I’m a photographer and give my skills free to charities, especially anybody locally. The least you can do is give a little bit back,” she said.
“I joined up with a volunteer group last year called Cú Chulainn blood bikes. I needed five pints of blood last year when I was sick and I wanted to give back when I could. I also volunteer with East Meath defibrillator unit and we actually teach people how to use defibrillators.”
She has had her own battles with health herself, having recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and requiring regular medication to deal with it.
“It’s all stress-related. I think I wore myself into the ground,” she says of her condition.
But despite the impact the work has on her both physically and mentally, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Family is family. Family is everything to me. I am glad I’m a carer to my children and my mum and dad. I’m glad I’ve looked after them. They mean everything,” she said.
Ms Smith said she was completely taken aback when she was announced as the winner of the award, but “absolutely delighted”.
She was nominated by her youngest daughter Megan (13) who described her mother as “a legend and hero”.
She said her mother looked after them all thei