Brightening the lives of others


Catherine-Anne Ryan’s sense of humour and zest for life is infectious. Cathy, as she is known by those closest to her, loves having fun and making others around her smile. However, the past few years have not been easy.

After working as a theatre nurse for nearly 30 years, Cathy found herself living on her own after a marriage breakdown. In 2018, she had a fall at home and suffered a brain haematoma. The accident left Cathy in a coma for one month, which was followed by 14 months of intense rehabilitation therapy in hospital.

“When I came out of the coma and went to rehab, I couldn’t walk, talk or eat. But my sister Karren was there and she helped me through it all,” explains Cathy. “After many months of rehab, I came good. I was in the miracle ward!”

Once she had recovered, Cathy found out that there was a possibility she may need to live in a nursing home, to receive the daily supports she needed. However, Cathy’s sister, Karren Pope, and her Occupational Therapist stressed that she was too young at just 56 to live in a nursing home.

Cathy’s team then got in touch with Achieve Australia’s Support Coordination team to explore some other options. Several disability accommodation options were explored, but it wasn’t until Cathy and her sister Karren visited Achieve Australia’s Eastwood home that they found the right fit. If her application was successful, Cathy would be joining two sisters who have intellectual disabilities living in the home.

At their very first meeting everyone connected, and Cathy moved in soon after. Today, almost two years on, the trio share a close bond. “I’m so happy here, it’s the best thing I ever did. The girls and carers make my life complete,” she says.

Cathy’s sister, Karren, has also seen the benefits for her sister. “Cathy has settled in so well and loves where she is, and I couldn’t be happier for her,” says Karren. “Her relationship with the girls is great and, I must admit, they have a special place in my heart as well. I too feel like I have become part of the family.”

Each day is fun-filled with laughter, music from Cathy’s favourite band Queen, games, colouring in, and her best jokes. Most importantly, there is love. “The girls have inspired me and I’ve inspired them,” says Cathy. “They give so much love.”

Julia Wilson, Community Living Manager at Achieve Australia, says that Cathy has made a positive impact to everyone around her. “Cathy has enriched the lives of those around her, including clients and staff. Cathy has brought out the sisters personalities and helped them to become more vocal and expressive,” she explains. “Cathy is a joy to be around and is a positive presence. The house is a home now.”

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, Cathy is looking forward to getting back to some of her favourite activities such as swimming and bowling. “We’ve been getting through the end of COVID by going on lots of picnics in the fresh air to Lake Parramatta and enjoying the My Life at Home program,” says Julia.

Despite Cathy’s own setbacks in life, she still takes the time to brighten the day of those around her. With the help of her family, carers, and close friends she has met on her journey, she has found her forever home.