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It is a shock and quite often people say that in a way you're grieving for a child that you should have had.

Byline: Christina Savvas

FOOTBALLER'S wife Louisa Carsley knows she has had a privileged life - a dream home, nice cars and the best private schools for her children.

But the down-to-earth partner of former Blues star Lee Carsley has shied away from the glare of the Premiership limelight.

They are one of 64 families in Solihull whose lives have been affected by Down's Syndrome.

A young couple, with Birmingham-born Lee's best playing days ahead of him, their priorities changed from the moment their second of three children, Connor, was born 12 years ago.

Louisa, aged 38, known as Lou said: "Because I was 26 and low risk when I went for a blood test there was no reason for me to have any tests for Down's. We didn't know until the day after Connor was born that he had it.

"Lee was a total rock saying 'it's fine, we'll be okay' but that's his personality, he's very strong. I was the one saying what are we going to do? "It is a shock, something you are not expecting and quite often people say that in a way you're grieving for a child that you should have had.

"Then things begin to settle and you realise that you have a healthy baby and you begin to get on with things. It does take time though and everyone reacts differently." With Lee about to make his big career move from Derby to Blackburn, family and friends offered a vital support network to the couple, who already had a two-year-old, Callum.

"Connor was just four months when Lee got his big move, he was just starting out in his career. We were and still are a low key family when it comes to the media.

"Lee was a young kid relatively unknown and all the attention was about him and football.

"Then Lee played for Coventry for a season and when they got relegated he moved to Everton where he was for seven years before the Birmingham move.

"It was hard enough dragging 'normal' kids around the country, so we always stayed in the Midlands, to make sure Connor had stability."

The Carsley family, completed with daughter Lois, aged ten, have lived in Balsall Common, Solihull, for the past decade.

Despite Republic of Ireland international Lee moving around with his playing career and now looking at coaching options, the family have kept their roots in the city.

They are currently building a new home near to their existing house, with work likely to be completed by the end of the year.

It hasn't been easy, but as Connor has become older and developed some independence he has developed his own support network.

And Lou has found an opportunity to focus some of her time on another project - joining forces with a friend to take a hands on role in Shirley boutique, Bella Donna.

Lou said: "Having a child with Down's Syndrome or any other disability can be a roller coaster of emotions with each milestone bringing fresh challenges.

"We were lucky that Connor didn't have any health issues such as problems with his heart that some Down's children get.

"So really the first two to three years of his life it was pretty much normal, although that isn't the right word, it was as normal as it could be, easier than when he started getting older.

"When you start potty training and getting them to talk, you see the milestones become bigger.

"There were pros and cons with already having a child, but I could draw comparisons with Callum with walking and talking. I could see if Connor wasn't catching up.

"And in another way it was easier because I was out doing so many things with Callum, like mother and toddler groups, and socialising, and Connor was swept along with that.

"I think if you were a firsttime mum you might hide away.

"When he was a baby I remained on the outskirts of it all, but when we moved to Birmingham we really got involved with the local Down's group and fundraising."

The couple have, along with other parents and children of the Solihull Down's Syndrome Support Group, worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition.

Lou is trustee and Lee is a patron of the group.

They organise coffee mornings and supermarket bag packing events.

And membership has shot up from just ten families when it began.

The group celebrates its tenyear anniversary in 2012. From glamorous fashion shows and balls to Curryoke nights and 10k runs, the group does what it can to raise funds and its profile.

Lou said: "The group has really grown which is fantastic.

We don't get outside funding from anywhere, we do it ourselves locally and it stays locally.

"We offer support to new parents and we provide things like extra speech therapy.

"The Government don't provide enough, one session maybe every school term and it makes a big difference so that is the main drain on our resources.

"People say it's easier for us and yes we don't have to worry about the financial side of things, but we still have the same worries that other parents have.

"Others say 'why don't you just give money to charity? But it's not just about that, it's very much about awareness, to help families and remove stereotypes.

"Lee gets asked to do a lot for charity, but this is personal to us. Lee and I don't run the group, we are part of it we do all we can to help as a team, often the people behind the scenes don't get the recognition they deserve."

Lou explains that having a child with Down's is like looking after a toddler, in terms of what they understand and how they behave.

"Connor just knows that daddy plays football. You have to keep reminding him when he changes clubs like when Lee went to Coventry, he would keep saying Birmingham City.

"It would take him a while, especially as Lee always plays in blue. Connor has no idea of how dad playing football has affected his life and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."

Connor can't anticipate dangerous situations and needs monitoring unlike other children his age.

At Reynalds Cross school, in Olton, where he started in September, he is encouraged to develop language and communication and Lou says this is a priority. "He did brilliantly at mainstream infants and the teachers were fantastic, but we wanted him to go to a special school to give him life skills.

"He doesn't need to sit GCSEs, he needs to learn how to live and communicate, to do the shopping and cooking.

"I used to think you could map your life out, but when this happened it made us both realise that we need to take everything in our stride.

"Our main concern is letting Connor have a life of his own. Children with Down's don't want to be sat at home with mum and dad, things have changed dramatically over the past ten years."

For advice call Solihull Downs Syndrome Support Group on 0121 744 1385

CAPTION(S):

Family man: Lee and son Connor. right, Lee Carsley in action for Blues. Close: Footballer Lee Carsley with wife Lou, daughter Lois and sons Connor and Callum.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 23, 2011
Words:1218
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