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It feels like family

Flourish 02 Nov 2017

Long-term care worker Carlos Latorre and two of his clients share the secrets of their special relationship.

Carlos sitting with clientsWhen Carlos Latorre knocked on the door of a home in the Sydney suburb of Little Bay, nearly 30 years ago his life – and those of its inhabitants – changed forever.

Newly arrived from Chile, Carlos was there for an interview for a position as a Home Care Worker.

Waiting to meet him were Auktje and Russell Chudleigh, highneeds disability clients. Back then, clients interviewed the carers for home services, but Auktje says things are different now and carers are carefully matched to their clients before they meet.

Russell, a former school teacher who was injured in a rock climbing accident in Bulli, near Wollongong, retrained in horticulture and began teaching people with disabilities from his wheelchair. He also worked with the Spinal Cord Association for many years. In the early days of supporting Russell, part of Carlos’s job was preparing lunch for him to take to work.

Auktje, who had polio, is also in a wheelchair. She was supported by Carlos through Home Care New South Wales (now Australian Unity) until she required a tracheotomy and needed to be on a ventilator. Since then, Auktje’s needs have increased and she now receives support from specialist teams.

“We liked Carlos straight away,” Russell says. “You usually get a feeling about someone by the way they talk to you. They have to be caring and you can tell that almost immediately.”

Carlos has a Certificate IV in Disability and a Certificate III in Aged Care. He works full time for Australian Unity as a Home Care Worker and has more than a dozen regular clients.

More than a quarter of a century on from their first meeting, Carlos, 53, and Russell and Auktje, both in their 60s, almost regard themselves as family.

“We’ve been through so much together, all those day-to-day things,” Carlos says. “They’ve been part of my life. We have talked about so much, like when my daughter was born and now she’s 21.

“For birthdays or wedding anniversaries, they have been there.”

“In the beginning, they used to correct my English, to help me. It’s been fantastic for me. I enjoy my job, you meet different people, you learn how to treat them.

Carlos sitting with Russell and Auktje

“For me, going to Russell and Auktje’s place, it’s like going home.”

Carlos describes the couple as amazing. “They do everything. Go to the movies, go shopping. They are in wheelchairs but that hasn’t stopped them enjoying life.”

Carlos still provides personal care for Russell twice a week, alternating with other Australian Unity Home Care Workers. That means getting to the Chudleigh’s home at 6.30am, showering and dressing Russell and providing breakfast. He stays until about 8.30am.

“We look forward to seeing him because he has been with us for so long,” Auktje says. She says Carlos’s good-natured, practical assistance adds to their quality of life.

“We’ve shared some funny times together,” she says. “Like the time I was in a hoist and it broke down and Carlos, a friend and my brother had to help me down. I saw the funny side of it later. And Carlos always liked to walk our boxer Demsey. We laughed when we realised it was partly because the dog was good looking and attracted people’s attention.

“He’s very caring and we’ve shared a lot of sadness. We do have quite a close relationship; we would never have lasted so many years otherwise.”

Carlos says that first meeting with Russell and Auktje changed his life. “They have made me think about life differently, and I am grateful for the strong relationships I have with them and all my clients.”

words Maria Triaca photos Michael Amendolia
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