Kellie Carpenter of Beerwah was a busy working mum when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, and never imagined the mystery disease would quickly put an end to her career.
At the time, she was managing a successful professional cleaning company on the Sunshine Coast, but within six months Kellie’s symptoms had escalated and she relied on a scooter to get around.
Thankfully, her condition gradually improved over the next decade and she was able to walk unaided. When her youngest of four children started school a few years ago, she was determined to re-enter the workforce.
“I found myself wanting a casual job of some sort, but I’d been out of work for so long that I didn’t know where to start,” Kellie, now 43, said.
“I was referred to Disability Employment Services and was hired as a casual office cleaner/admin, and soon after asked me to assist with job seeking research and post placement support for other unemployed clients followed by working 6 months in Brisbane.”
Kellie’s enthusiasm won over her bosses, and she completed a Certificate IV in Community Services and started a Diploma in Mental Health, with the dream of becoming a case manager specialising in disability employment.
Earlier this year that dream became a reality, and Kellie gained employment working for STEPS Group Australia; a not-for-profit community organisation focused on empowering individuals so they can become active and contributing members within their communities.
“My role with STEPS is as an employment consultant for people with a range of disabilities – having a chronic illness like MS myself does help in understanding my clients and their needs,” Kellie said.
Throughout her MS journey, Kellie has used the support services of MS Queensland; the only service provider in Queensland that directly support people living with multiple sclerosis and their families.
MS Queensland’s Regional Service Coordinator for the Sunshine Coast Tasman Saywell said Kellie’s story is a great example of how important remaining in employment is for people with chronic illnesses like MS.
“About 80 per cent of people with MS will lose their job within 10 years of diagnosis, often in their 30s or 40s, without adequate savings or family support and with a very real risk of social isolation,” Mr Saywell aid.
“With a bit of flexibility and change in the workplace, a number of people with MS like Kellie can return to, or maintain their employment, with very few workplace modifications,” he said.
Kellie said the community’s perception of what a person with MS is or looks like, is often incorrect “a person who is very physically disabled – but for most people with MS a lot of symptoms are invisible,” she said.
“MS is a part of who I am, I like to be recognised for having a disability and I am proud about what I’ve achieved – two years on from heading back into the workplace I’m exactly where I want to be!”
MS is the most common chronic neurological condition affecting young adults, and the average age of diagnosis is just 30. There is no known cause or cure. For more information on MS Queensland visit www.msqld.org