When an unexpected and tragic event occurs, there’s often a tremendous ripple effect on many lives. Karen Wilson * is someone who understands this well.
Karen’s son Thomas suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as the result of an accident in 2006.
One of the many aspects of Thomas’ day-to-day that Karen oversees is his finances which came from a compensation payout long after the accident occurred.
She says it takes a real team effort to take care of Thomas and finding the right people is hugely important – people like James, Thomas’ support worker, who has become part of the family. Another valued member of ‘Team Thomas’ is financial planner Joshua Cameron who works closely with Karen to ensure that Thomas’ funds will not only last long-term but will enable him to continue with the activities that bring him the most fulfilment.
Karen is used to having a lot on her plate. Aged in her mid-’50s, she is the mother of five and grandmother twice over. In addition to Thomas (34), Karen and her husband Peter have a 13-year-old son at home. Home is a lovely three-acre property located to the south of Coffs Harbour. Fortunately, looking after Thomas’ financial affairs comes relatively easily to Karen; she and Peter ran their own Sydney-based business for 35 years.
Karen first connected with Josh Cameron around 2012. He was referred to her by the solicitors who had overseen the compensation case for her son; a payout that came five years after the accident. And while Thomas is Josh’s client, it is Karen who has regular contact with him. This is because Thomas is dependent on others for certain matters including the management of his money. The impact of the accident means that he requires 24-hour-a-day assistance and supervision.
“Thomas was hit by a car just three weeks after he turned 18. He was on life support for eight weeks and spent seven months in rehab learning how to walk, talk, eat, communicate…all the things we take for granted. It’s quite mind boggling to see how far he’s come. As a result of the accident, Tom suffers from life threatening seizures, has severe short term memory loss and cognitive deficits,” says Karen.
Given the severity of his injuries, it’s incredible to learn more about Thomas now, at 34. He’s an enthusiastic horse rider and loves his weekly surfing lessons. He’s also an avid golfer and a talented artist.
Karen went through the relevant steps with the NSW Trustee and Guardians to be appointed as Thomas’ financial manager. This means she is answerable to the state government body and must keep detailed records. “Due to his disability Thomas is extremely vulnerable, so the NSW Trustee and Guardians ensure that people in his position are well-protected. They are there to safeguard people like Thomas from being taken advantage of,” Karen says.
Josh and Karen work closely together in regard to these compensation funds. “Josh has become quite involved in our lives. Over the years, even as we maintain a business relationship, it has become personal. Josh recognises Tom’s unique circumstances and special needs. He always keeps us up to date with Tom’s finances and how they’re being invested.”
On a more personal note, Karen readily sings Josh’s praises.
“As a person, he is just lovely. A fairly quietly spoken man, he’s very patient and always eager and willing to help – even if it’s on the weekend or of an evening. I feel really comfortable with him. As a father himself he is sympathetic to my position as a parent. Josh always explains things thoroughly and never makes me feel silly or that my questions aren’t valid. And if he’s not sure on something he’ll look into it and come back to me.”
Karen also explains how much time and energy is saved by Josh being in the picture.
“It’s really easy to become so absorbed in managing Tom, that you can forget that you’re also a mum and a wife, a sibling, daughter and grandmother.
In ‘normal’ circumstances our 34-year-old son would no longer be living at home or be so dependent on us.
Knowing that Tom’s money is being looked after and that he is financially settled takes that burden away from me and Peter. I just do the daily bookkeeping stuff and can focus on the job or being Tom’s mum and carer. That peace of mind means that we can all get on with being a normal family.”
Thomas’ finances are constantly reviewed to ensure they will continue to support him over his life span and as his needs change. Josh also works with NSW Trustee and Guardian on Karen’s behalf. One recent development that needed the agency’s approval was the addition of an art studio on the family property. Tom loves his art. And he doesn’t just dabble, he’s exhibited. Earlier this year on the Coffs Coast, Tom held an art exhibition. The proceeds were donated to The Epilepsy Foundation. Some 60 people attended and $1500 was raised. What a wonderful achievement!
Thomas is able to enjoy a broad range of activities and thrives on being out and about. James, Tom’s amazing support worker takes him to his daily activities. “James is fantastic,” Karen says. “He’s been with us for a few years now and is like one of our own boys. I particularly love that he introduces Tom as his mate. We are very fortunate to have him – we’ve had all sorts of support workers over the years!”
Thomas is fit but he’s also quite fragile and frequently has terrible seizures. Understandably, his needs may change in the years to come. For example, modifications may be required at home to better cater for his physical limitations. For now though, Karen says he is finding joy in the day-to-day.
“The compensation and how it is managed gives him quality of life and the freedom to live his life to the fullest.”
And as he does just that, Team Thomas is supporting him every step of the way.
* Names have been changed for personal reasons
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