Palmyra carer and son share their story


Adam and Joe Hewber with dog Max at their Palmyra home.
Adam and Joe Hewber with dog Max at their Palmyra home.

“ADAM has become more courageous and I have become more tolerant.”

Palmyra resident Joe Hewber is one of the more than 2.8 million unpaid Australian carers that contribute an estimated $60 billion worth of voluntary support services to those in their charge every year.

Son Adam, now 40, was born with a cyst on his brain and a rare form of palsy that affects his muscle memory and flexibility.

Joe has been a constant source of support for Adam since his birth but took on the role of full-time carer after retiring from his job as a supermarket night manager following a heart attack in 2011.

“I was pretty tough on Adam as a child; some of his friends used to say I was a cruel bastard,” Joe said.

“I always felt the more movement he had the better off he would be and so I did push him, sometimes maybe too much, and in hindsight maybe not in the right way.

“The plasticity of the brain wasn’t recognised when Adam was a child and if I had known then what I know now, I think we could have done a lot more to keep his movement and flexibility.”

Despite his disability, Joe was determined to give his son as normal a life as possible.

“In the beginning we had a lot of fights with schools because they said Adam was both mentally and physically disabled and I didn’t accept that,” he said.

“At the time, we visited a school for so-called handicapped children and I said ‘over my dead body’. I knew there was more that a person could do if they really wanted to.”

Adam inherited his father’s fighting spirit and said he was grateful for Joe’s pragmatic outlook on life.

“I don’t have any resentment at all, if anything it was a good thing,” he said.

“It was instilled in me right from the beginning to be tough. It helps you to maintain your independence and you aren’t so reliant on other people.”

As a child, Adam learnt to ride a bike and attended ordinary schools until Year 11, when he was forced to withdraw after a severe epileptic fit.

He promptly began working at Joe’s grocery store, even learning how to drive a forklift.

The family business went under in 2000, heralding a turbulent decade that culminated with Joe’s heart attack and Adam’s ill-fated move to an electric wheelchair.

“I could walk with the aid of walking stick until I was 35 but ended up doing a lot of damage to my knees and elbows because I was falling over continuously,” Adam said.

“It got to the point where I needed a wheelchair and I was given an electric one.

“When you are in a manual chair you have to use your arms and keep thinking but in an electric chair you just sit there.

“I stacked on the weight and got to 140kg because I wasn’t moving or doing anything.”

Two years ago, under Joe’s supervision, Adam switched to a manual wheelchair and he has since shed close to 35kg.

The pair also both returned to university, Joe majoring in English and Adam, a keen artist, obtaining a Bachelor in General Arts, an advanced diploma in fine arts and a diploma in counselling.

Together they have developed a range of binaural audio tracks at specific hertz vibrations that help control Adam’s epilepsy and could prove beneficial for people with autism.

While Joe acknowledges caring for his son is far from smooth sailing, he said surviving his heart attack had changed his outlook on life and he had a newfound appreciation for the time he gets to spend with Adam.

“I think the most important thing for a carer is to have an attitude of empathy rather than sympathy,” Joe said.

“Sympathy does nothing but make the person you’re caring for feel worse, or it makes them reliant on that sympathy so they become very needy and that is no good for anyone.”

National Carers Week will be celebrated throughout Australia from October 16 to 22. Anybody that wants to leave a message of support for unpaid carers can visit www.carersweek.com.au.