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11 August 2022

Denise shares half a century journey with down-syndrome son

A Golden Beach Down syndrome man and his mother, who have lived together for 49 years, through their Just Better Care in-home care supports have high hopes for many joyous independent years to come.

Danny Gillespie, 49, and Denise Gillespie, 81, have done everything together from travelling overseas to rehearsing for countless drama performances, but Denise’s life-long commitment to Danny has come with its despairing moments. 

"It’s hard finding friends when you have Danny, and after losing my Barry of 51 years in 2018, has made it more difficult without an extra set of hands around the house,” Ms Gillespie said 

“I’ve been a huge advocator for Danny. My husband and I enrolled Danny in a program for brain injured children in the USA which was thought to be a cutting-edge initiative that promised to equip them with the best skills as they enter school age. Danny was in this program from 12 months old to aged four.”

During the 1990s on the Gold Coast, Denise played an instrumental part in setting up a disabled support group and respite care through the church. 

Danny Gillespie has nearly lived for 50 years at home with his Mum Denise, largely without in-home care supports.

"We had no home care support for so many years which meant I wasn’t able to work. Setting up the respite care rallied like-minded families together. With NDIS coming into play in 2013, it’s changed our lives’ miraculously,” she said. 

“Through Danny’s NDIS plan, he now heads off to day respite five days a week where he attends a whole range of educational activities like wood work class. He really loves getting out of the house, and it frees me up to go to appointments and head off on my daily walk.”

Gone are the days of Denise walking up the two sets of stairs in Golden Beach, pain free. However,
Denise’s enrolled nurse Sandy George has helped Denise build the right skills to ensure she can remain at home for as long as possible.

“Instead of lauding up three of four heavy bags of groceries by myself, I am now ordering my groceries online.”

More recently, Sandy saw an opportunity to link Denise with a ladies group for a coffee morning once a month, and Denise was ecstatic after her first session. 

“It was wonderful. The organisers picked me up and drove me to the Power Boat Club, and took me home. The ladies were lovely and around my age.

Just Better Care Enrolled Nurse Sandy George pictured with Denise Gillespie at Golden Beach.

"I must admit I have felt rather isolated from people since Barry died and then throw in the Covid-19 pandemic and the busyness of running around looking after Danny. It has not been easy.”

Living close to the ocean has always been a top priority for Denise – currently where she lives, she can survey the eroding Bribie Island coastline. 

Denise is hopeful to jet off to Tasmania soon to participate in a bus tour and envisions Danny moving into his own place, a Supported Independent Living house when the time is right.   

And the former ball room dancer might just be in for one big surprise before the end of the year. 

“On my day off, I want to pick Denise and Danny up in my soon-to-be restored 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air, and go cruising around Caloundra. They deserve to feel special and I know how happy they make me being able to support them for the past two years,” Sandy revealed. 

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