30 Mar 2023

Fairy tale dreams really can come true – Nina’s Story

Nina* is a 17-year-old Torres Strait Islander woman, who describes herself as ‘island princess’. She may have had some struggles and challenges in her life, but this is a story of thriving.

This is Nina’s story. 

Nina has significant disabilities including quadriplegic cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, congenital heart disease, cleft palate, epilepsy, diabetes and chronic dental pain. Nina is wheelchair bound and has a Gross Motor Function Classification System (GFMCS) level V, with spastic Quadra paresis. Her parents were unable to continuing caring for her from the age of 7, she was been living with foster carers since that time. 

Nina’s conditions make her extremely vulnerable and completely reliant on care givers to support her and meet all her needs. After moving between various Foster Carers, Nina found her forever home when she turned 12, moving in with carers Julie and Aaron, their children Isabelle, Elliott, Karina and dog Bear. 

Due to her significant medical needs she has regular appointments with an OT, physiotherapist, speech pathologist, and dietician, as well as visits to the endocrinology clinic, dental clinic, neurology, rehabilitation, pain management clinic. Her team is hopeful she will soon be able to add ear, nose and throat clinic to this list. 

Despite these adversities, Nina has been able to thrive thanks to the love, support and advocacy of her carers.

For a few years, Nina maintained connection with her father and older brothers, however as the years went on, contact with her family become more infrequent.  

It took significant advocacy, but her care team has reconnected Nina with her mother and brother in late 2019 followed by her father in February 2022. This link with her family has brought Nina a lot of joy, and she is always visibly thrilled following their visits and conversations.

Nina’s carers have worked hard to ensure Nina can maintain this relationship with her family, and also develop a stronger connection to her Torres Strait Island culture. 

Referral to the Churches of Christ Cultural Practice Team meant that she has a dedicated case worker to assist her and her foster family to develop a bond with her heritage. This includes access to cultural activities, her own Cultural Storyline, support to have NDIS workers of Torres Strait Island descent, all of which means more exposure to singing, reading, story-telling, and language from her culture. She also receives things like cushions and clothing that represent the Torres Strait. 

The connection Nina has developed with her foster family is filled with love and laughter. Nina is often talking, laughing, and laying with her sister Karina. In Nina’s darkest moments, her foster siblings have been by her side providing much needed emotional support. 

Julie and Aaron have support from one of our fostering case workers to help organise and maintain the ongoing health care and education for Nina. She is enrolled in distance education, which suits her situation, as she can have one-on-one support from her team and family.

This year she has graduated from high school, and ordinarily wouldn’t be able to go to the end-of-year formal as a distance education student. However, her foster brother Elliott decided he would take her to his formal, so they could share this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

Nina was able to have photographs with her friends, in her sparkly princess gown made especially for her, and even took a twirl with Elliott on the dancefloor in her wheelchair. Elliott’s school community was very supportive, giving her an amazing opportunity to do the things every teenager should get to do, and a chance to shine and celebrate this milestone. 

Now that they’ve graduated, Elliott has decided to enrol in Paramedical sciences, while Nina continues to enjoy her time with her loving foster family. Growing up with Nina, Elliott is acutely aware of the challenges in finding appropriate support and resources for her needs and this experience has inspired him to study in the medical field, and do his part to improve access and support for others too. 

*Names and images have been changed in this story to protect the identity of participants.