Our latest series #CelebratingWomeninAgedCare brings to light the stories of unsung women in the industry: Women who work tirelessly and passionately to make a very real difference to the lives of our elderly. Thanks very much to our partner, Mirus Australia.
It’s no understatement to say Katerina Vasiliadis’s life has changed dramatically in recent years.
“I had worked in the medical industry for about six years in a private practice and I wanted a change of scenery,” she says. A role came up to be the carer of an elderly man, Babu Patel, a doctor himself, whose wife had been diagnosed with dementia and moved into a nursing home.
Patel was the father of one of the doctors Katerina had worked for. “He is physically very healthy and capable but when his wife was put in a home, and she has since passed away, his family wanted someone to come in every day to take him to the shops and provide him with company,” she says.
The transition has been hugely rewarding and, unexpectedly, paved the way for a health transformation Katerina never believed she could make.
“I lost 61 kilograms in nine months, without surgery,” she says with a mixture of pride and disbelief.
At less than 155cms tall Katerina weighed 138.5 kilograms before she embarked on a weight loss program in 2018. She had thought about it for a long time before committing.
“I lost 61 kilograms in nine months, without surgery.”
On a trip to Melbourne to visit her sister a few years earlier Katerina was mortified when she discovered the seat belt on the plane didn’t connect. She was horrified when the flight attendant screamed down to another worker. “Can I have a belt extender please? This lady in 14C needs a belt extender!” she pointed.
She put off travelling again to avoid the humiliation. A girlfriend had lost 25 kilos doing a similar program and had encouraged Katerina to give it a go a few years earlier but she wasn’t interested.
“She kept pestering me and hounding me and I kept coming up with excuses. I can’t afford it, it’s not for me. I was a sceptic.”
It was Babu’s concerns – communicated sensitively through his sister who is also her doctor – that finally motivated her to try and lose weight.
“Babu’s daughter said to me one day, ‘Dad, is very worried about you. You are young and you have to look after your health’,” she recalls. “I finally thought ‘Enough is enough’. If I continued like I was, I knew I’d be carried away in a casket.”
She began a new eating regime replacing soft drink with water, junk food with vegetables and reduced her portion sizes.
“‘Dad, is very worried about you. You are young and you have to look after your health’”.
“In the beginning I did it quietly. Babu would ask what I was eating and it was pretty much just veges and protein.”
“’Are you sure that’s enough food?’ he’d ask and I’d say “Yes it’s plenty!”
He was very supportive and congratulated her on trying. Losing a little over 16 kilos in 40 days made it easy to keep going: the results were evident and she felt so much better.
She credits her job change as being instrumental in finally doing that.
“I can absolutely guarantee I wouldn’t have made the decision if it wasn’t for my career change,” she says. “It’s more of a stress free environment. I’m dealing one on one so I can focus 110% of my time on one individual.”
“I can absolutely guarantee I wouldn’t have made the decision if it wasn’t for my career change.”
It gave her the space and frame of mind she needed to finally make herself – and her health – a priority and she is happier and healthier than ever before as a result.
“If you’re unhappy about your weight it impacts your life,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how much someone wants to lose – whether it’s 50 kilos or 10 kilos, it’s always an emotional thing.”
When Katerina told her story recently, she was invited on morning television to share her experience, she was touched by Babu’s response.
“He’s a man of few words but he watched it afterwards and said “You did well”, she says. “I knew he was proud.”
Working in aged care is not something Katerina ever expected.”In Western culture – the elderly are often discarded, we don’t give them a second thought. There is a wealth of knowledge we can learn from their experiences and lives.”
“I never envisioned myself doing this work. I honestly never thought of it,” she says. “I always thought this work was done in a nursing home or as a support worker.”
Working one on one is “hugely rewarding”.
“For me it is as simple as treating Babu the way I would like my own elderly father to be treated,” she says. “In Western culture – the elderly are often discarded, we don’t give them a second thought. There is a wealth of knowledge we can learn from their experiences and lives and I’ve loved that aspect of working with Babu.”
How each week looks does vary but Katerina says they have a good rapport and have worked out a routine that works for both of them.
“It’s very rewarding to be trusted in somebody’s home and in their life on a daily basis. You get to know how they are feeling.”
Katerina gets a huge amount of support from Babu’s adult children and grandchildren, and feels very connected.
“It’s very rewarding to be trusted in somebody’s home and in their life on a daily basis.”
“They pop in all the time and it’s a real family atmosphere. It’s totally changed my life.”