Family Ties: The Young Carer

Reporter: Rohan Wenn

After losing their mother to a rare genetic condition and with no father, this is the remarkable story of five children determined to stick together. Shannon O'Connor is just out of her teens and the full time parent for her younger siblings. Five years ago, aged 39, single mother of six Rosemary O'Connor was told she had just years to live. A rare genetic condition had rendered her kidneys diseased and dying.

As Rosie got sicker and sicker, eldest daughter Shannon was forced give up school and take up caring for brothers Nathan, Connor and Jessy, and sister Meghan. But this brave girl took it all in her stride. "It wasn't that hard. I didn't think it was", she said. She was the oldest sibling and very close to her mother, and so she took one day off and then two and then a week -- it just gradually happened.

The family had already faced tragedy. Four-year-old sibling Ashleigh died in a tragic drowning accident at home.With their mother spending long periods in hospital, 18-year-old Nathan took on three different jobs just to keep food on the table and petrol in the family car, while Shannon worked day and night raising her siblings."It's really important because we've always been close we like to look after each other."

At the start of this year Rosemary was sicker then she had ever been and Shannon says she was aware of her decline. "She asked me to always look after the kids, and she got her will done so she knew she was expecting the worst."

"She talked about each one of the children and the hopes and dreams that she had for each one of them and how proud she was of them." And in her final days in hospital while on life support, the children all talked to their mother and said goodbye. At such a difficult time when most people would be falling apart, 20-year-old Shannon was taking control, and was determined to keep her family together. "It was what Mum would have wanted. She always wanted us to be there for each other because she couldn't always be there for us. It was her dying wish."

But staying together isn't going to be easy. The young family is behind in the rent. Their car is damaged, and the bills are stacking up. And that is why local Sharon Griffiths and the Bendigo Bank have set up an appeal to help this young family make it through."They're very proud and they don't like to ask for help. And so our job is to appeal for help on their behalf."

Even without the money worries, the kids already face an uncertain future because their mother†TMs fatal condition is genetic. Her own mother died from the condition and they have been told that half the kids will get it too.Whatever happens, Shannon says they will do whatever it takes to stay together. They've already lost a Mum, they don't want to lose each other.

Viewers can donate to any Bendigo Bank within Australia to the O'Connor Family Appeal. Or phone the Customer Call Centre of the bank with their credit card - 1800 304 541.