November is Caregiver Awareness Month. Did you know that 65,000,000 people in the United States are caregivers? That is 29% of the population! Mostly we think of spouses and parents as caregivers, but a study by Easter Seals shows that 23% of adult siblings are the primary caregiver for their sibling with a disability.
Gabrielle Sinagra is a college student who has twin siblings, Olivia and Anthony, who were both born with cerebral palsy.
“Throughout my life some people have implied that having siblings with special needs is negative. It’s not! This is how I’ve always lived and I see it as a blessing,” Gabrielle said. “I get to see miracles happen all the time and it’s beautiful!”
One miracle was watching her sister Olivia walk across the stage at her high school graduation, something Gabrielle contributes to Olivia’s hard work at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region.
“It’s very uncommon for a person with cerebral palsy to walk, but I’ve watched the therapists at Easter Seals change my sister’s mind set. They taught her that she must practice if she wants to become stronger,” Gabrielle said. “All of a sudden, Olivia would come home from therapy and instead of wanting to watch TV, she would ask me to help her practice. Easter Seals helped her to become confident and that confidence has translated into every aspect of her life including hanging out with friends. It’s amazing to see.”
From a young age, Gabrielle became familiar with therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments. So much so, that Gabrielle is now studying to become a nurse at Loyala University in Chicago.
“What really solidified that I wanted to be a nurse was an experience at a hospital,” Gabrielle said. “I saw a man in a wheelchair who I could tell had cerebral palsy. Knowing my brother and sister, I could tell that this man was in pain but no one was doing anything about it. He didn’t have any family there, he couldn’t talk and it made me want to just go over there and help him. I knew then and there, that I would never let my brother or sister be in that situation.”
Gabriella said that she is studying to become a nurse because she wants to be her sibling’s caregiver as they get older, and she wants to be able to give them the best care possible.
Gabrielle’s mom, Jolanta Sinagra said that Gabrielle has been there for the twins since the day they were born.
“Having a child with special needs requires a lot of care, even more so with twins,” mom Jolanta Sinagra said. “From the beginning, Gabrielle was their hands. She wiped their noses, got them drinks and kept them entertained. She was my helper and involved in every aspect of their lives.”
With a tear in her eye, Mrs. Sinagra said that there was a time at which she knew that she had to have a conversation with her daughter about the future.
“I thought that it was important for Gabrielle to know that I want her to have a family and a life of her own,” Mrs. Sinagra said. “Gabrielle turned to me and said, ‘I understand what you’re trying to say mom and I will, but I will always be a part of Anthony and Olivia’s lives and I will help them whenever they need me to’.”
“My brother and sister are people, they have feelings and they deserve the best. I love them both so much,” Gabrielle said.
Through a study last year, Easter Seals learned that eight in 10 people say they’re close with their sibling with a disability versus only 6 in 10 of siblings where neither has a disability. To view the entire study, please visit www.easterseals.com/siblingstudy.
To learn about services at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region, please visit www.eastersealsdfvr.org or call (630) 620-4433.