#GreatMTLer: Claire Webster an unlikely pioneer in Montreal’s health-care system

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WATCH: Claire Webster seemed to have it all…until her world came crashing down when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The mother of three tells Global News Montreal Senior Anchor Jamie Orchard about how her journey as a caregiver turned her into an unlikely pioneer in the health care system – Mar 22, 2018

On the surface, Claire Webster seems to have it all — three healthy children, a loving husband and a beautiful home.

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It all came crashing down a few years ago when, after her father passed away, her mother’s behaviour started to change and her family doctor suggested taking her to see a neurologist.

“He looks at her and he looks at me and he says, ‘your mother has Alzheimer’s disease,'” she told Global News.

“He picked up the phone in front of us and called the SAAQ and cancelled her license on the spot and at that moment life just stopped. She went into a complete state of rage, anger. I was in a state of shock and I said, ‘now what?’ and he looked at me and said, ‘best of luck.'”

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For the next five years, Webster became a full-time caregiver to her ailing mother — juggling that and the rest of her daily obligations sent her into a downward spiral.

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“I called my husband. I was sitting in the driveway of our home, and I told my husband that I wanted to take my life,” she said.

Claire Webster with her mother. Claire Webster

“I had no idea what the disease was. I had no idea how it was going to progress, what was I to expect, the fact that I needed to get support. I thought I could do it all.”

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She admits she reached a point of no return — but knew she couldn’t abandon her family, her husband, Stewart, and their three children, Sienna, Julia and Matthew.

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“I decided for the sake of my family, my children, I needed to get help and I needed to get help immediately,” she said.

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As part of her healing process, Webster decided to re-evaluate her life.

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“I said, ‘I’m going to become an Alzheimer’s care consultant and help other families navigate the journey,'” she told Global News.

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She went to the U.S. to do a certificate in dementia care before returning to Montreal to start working directly with families.

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“Often times, when I see a family for the first time and they open the door to me, I look in their eyes and I see despair,” she said tearfully.

The work has propelled her to create a McGill University dementia education project in collaboration with the Jewish General Hospital.

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“I want to change the system. I want the medical system to know that when you’re dealing with families, don’t ever let them leave the office without some form of support,” she said.

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She wants to educate families and doctors about the horrible disease that affects one in six people.

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“I will never forget that day in July when I made that call to my husband. I will never forget the reaction of my youngest daughter, and so, I feel every time I work with a family, may I please prevent someone else from getting to that point of despair,” she told Global News.

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Webster’s mother passed away in 2016. Looking back, she calls her disease a gift because it allowed her to learn to give back.

If you would like to take part in a community workshop for family caregivers, click here.

There are so many Great Montrealers around us. If you know someone who should be profiled as part of Global News’ Greater Montreal campaign, don’t forget to nominate them!

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