Abandoned by all, Mario finds a new life

Lying in hospital with burns covering 60 per cent of his body, Mario Francio depended totally on his carers.

He tells Isabell Petrinic why this led him along the path to North West Disability Services.

"I DIED. When they revived me I had 3 per cent life and I was given a blood transfusion." Which was against his Jehovah's Witness teachings.

"I was lying in hospital when I got the divorce papers," said Mario Francio, of Carlingford, then a Jehovah's Witness elder of 40 years, who survived a car fire and had to start a new life.

He still can't understand how people who were expected to care could turn their backs. "I was a full-time carer to my partner before the accident but because I took blood I lost my family, my grandchildren and all my friends," Mario said.

"I spent seven months in hospital. It took two-and-a-half hours to change my dressings.

"I'd never been in hospital before - I didn't even have a personal doctor - so when I saw the world of carers on whom I was totally dependent I was just blown away.

"When I was discharged [in 2009] I was 61. I was blind in my right eye and had very little mobility in my left arm."

But this did not stop him from following his new calling.

Mario left the church and volunteered first with the Peter Hughes Burn Foundation, then with Baptist Community Services in Carlingford before completing an 18-month course in disability services at TAFE.

He used to be a graphic designer. Today he is the personal assistant of Deborah Gersbach, the chief executive of North West Disability Services, whose 150 staff (including volunteers) provide services that make life easier for people with disabilities.

"We're one of the few organisations that give ongoing training," Mario said.

He planned to start a new organisation called Who Cares for the Carers? to provide practical help to carers in the community.

The idea came after he met a woman, 82, caring for her friend, 70, with dementia. "The average carer loves the person who is in trouble but who helps them?" he said.

Minas Minassian also volunteers at North West Disability Services

He said he started volunteering to give back to the community while he still can.

"I help the office staff here, laminating, cutting - it's a matter of finding the right fit," Mr Minassian said.

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