“IT’S MY PRI­OR­ITY”

IT IS A FAR CRY FROM THE GLAM­OROUS TRAP­PINGS OF LIFE AS A WAG, BUT MOTHER­HOOD IS DRIV­ING KYLY CLARKE’S DE­CI­SION TO RAISE AWARE­NESS ABOUT A PO­TEN­TIALLY FA­TAL DIS­EASE

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy BOB BARKER Words TIF­FANY DUNK

Kyly Clarke on a new aware­ness cam­paign and life as an EX-WAG.

From the time she was a child, Kyly Clarke never wanted to do things by halves – even her own mum says so. And when she and crick­et­ing leg­end hus­band Michael be­came par­ents to their own daugh­ter in Novem­ber 2015, that in­nate de­sire to ex­ceed ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions went into over­drive.

Kelsey Lee Clarke was born pre­ma­turely, and spent her first days in an in­cu­ba­tor. For the Clarkes, that anx­ious week kicked off an in­tense cy­cle of con­stant worry and guilt, the kind most first-time par­ents feel, re­gard­less of how their child ar­rived into the world.

“There’s al­ways this un­der­ly­ing con­cern,” Clarke, 35, says. “‘Is this go­ing to af­fect her as she grows?’ Michael and I have been lucky enough that Kelsey Lee has grown into a healthy and happy child. But that’s not al­ways the cir­cum­stance for a lot of par­ents.”

Clarke was forced to again re­flect on this good for­tune re­cently, when the for­mer model and pre­sen­ter met a lit­tle girl named Jenna. In 2015, when she was two years old, Jenna de­vel­oped

a fever. At first, her par­ents waved it away as “just a flu com­ing on”. Jenna had al­ready been vac­ci­nated for meningo­coc­cal dis­ease, an acute bac­te­rial in­fec­tion that can ad­vance in hours and may kill up to one in 10 of those af­flicted. So when she started vomiting a few hours later, her par­ents were not alarmed.

Ex­cept it was al­ready far too late. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Jenna’s mum was hor­ri­fied to see the tell-tale pur­plish rash on her child’s stom­ach. De­spite be­ing rushed to hos­pi­tal straight away, Jenna had to have her right arm am­pu­tated below the el­bow, as well as most of her left hand and her left kneecap.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Clarke says, re­call­ing the dev­as­tated fam­ily’s story. “To imag­ine what those par­ents go through each and ev­ery day to cope with the im­pact of the dis­ease is unimag­in­able… let alone that lit­tle girl. I can’t be­gin to imag­ine what she is think­ing when she can’t even pick up a spoon to feed her­self. So many things have been stolen from her.”

Jenna’s plight in­spired Clarke not only to in­crease her own knowl­edge, but also sign on as the spokesper­son for a new cam­paign aim­ing to raise public aware­ness of the dis­ease. She had al­ready lent time to the SIDS char­ity Red Nose Day. So when word of her de­sire reached Chris Downs, se­nior brand man­ager of Glax­o­smithk­line, the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany that com­mis­sioned the re­search be­hind the Know men in go co cc al cam­paign, he jumped at the chance to work with her.

“As a mother of a young daugh­ter, Kyly knows first­hand the im­por­tance of chil­dren’s health and un­der­stands the chal­lenges that par­ents face in try­ing to care for and pro­tect their chil­dren,” Downs says.

Kelsey Lee is now 19 months old; like Jenna’s par­ents, Clarke had al­ready started her vac­ci­na­tion sched­ule. But what she quickly learnt – and is des­per­ate for other par­ents to find out – is that the stan­dard 12-month vac­ci­na­tion only pro­tects against one strain of meningo­coc­cal dis­ease.

“I rely on my GP to give me the in­for­ma­tion I need to be fully equipped to do the best I can for my child,” Clarke says. “We need to be more proac­tive. We wait for in­for­ma­tion rather than ask­ing ques­tions. So, ask, ‘What does that vac­ci­na­tion cover my child for? Are other ones avail­able that will cover for strains we don’t know of?’

“My sib­lings and I were vac­ci­nated and we all fol­lowed suit [as par­ents]. I have al­ways been huge on my own health, fit­ness, and nu­tri­tion and that is some­thing I am go­ing to keep im­ple­ment­ing with my child. Hope­fully she’ll pass it on to her own chil­dren. It’s about car­ing for your body… be­cause that’s what is go­ing to de­liver ev­ery­thing you can do in your life. It all stems from your health.”

TRA­DI­TIONS AROUND KEEP­ING healthy are not the only thing Clarke hopes to pass on to her daugh­ter. Grow­ing up, she re­calls cooking and en­ter­tain­ing as be­ing cen­tral fix­tures in her fam­ily home.

“I can still pic­ture the house I grew up in,” Clarke says with a smile. “I can smell the Ital­ian aroma of the pasta sauce as I played in the lounge room while my mum was in the kitchen wear­ing the ex­act same apron she still has to­day.”

The Clarkes have an open-plan liv­ing area in their home in Sydney’s Vau­cluse. So now it’s Kelsey Lee’s turn to breathe in the com­fort­ing smells of those same fam­ily recipes while Clarke cooks – often with a cam­era in the kitchen, as she is tap­ing for a new cooking seg­ment she’ll add to her Lyfestyled by Kyly Clarke web­site.

“Kelsey Lee has grown into a healthy child, but that’s not the case for a lot of par­ents”

While Clarke is in the kitchen, Kelsey Lee is “usu­ally watch­ing Shimmer And Shine or play­ing Lego. And she loves singing and she loves danc­ing. It’s en­ter­tain­ment city when you come into my lounge room!”

Though he re­tired from cricket in 2015, Michael now com­men­tates on the sport full-time, and is often on the road for work. But Clarke says he re­mains a big part of their daugh­ter’s up­bring­ing, call­ing him “an ador­ing fa­ther”.

“Thank good­ness for Face­time!” she adds with a laugh. “He dotes on her so much that he wouldn’t live with­out see­ing Kelsey Lee ev­ery day. As a mother, it’s such an at­trac­tive thing to watch.”

Like plenty of new fa­thers, Michael tries to draw the line at par­tic­u­lar tasks – al­though he’s not often suc­cess­ful. “When he’s home, he changes nap­pies. Some­times I’ll hear a, ‘Honey, I think she might have gone to the toi­let.’ And I’m like, ‘Honey, I think you know where the nap­pies are!’ Hon­estly, he’s re­ally good at hav­ing fun with Kelsey Lee and mak­ing her laugh. He’ll sing songs and be an­i­mated. That’s where he shines more than he knows.”

The pic­ture she paints of cosy do­mes­tic­ity is a far cry from Clarke’s pre­vi­ous life as a glam­orous WAG dur­ing her 36-year-old hus­band’s crick­et­ing cap­taincy. It was one lived in the glare of the me­dia’s spot­light, but she in­sists she does not miss it in the slight­est. “It was great, but now my pri­or­ity is Kelsey Lee, our fam­ily, our home and what we’re cre­at­ing for the fu­ture,” she says.

Michael was back in the news af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy My Story last year; its nu­mer­ous in­sider rev­e­la­tions did not sit well with some, and its mod­est sales made their own head­lines. Once again, the Clarkes were on the re­ceiv­ing end of some bad press. Asked how they coped, Clarke diplo­mat­i­cally shrugs it off.

“It’s called swipe and delete,” she says. “You’ve got to be you – if peo­ple like or don’t like [you] it doesn’t mat­ter. I’ve al­ways wanted to be unique and dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple love hon­esty more than they do airs and graces. I know I’m not ev­ery­body’s cup of tea, and I’m OK with that. I’m happy not to be.”

She is also happy not to be spend­ing so much time away from home. Al­though she could os­ten­si­bly join Michael on his trav­els, other things now take pri­or­ity. “Ob­vi­ously, I miss Michael more now [when he trav­els], but it’s hard to force Kelsey Lee to be con­fined to a ho­tel if she doesn’t have to be,” Clarke says. “Plus, she’d have to change her rou­tine with all the friends and fam­ily mem­bers she sees all the time. We try our best not to spend too much time apart, but we knew when we got to­gether that this is how it would be.” Sched­ul­ing in the Clarke house­hold has grown in im­por­tance – and not just for Kelsey Lee. “We in­vest so much time in our kids’ so­cial diaries and our work, but we all need to wa­ter the gar­den to make sure our mar­riages and re­la­tion­ships con­tinue to grow as well,” she ex­plains. “We put aside time for that, even if it’s just a home-cooked meal, watch­ing a movie and hav­ing a good adult con­ver­sa­tion to­gether.”

The pair are de­ter­mined to “build an em­pire” they can leave for their daugh­ter – and any fu­ture chil­dren they may have. To that end, Clarke says she would love to add to their young fam­ily, be­fore quip­ping that it is de­pen­dent on “Michael be­ing in the same coun­try!” Un­til then, she will stay fo­cused on mak­ing sure she does her bit to en­sure other mums are armed with the same knowl­edge she has been given around her child’s health.

“Some­times, as par­ents, we do brush things off a lit­tle bit be­cause there are so many things go­ing on in life; we’re all busy. But we have to take the time to open up con­ver­sa­tions with our GPS. If I can be a public voice to help that hap­pen, then I think it’s great.”

“[Be­ing a WAG] was great, but now my pri­or­ity is our fam­ily, our home and the fu­ture”

LEND­ING SUP­PORT Kyly Clarke is pas­sion­ate about rais­ing aware­ness of meningo­coc­cal dis­ease; (right) with hus­band Michael; (below right) at Kelsey Lee’s chris­ten­ing.

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