Wow Women Series – Leah Alstin

7th June, 2017

I met Leah a few years back via Instagram. It was her beautiful home that caught my eye, but it was her outlook on life and positive attitude that drew me in. Leah is a super star human and this week it was a privilege to get to know her a little more.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – meet Leah.

1. Tell us a little about yourself – what do you do, where are you located and what do you love most about your part of the world?
My name is Leah, I’m 34 & live in Newtown, Geelong. I’m a wife to Joel and a mum to Milla & Chad. These 3 humans are the heart and soul of my life…they are my everything.
I am a Primary School Teacher, currently doing Casual Relief Teaching. I also work from home doing social media for a couple of companies.
I love shopping, hanging out with friends, wine & good food.
I love where I live, my little community. I feel so comfortable, safe & supported. Pakington Street is my all time fave. You’ll often find me in a cute little café, browsing the shops or getting my nails done!!

2. You live with Friedreich’s Ataxia. Prior to meeting you, I’d never heard of FA. Please educate us a little on FA and what it means for your day to day life.
I was diagnosed with FA at 17 after feeling a little unsteady on my feet. Google says that FA is a debilitating, life shortening, degenerative, neuromuscular disorder. It manifests in initial symptoms of poor coordination such as gait disturbance. It can also lead to scoliosis, heart disease and diabetes, but does not affect cognitive function.
Yes, this description is accurate, but it effects everyone very differently. This is how it affects me…at the moment.
– I have very poor balance & gait so I rely on the use of a walking frame.
– I do everything slowly.
– I tire very easily.
– Writing is very difficult for me.
– I can feel the muscles getting weaker in my throat.
– I have mild cardiomyopathy (thickening of the heart wall).
– I have an extremely mild tremor, especially when I’m tired.

All of these things influence the way I parent and live my day to day life. My children know that ‘Mum is a bit wobbly’. However, I am completely normal in their eyes. We arrive places early, we take our time. My husband is very supportive- an absolute angel. He knows if I’m not feeling the best and will pitch in a little bit more. Cook dinner, do a load of washing, make the beds. Not everyday (that’d be awesome!), but when I really need the help.
FA is always present, somewhere. Every step I take is mentally calculated. Every path I take is thoroughly thought out. Every word I speak requires a lot of concentration and physical effort. Every night when I sleep, I feel the effects of FA via the intense cramping in my legs.
But…I am used to it. Living with FA is my ‘normal’.

3. Did you always want to be a school teacher, and what do you love most about it?
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be until the end of year 12. I come from a family of mostly tradesmen and blue-collar workers. University wasn’t really ever spoke of or thought about. Towards the end of secondary school I thought ‘what can I do that involves a bit of everything?’ Primary School Teaching!! So off to Deakin I went. The further into my study I got, the more I knew that I had made the right decision. The fact that I loved kids, helped!

My FA diagnosis was in the January prior to starting uni. I am so glad that I didn’t let it change my path in life.
I taught prep for a few years, had children, and now I am back! I feel that my teaching practice now is very different to how it used to be. I have my own children now so I feel that I have a lot more life experience. I use a walking frame in the classroom and rather than seeing it as a burden, I see it as an advantage. Children who have me as their teacher, incidentally learn about difference, acceptance, diversity, resilience, confidence & perseverance. This is what I love most about teaching. Educating little minds about all the values that they need to be caring, successful & effective citizens in this big, wide world.

4. It’s no secret that you adore all things style and design and together with your clever husband Joel, you’ve renovated your Geelong home to perfection. What’s your best advice for others who are planning to renovate?
Oooooh, this is tricky. Joel and I work so well together because I’m easy going & he makes the decisions. We’re a good balance.
However, we’ve done 3 renovations now and two builds, so we know how each other think.
Here are my tips:
-Don’t live in a major renovation, especially if you have kids! Find a short term rental!
-Get a builder’s clean at the end of the reno.
-Speak your mind if you really don’t like something.
-Ask friends if they know/ recommend any tradies. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing.
-Have fun with decorator items…they’re easy to change.
-Pinterest and ‘housey’ mags are a great source for inspiration.
-It’s all worth it in the end!

Quick Quiz:

Sweet or Savoury? Savoury
Summer or Winter? Spring (can I say that??)
Pants or Skirts? Pants
Beer or Wine? Wine
Top and bottom sheet, or just bottom? Just bottom
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Toast or Cereal? Toast
Shower or Bath? Shower
City or Country? City
Cats or Dogs? Dogs

6. You love shoes, with leopard print being your pattern of choice. Besides footwear, what is one thing you always treat yourself with?
Having a manicure every fortnight. It’s one appointment that is not related to my health and I love it!

7. If you had 3 wishes, what would they be and why?
-For my children to be healthy and happy throughout their lives.
-For my husband to be healthy and happy throughout his life. If I’m not around forever (which hopefully I am!!), I want my kids to have one parent who is a solid support.
-A treatment or cure for FA. I don’t mind if I stay the way I am now. I just don’t want to lose the ability to communicate.



8. What can we expect to see from you next?
There is a lot of research going into gene therapy as a treatment and potential cure for FA. Gene therapy trials should start in Australia in the next 18-24 months. Hopefully, you will see me participating in these trials, experiencing success and maybe walking in Pakington Street, unassisted!
Until that time, I will continue to be the best mum, wife, daughter, sister and friend that I can. I’ll continue shopping, buying shoes, going on holidays, frequenting local cafes and being the best role model I can to the children that I am lucky enough to teach.
Life, as I know it, is perfect x


Thank you Leah for allowing us into your world, you’re an inspiration to everyone you meet.
Keep up the amazing work and spreading awareness for Friedrich’s Ataxia.

Stay  tuned for the next Wow Women feature.

Big love,
C x

You can find Leah here:
Instagram
Twitter
Learn more about FA and make a difference here

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