“You will need to write a book” – these were the first words Sophia said to me when I asked if she would be happy for me to meet with her and tell her story.

“If you had come to see me this time last year you would not have made it through the door.” She was depressed, her situation grim. Sophia is fiercely independent, the school of hard knocks tends to make it hard to let people into your life.

The daughter of Macedonian parents, Sophia holds the traditional values dear. “I wanted to be a nurse before I left school, I also knew that with hard work I would be able to carve out a career for myself”.

Sophia did exactly that, working in various roles. Initially training on the wards at Larundel Hospital with people with a range of psychological and intellectual disabilities. “In those days it was called an asylum and people tended to stay”. Sophia moved on to another psychiatric institution Janefield where she worked with children with intellectual disabilities, particularly children whose disability was severe. Following her time there Sophia went on to St Vincent’s where she worked as a ward sister.

During this time Sophia had married and started her family, life was good, she had built her dream home in St Andrews along with a holiday home Flowerdale. Unfortunately, this was all to come crashing down around her. Sophia was involved in a workplace accident that resulted in the loss of the use of her legs.

From living a life that was rewarding at a personal and professional level, Sophia was plunged into a downward spiral. Sophia’s husband who could not cope with her disability, resulting in Sophia moving into the holiday home and then into another house in Flowerdale.

Hammerfall number three. Saturday, 7 February 2009 – Black Saturday.

“It could have been worse if her son?? Alex had had not called her about a dream he had, and said we should go and stay with him.” Sophie was living with Jesse (her youngest son), when the fires came through, she would not be here now if she had not taken Alex’s prediction seriously. Twelve people died on Black Saturday in Flowerdale and neighbouring Hazeldene. Just what happened when the fires hit Flowerdale on that weekend remains a mystery. But it must have been horrific.

It had been 24 years since Sophia accident. She had lost her homes, her partner and all her possessions. Housing was the priority; the Government found an apartment in Thornbury. “I was happy to move there as I had grown up locally, but the place was an absolute shithole, the water ran down the inside of the window when it rained. I was not receiving the support I needed, furniture and other items that had been promised did not turn up. I was at rock bottom”.

Sitting with Sophia, it was difficult to imagine her as a defeated woman. She has a strong and vibrant personally, certainly not someone who would not stand up for her rights. Finding the right home was vital, giving her the confidence to go out into the community the icing on the cake. “Janelle (IDS Individualised Support Manager) Corinne (IDS Support Staff) have been wonderful, getting to the core of my problems and providing me with solutions”.

Sophia has seen a lot in the 33 years she has lived as someone living with a disability many of the barriers and attitudes towards people with disabilities persist. However, there also seen many positive changes, promoting community activities and inclusion.

Sophia’s confidence has soared, as she welcomes visitors to her home, she is also actively involved in the community, regularly attending art and other classes. She put a smile on my face, and I felt humbled by her story and determination.