“CHRISTMAS to us is a time of year where we put everything to one side and just enjoy spending some quality time together as a family.

“Each Christmas we get to spend with our eldest boy Corey we cherish, keeping him well through winter is one of our biggest challenges so Christmas is something we celebrate with a lot of love and make the most amazing memories together,” explains Karina Watkins.

For Karina and Jason, having their son Corey turned them from first-time parents into full-time carers. Having their second disabled child was more than they could manage alone.

Thankfully, Claire House Children’s Hospice has helped the mum and dad-of-four to cherish precious moments at Christmas and throughout the year.

“Corey’s my little monkey. He was born prematurely at 25 weeks and he’s had a lot of problems. He needs pain relief all the time, constant movement and one-to-one assistance,” says Karina.

Weighing just 1lb 14oz, Corey was reliant on oxygen at birth. At 18 months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Shortly after Corey turned two, his sister Georgi was born without any complications.

It was only after Karina and Jason’s third child, Parker, was born with complex medical needs they realised they could no longer cope on their own.

"Parker’s condition meant that, like his older brother, he needed round-the-clock care,” says Karina.

“You become a nurse overnight. You go from being mum to a carer and there is no time to be just a mum again.

“We weren’t getting any sleep and would argue over who had the most sleep.

“For us, it was just about accepting that it’s not a weakness to admit we needed help.”

After receiving support from Claire House, the couple have been able to spend time with their children again as mum and dad without having to worry about their medical needs.

Says Karina: “You can enjoy time with your children without having to worry about medication being on time, feeds being done, their pads changing, their movement.

“So, I got to smile with my children again. I got to enjoy playing games and being with them as a parent not a carer. It was lovely.”

And the boys agree Claire House is wonderful.

“They both love it when they go to Claire House,” Karina explains. “They’ll be painting or covered in goo. The children go to Chester Zoo on trips. We don’t have the space at home to do half the things Claire House do.”

Jason adds: “Having Claire House’s support has meant we’ve been able to spend time with Georgi, welcome our fourth child Lottie and get some much-needed rest.”

Now aged 14, Corey’s health has deteriorated, and he is now receiving palliative care.

Karina says: “It’s not nice because you’re grieving for your child while he’s still here. We just don’t know how long we’ve got with Corey. “The ironic thing is he’s always smiling which keeps us going. We just have to make the most of the time we’ve got.

“Christmas for us is a really special time of year, we just enjoy spending quality time together and making memories as a family.

“We have all of the family around to us, to be able to enjoy the day having all the necessary equipment to hand.

“Corey loves watching everyone open their gifts and everyone being around. Parker loves opening presents with his sisters, I think it makes him feel no different to other children, his disability becomes invisible.

“We always look forward to Claire House Christmas events, we enjoy going to the Light for Love event at the hospice and seeing the tree light up. Its lovely having time to remember friends that the boys have lost.

“And we love the Christmas party, spending time with other families who have seriously ill children and having fun with the Claire House staff members, dancing, playing games and seeing Santa.”

In addition to Corey and Parker’s care, Claire House supports the whole family. The hospice offers the parents a chance to step back from their caring roles, take time for themselves and connect with people in similar circumstances.

“They don’t just help the boys, they help the girls and us as a family,” explains Jason.

“The Claire House sibling events are brilliant. They also put things on for us, so I play golf with the dads and meet other parents that have disabled children.”

Karina agrees Claire House is a valuable lifeline.

She says: “Without Claire House I would struggle, having the support around us as a family means we can be parents, the girls can be sisters and we can make lasting memories. Sometimes Claire House are simply that phone call away that can make all the difference to our lives.”