Wendy’s brave battle
WENDY Whelan doesn’t believe recovering from a stroke at age 38 is her defining achievement.
It’s becoming a share-farmer on a dairy property that she sees as a more notable accomplishment – and one that wasn’t going to be stolen from her by a rare medical condition.
The Legendairy farmer from Toora in South Gippsland is back in the milking shed just six months after lying in a hospital bed unable to move or speak.
Her recovery was spurred by her desire to resume a career that she had worked long and hard to achieve.
During rehab she lifted weights to rebuild muscles needed for milking duties and practiced walking on uneven ground like that found in cow paddocks.
“We based my physio on milking cows,” she said.
“I needed to build the strength in my arms and they would take me out on undulating grass mounds to practice walking.”
Just two years after achieving her goal of becoming a share-farmer, Wendy was feeling confident in her role as chief decision-maker on the 200 hectare farm where 340 cows are milked at peak times.
In August last year, however, she noticed flu-like symptoms that escalated to the point where she was rushed to Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne’s south east.
“I couldn’t remember the next two weeks. I lost my speech, lost my vision and couldn’t move,” she said.
Within six weeks, Wendy was allowed out of the rehabilitation centre for a weekend – and she headed straight for the farm.
“I came home on weekend leave and went and milked three cows, with a patch on my eye and needing help to get down the steps into the pit. I just needed to know that I could still do it,” she said.
“Four weeks before that I couldn’t even walk, so I thought it was pretty good effort.”
Wendy progressed to half an hour of milking each day and is now able to complete six milkings a week.
While the stroke-inducing Venus Sinus Thrombosis and its aftermath has dominated the past six months, she is keen to ensure the rare-medical condition does not define the rest of her life.
The chances of suffering that type of blood clot were one in 200,000, but Wendy still reckons she defied larger odds to become a single female share-farmer.
“I’m the only female share farmer I know of who doesn’t have a partner,” she said.
The arrangement with Bruce and Jan Best sees Wendy take a 36 per cent share of farm costs and revenues, providing labour and management skills, while the Bests own the farm and herd.
After starting as a relief milker 16 years ago, Wendy developed her skills to the point where the Bests were willing to hand over management of the farm to their long-term employee.
“Being a share-farmer is more satisfying, but it’s also scary. It’s my money I’m spending and there’s no one else to blame for decisions,” Wendy said.
While getting back on her feet and resuming her career is more than enough of a challenge at the moment, Wendy harbours long term ambitions to eventually buy her own farm.
In the meantime, the simple pleasures of being her own boss and working among the dairy cows is satisfying enough.
“I am an animal person, which is part of the reason I like being a dairy farmer,” she said.
“I used to work on Dad’s sheep and beef farm – we’ve always had animals. Even when we lived in Melbourne when I was a kid, we had orphaned lambs in the backyard.”
Wendy has a lot more to achieve in dairy career and wants to one day look back on her stroke as just a small but significant moment in the bigger picture of her life.
“It’s just something that happened. Hopefully it’s just a small glitch in my lifetime.”
Dairy Australia’s Legendairy campaign aims to highlight inspirational farmers like Wendy, who form the backbone of Australia’s $4 billion dairy industry.
To read our Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au