On Saturday 14th December some of our members had the privilege of attending a Carol Concert given by the Thanet Festival Choir at Holy Trinity Church in Broadstairs.
It was a most memorable concert, beautifully sung and wonderfully conducted.
The concerts raised £820.00 for MNDA and we are extremely grateful to all the members of the choir, Clifford Lister – the Conductor, Jim Clements – the Soloist and to the organisers. Many, many thanks to you all.
During the concert the most moving speech was made about the loss of a friend to MND. The speech is printed in full below, please read it, we found it very moving.
In June 2017 my clever, articulate, creative and very active friend Elizabeth, whom I’d known since we were both 18, was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.
MND occurs when special nerve cells in the brain and spinal column stop sending signals to the muscles, which gradually waste away, leading to problems with walking, eating, drinking, speaking and breathing. The causes are not fully understood, there is very little that can be done to treat the disease, and most people with MND die within two years of diagnosis.
The speed with which Liz deteriorated after that June diagnosis was horrific. By August she was unable to walk unaided. By late October she was virtually wheelchair-bound, and needed help with washing, dressing and going to the toilet. By the end of the year she was using a ventilator to help her breathe. By April 2018 she was starting to have difficulties swallowing and speaking, and had a PEG fitted – that’s an endoscopic medical procedure in which a tube is passed into a patient’s stomach through the abdominal wall to provide a means of feeding when oral intake is not possible. It was, however, her breathing which came to dominate Liz’s daily life as the illness progressed. She had to wear a face mask day and night, struggling for breath, constantly trying to adjust the mask with only a very limited ability to move her fingers and hands. She became terrified that she would choke to death. Her personality changed and she began to suffer from cognitive impairment, depression and panic attacks, sometimes turning against her partner, Keith, and her other carers and friends.
Liz’s life became a constant round of appointments and visits – medical, social care, physio, occupational therapy, counselling, psychiatry – whilst at the same time she had to cope not only with her illness but with the disruption caused by the necessary alterations to her beloved home, including the installation of a wheelchair accessible wet-room and a lift, and – later, when she became completely immobile – hoists in her bedroom and living room. Dealing with the authorities involved was incredibly frustrating. Nothing seemed to happen on time, the various departments and organisations did not liaise with each other, and often the help that she and Keith needed was simply not forthcoming. Life was a struggle on all fronts. She frequently described it as ‘hell’.
The help and support provided by the Motor Neurone Disease Association was one of the few shining beacons of light in this otherwise impenetrable darkness. The MNDA’s representative in her area attends monthly meetings with the local authority Support Services, and was able to offer advice and help navigate a way through the seemingly endless red tape and incompetence. The MNDA advised on benefit entitlement and provided information about care and mobility options, including the sourcing and financing of a wheelchair-adapted motor vehicle. Funding for specialist posts in hospitals like Kings is provided so that dedicated MND clinics can take place. The MNDA also helps to fund specialist equipment, such as custom-built electric wheelchairs and technical gadgets to help with speech and communication, and sometimes these are available for loan.
Indeed, when Liz and Keith decided to get married, in early December 2017, the MNDA was able to lend her an electric wheelchair in which to ‘go up the aisle’ as, perhaps inevitably, the customised one which had been ordered for her several months earlier had still not arrived. There are also local groups which offer social events and general support– such as the East Kent Group, represented here this afternoon – and online forums for sharing advice and tips about coping with many symptoms and side effects of MND.
MNDA assistance also proved invaluable when, in July 2018, Liz’s care package was suddenly withdrawn on the inexplicable grounds that ‘she did not satisfy the eligibility criteria’. This happened at a time when she and Keith had very few reserves of energy left with which to challenge it. Yvonne, the MNDA rep, was instrumental in fighting for the care package to be reinstated and helping to formulate their appeal, and even came to their home to be there when the appeal assessors visited. The help and support provided by the MNDA in these appalling circumstances was essential and invaluable. I dread to think what could have happened without it.
The other important aspect of the MNDA’s work is the funding of research into the causes and treatment of MND, and possible cures. This is a cruel, truly horrible disease for which improved therapeutic treatment and a cure are desperately needed. Over the course of a year and a half I looked on helplessly as a lively, highly intelligent, active person declined into someone who was hardly recognisable as her former self, desperately trapped in a body which would no longer function. At the end of November 2017 Liz wrote “This disease is terrible. I cannot think of anything worse. It savagely and relentlessly destroys one bodily function after another. It gradually takes away the ability to participate in activities one has previously enjoyed. It takes away one’s personal dignity and ability to manage, and controls one’s life. It engenders fear of the future and of being able to cope.” In the end she struggled on for just over another year until January 2019, when she died quietly and suddenly, and thankfully not from the choking fit that she had so greatly feared.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association therefore plays a vital role in helping and supporting people who are afflicted with the disease, and their carers, and in funding research into treatments. Longstanding members and supporters of this Choir may recall that Eileen Vesey, the wife of our founder, died after a long struggle with Motor Neurone Disease. That was in 1987. There has been some progress since then, but not enough. There is still very little that can be done to alleviate the symptoms and a cure is a long way off. The MNDA is a charity and its important work is financed by legacies, donations and the efforts of fundraisers. It receives no money from the government or the NHS. Please help them to help people like Liz – and Eileen – and to move closer towards finding a cure by donating generously this afternoon. Thank you so very much.