Putting the MND message out there

A couple of months ago I was asked to write a contribution for a book from the point of view of somebody with motor neurone disease. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges were celebrating their 20th anniversary with a publication called 20 / 20 that looked at the past and future twenty years of healthcare.

Miles in book

I really appreciate the MND Association for passing my details onto the book’s creators. It’s given us another opportunity to create publicity about motor neurone disease – an illness that can seem like a taboo subject in non MND circles.

Expecting a tiny photo and a short paragraph I was bowled over to see that I’d been given a double page spread near the front of the book. It’s wonderful that my contribution will be read by a lot of health professionals who might not otherwise think about MND.

The launch was at the House of Lords on the hottest day of the summer so far. Here I am braving the sun before ducking back inside for another canapé.

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Chris Van Tulleken (of twin brother TV doctors fame) was at the reception and I got to chat with him about MND. He admitted that, like most doctors, he actually had very little knowledge about it. That’s not surprising when you consider on average a GP will refer only one or two patients with suspected MND to a neurologist in their whole career.

He seemed like a great guy and was genuinely interested. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could feature MND in one of his TV items? – I’m going to email the MND Association VIP department and ask them to make contact.

I also found a new portrait subject for the 26 Miles 4 MND project – The Academy’s publications manager Rosie Carlow whose father sadly died of ALS.

You know, I am no longer amazed that virtually everyone I speak to knows someone who has been affected by MND. It is definitely not the rare condition we’ve always been told it is.

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26 Miles 4 MND – Near the finishing line!

Cristian and I expect to have all the photos finished before the end of the year and we now hope to exhibit them at an Academy of Medical Royal Colleges venue too…..all exciting stuff.

I also have a backlog of blog posts from behind the scenes of our photo shoots arriving here very soon. Keep watching this space.

It’s a photographic marathon but we are reaching the home stretch!

Don’t forget, the money we’re raising is helping the Motor Neurone Disease Association  – the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on MND care, research and campaigning.

If you want a reminder of what we are all about, click HERE.

Nearly a thousand pounds has already gone to the MND Association. If you’d like to help us achieve our goal of £2,600 here is the link to our donation page or you can donate via your mobile phone – Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070 

 

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A resurrected friendship

Just before Easter I spent the weekend with an old friend of mine who’s supporting the 26 Miles 4 MND project. He happens to be a successful actor these days, and the husband of Kim Wilde.

Here’s a picture of Hal and I relaxing in the jacuzzi that’s in their back yard –

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“Cheers”

Hal Fowler was my best mate during our teenage school years. At the time our lives felt very creative, quite chaotic and we enjoyed breaking the rules. In truth though it was all fairly innocent and we never actually went too far: We ended up in hospital just once due to too much “high spirits” and although we had a few encounters with the police, we were never actually arrested!

The best months were the ones we had off school to revise for our “O” and “A” levels. Not much revision got done – They were sunny summers and we spent most of the time getting pissed, pushing boundaries and pulling girls. Needless to say Hal and I both ended up “qualification challenged”, though in our individual ways that hasn’t held either of us back in life.

To be honest it was mostly Hal who did the pulling girls. He seemed to have the knack. It was a knack that continued after school, through his time at drama college and then onto the West End stage. Whilst acting in The Who’s musical Tommy, Hal “pulled” Kim Wilde. At that precise moment his pulling career ended. They fell in love and the rest, as they say, is history.

picking up where we left off

Apart from going to each others weddings, there was little contact between Hal and I in 27 years. Then I sent Hal a text about the “26 Miles” project raising money for the MND Association and he agreed to get involved. It’s resurrected our friendship which happily these days is a bit less hedonistic.

Hal regularly appears on stage, TV and the big screen. He’s acted in West End musicals and is currently playing Cheshire Cat in wonder.land at the National Theatre.

Years before Hal’s professional performing career we’d perform together in our home city of Oxford – busking – I’d sing and play guitar, Hal would sing and accompany on his double bass. We were good at it too! We’d get there and back in a battered Citroen 2 CV with the neck of Hal’s bass sticking through the open sun roof. All of the money was spent in the pub later. Fun times!

There are no pictures of us in that 2 CV, but here are some behind the scenes shots from the morning Cristian and I spent at Hal and Kim’s taking their 26 Miles portraits. We resurrected our busking duo for the day – I think you can see that we still have “it”… whatever “it” is….

(Click on the first picture to enter the gallery)

Cristian and I are having fun on our “26 Miles” journey and we hope you enjoy following us on this blog, but the reason we are doing it is deadly serious. We are trying to raise £2,600.00, or more, for the Motor Neurone Disease Association – the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on MND care, research and campaigning.

Click HERE for the background to our money raising campaign.

MND is a terrifyingly cruel disease that can leave people locked in a failing body, unable to move, talk, swallow and eventually breathe. It kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis.

If you’d like to help us achieve our goal here is the link to our donation page or you can donate via your mobile phone – Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070 

Thanks so much for reading 🙂

“The brain is plastic…..”

If this 26Miles4MND marathon fundraising project was a real, human entrant in the London marathon, it would be in a pantomime horse outfit, dodging London traffic, only half finished two weeks after the race was officially over.

Sorry. I’ve got no excuse – I’ve just had a ton of stuff going on in my personal life and Cristian has been inundated with photographic work.

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Climbing the wall….

So we seemed to have hit a wall of the sort marathon runners (apparently) experience, but we’re teetering at the summit and are about to come down the other side. Recently we took another portrait and more are in the pipeline.

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A few days ago we interviewed and photographed the formidable Professor Karen Morrison (pictured above with Cristian). She is my neurology consultant and the person who diagnosed me as having a variant of motor neurone disease back in 2013.

The pictured “plastic brain” was used as a prop in her portrait. I’d definitely count her as one of the most intelligent people that I’ve ever met. She really is quite awe inspiring –

Professor Morrison trained at both Oxford and Cambridge universities, also trained in America and once spent time amongst Inuit people living in their traditional accommodation – again as part of the journey  to being one of the foremost experts on motor neurone disease in the UK.

….Whilst chatting to her and hearing the fascinating information about her life, I also found out that my joke about brains being “plastic in real life too”, is something she’s heard many, many times before. I think she actually shook her head in disbelief when I said it. Brains are plastic though – look it up if you don’t believe me 😉

Here are some photos of one great brain and some others doing what they do best – hanging around pointing cameras at people. There’s also a sneak preview of what the finished portrait could be like if you click on the pictures and look closely.

I’ll be writing more about Professor Morrison and why she chose to specialise in neurology and motor neurone disease in particular when we publish the 26 portraits in the month leading up to Cristian’s marathon.

  • In case you’d forgotten, or this is your first time here, 26Miles4MND is a marathon portrait photography project being undertaken by the editorial photographer Cristian Barnett and his close friend Miles Pilling (who happens to have a type of MND).
  • We are taking 26 portraits of people who’s lives are / have been affected by motor neurone disease. Cristian has persuaded me to be in each of the portraits alongside every subject. They are all being shot in a similar unique style.
  • Cristian will be running a marathon once all the portraits have been taken.
  • On each of 26 days leading up to the marathon, we will publish one of his photographic portraits and a brief piece of writing to accompany it.
  • So there will be 26 pictures of Miles alongside the individuals that we have persuaded to take part and Cristian will be running 26 miles. Hence: 26miles4mnd
  • We have also persuaded some household names with links to Miles in his former life at the BBC and beyond to be photographed. These portraits will be separate from the other 26 and will hopefully help to raise awareness in what we are trying to achieve. Keep in touch with the project at @26miles4mnd or https://www.facebook.com/26miles4MND or bookmark this website to see their photos when we publish them.

We’ve already raised just under a thousand pounds. Our target is two thousand six hundred. The money people have kindly donated so far has already gone to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Our hope is that during the 26 days leading up to Cristian’s heroic marathon attempt, people around the web and also in the real world will become interested, start talking and sharing about the project and the money will start to flow in. It would be absolutely fantastic to make more than our target figure.

If you’d like to help us achieve that, here is the link to our donation page again, or you can donate via your mobile phone – Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070 

Thanks for reading 🙂

The Fighter

Since Cristian and I began this fundraising project, we’ve been astounded at the positive attitudes and happiness of everyone we’ve met.

I wasn’t really expecting another such uplifting experience from our meeting with ex-amateur boxer Richard Jones because of his gruelling history with motor neurone disease: He developed a genetic variant of the illness 3 years after his twin brother died from MND.

As if that wasn’t enough his wife, after watching her brother-in-law wasting away to death, couldn’t bear to watch her husband do the same. She decided to leave Richard and he was left to fight his own corner. His consultant told him he had between 3 and 5 years to live.

Jump ahead 11 years and Richard is still very much alive!

Richard Jones

“When I got to 5 years, I thought that was it. I was waiting for something to happen but nothing did – laughs – I celebrated with a few pints!”

Although he uses an electric wheelchair to get around, has lost some of his speech and lives in a supported housing complex, he comes across as a happy man and is very philosophical about MND.

We were invited into the shared lounge in the building where he lives and while Cristian set up his Hasselblad I interviewed Richard. He was obviously a man with some inner steel, but I sensed kindness in his eyes, and real happiness. It’s a character combination that keeps recurring – every time we meet someone affected by MND.

“I used to do martial arts, my dad was a champion boxer in the army, my dad and my uncle were boxing champions in Worcester. I played rugby, cricket and cycled.”

When he was told that his twin brother had motor neurone disease 17 years ago, he had to go to the doctors to ask what it was. No one around him knew anything about it and he collected leaflets to help educate his friends and his brother. The more he found out, the more he thought “that can’t happen to Andy, my brother”.

Richard and his ex-wife nursed Andy through the illness –

“I used to feed him, bath him, wash him, take him to the toilet – all of which I loved. He was the funniest person you could meet. I was the one that could look after myself. Andy was funny.”

Cruelly, MND developed in Richard 3 years after Andy’s death. The first symptom he noticed was difficulty walking during his job at Worcester Porcelain. As Richard talked to me he kept chuckling as he remembered that he was still alive and the doctors gloomy prognosis had been wrong. His advice to anyone who is diagnosed with motor neurone disease?

“Enjoy life as much as you can, and if you’ve got a twin like I did, stay close because your twin will always stand by you. Live life to the full!”

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

If you’d like to help people with MND like Richard, you can donate to the MND Association – the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on MND care, research and campaigning.

Donate via your mobile phone! – Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070 

OR

Click here for the “26 Miles” Just Giving page. Any amount, however large or small, will be greatly appreciated. 

Thankyou 🙂

The Australian fighting spirit

We came away from Pride of Britain “Fundraiser of the Year” Paula Maguire feeling drenched in positivity and I didn’t think we’d find anybody as positive again during the rest of the 26 Miles 4 MND project, but there must be something in the Wakefield water as 15 minutes later we met Ian Pratt.

He’s heavily disabled by motor neurone disease – now having to use a neurological electric wheelchair and he’s lost a lot of his speech. Despite that, he does a good job of coming across as a happy person.

Ian PrattIan waiting to have his “26 Miles” portrait taken

Appropriately enough, as I write this, Australia has recently thrashed England in the Rugby World Cup. Ian was born “down under” and he has that down to earth “make the most of life” Aussie spirit that was in abundance on the rugby field. When we visited, his mum was over here on holiday and the sun shone on us and the Maguires as we set up our kit in his beautiful garden. It was all so pleasant and Ian’s such a nice guy that I had to keep reminding myself of just how ill he is.

Because we’ve been meeting so many positive people, Cristian and I were beginning to worry that 26 Miles 4 MND wouldn’t get across the seriousness of motor neurone disease properly. People with MND tend to show an awful lot of character – which is “awfully” ironic because it might lead to people thinking “oh it’s not so bad after all”. That would be terrible. Here are three sobering facts – 5 people a day die of MND in the UK and in 2012, 1 out of every 232 people who died in England had MND. Many people with MND are trapped within a body that won’t move and are totally reliant on the help of others.

More than one person has remarked to me that motor neurone disease is more cruel than cancer because, unlike most cancers, a diagnosis of motor neurone disease comes with absolutely no hope and still no effective treatment.

021015_172Ian was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of just 42 after undergoing tests on his daughter’s second birthday. For a reality check, compare a picture of him on his wedding day 5 years ago with how he is today.

“I’m sure it’s the only diagnosis that comes with an apology – I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve got motor neurone disease and there’s bugger all I can do to help you.”

On the day we visited, he had spent the morning chasing up repairs to his brand new electric wheelchair and was stuck in an old manual one, unable to do anything for himself. Remarkably he was still smiling despite the fact that, as he told me with his soft Australian accent, he was having a “shit day”.

Whilst we were setting up, the repaired wheelchair arrived. I asked Ian if I could photograph him being moved into it to show just what motor neurone disease does to a person. Within three years he’s basically become a rag doll. He has to be fed and as he said himself, ” I can’t even wipe my own bum”.

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“I’ve always been a half full kind of guy. I know I’m probably going to die from it so I do everything I can to enjoy the time I have with my daughter and my wife.”

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When we visited Ian, his daughter had just lost her first tooth. He’s never going to give up his fight and is hopeful that treatments and a possible cure might be found during his lifetime. As he said –

“I can’t give up because it would piss me off to think that if I give up today, tomorrow they may find a cure.”

021015_301-EditMyself, Ian and his mum

Cristian’s 26 Miles 4 MND portrait of Ian will be published as one of the 26 portraits during 26 days leading up to Cristian’s marathon fundraising run. If you’d like to donate to help find a cure for Ian and other’s like him, click here for our Just Giving page.

(click on any image below to enter a gallery of shots taken during Ian’s photo shoot)

The Blood Moon Legend has it that –

– “on a Blood Moon night and day you must donate to your favourite charity campaign”…

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…..so go on then -Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070  or visit our just giving page

Thank you 🙂

An emotional real life meeting for the couple who met on the internet!

I met Neicey Mann online and sent her a message one evening asking if we could meet in person so I could photograph her….. Being a well brought up lady, she would normally have refused point-blank and told me where to get off, but the photos were the first of our “26 Miles” pictures – the beginning of Cristian’s and my campaign to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Miles and Neicey

Neicey runs a Facebook support group for people who live with PLS (or primary lateral sclerosis), which is the type of MND I was diagnosed with. You have to live with PLS or be a carer of someone with it to join, so whatever is said there feels private and in the 2 years that I’ve been a part of it, the group’s been a great source of comfort to me and also the cause of a lot of laughter! As you can see when I met Neicey in person the laughs continued.

Neicey is a nickname that was given to “Denise” – Neicey’s real name – by her friends when she was a kid and it stuck. She’s a Brummie through and through and wanted to set up a support group for this “rare” type of MND where people could support each other, ask personal questions and have a laugh as well.

When I was invited into Neicey’s real home, I felt very emotional as it was the first time I’d met somebody else with my type of MND – I recognised she had PLS straight away, and so did Cristian – she was walking and moving in just the same crooked, awkward and stiff way as me!

cdAs Neicey’s symptoms first began to affect her, she was a singer in a band and had a CD released called “Decree Neicey” – shortly after getting divorced. Sadly she’s had to give up singing because of how much MND has weakened her voice. She’s also lost the strength to play the guitar.

She seems to be a pure extrovert (which is probably why she enjoyed performing so much) – I interviewed Neicey whilst Cristian set up his photographic gear and, I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, it was hard for me to get a word in edgeways! We both enjoyed ourselves immensely in the couple of hours that we spent with Neicey and I hope she did too. I feel as though our virtual friendship has become a real world one now!

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Here are some more shots that I took as Cristian was doing his photography thing. I hope you enjoy them.

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When we start publishing Cristian’s “26 Miles” portraits in the 26 days before his marathon fundraising run, there will be a “Personal MND story” accompanying each picture, where you can find out more about the person in the photograph and of how motor neurone disease has altered their life.

Please help us to reach our target of £2,600 for the Motor Neurone Disease AssociationThe MND Association is the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on MND care, research and campaigning and is the charity “26 Miles” is fundraising for. Please help them to help more people affected by MND by DONATING to our Just Giving page or donate via your mobile phone – Text ‘mmnd99 £5.00‘ (or whatever you can afford) to 70070 

Thank you 🙂