‘I’m trying to do as much as I can for as long as I can’ – dad (50) on motor neurone disease diagnosis
A married father of two has told how a slight limp in his left leg ended with a diagnosis of motor neurone disease (MND).
ivil engineer Mark Dignam (50), from Edenderry, Co Offaly, went through a rollercoaster of emotions after receiving his diagnosis in April 2019.
“I suppose you are always going to be shocked when receiving such devastating news but at the same time I was expecting something – you can always tell by the doctor’s face,” he said.
“It’s surprising because I remember driving home after receiving the news and thinking that people have been there before me, there is great support out there and at least I had an answer now.
“It wasn’t until the days following that your mind starts racing and I was sitting there planning my funeral, which now seems completely overexaggerated, but it was just how I tried to process the news.”
The first sign that something was amiss was when Mr Dignam developed a limp.
“I experienced a limp in my left leg and being a typical Irish man, I put off going to see anyone about it,” he said.
“After a while of having this limp, I was on a flight to the UK for work and I realised something was seriously wrong when I was struggling to carry my suitcase onto the plane.
“Even after that I went to a physio thinking I had an injury, but they recommended I go see a neurologist as my muscles were not responding.”
After six months of undergoing tests and awaiting results, Mr Dignam received his diagnosis of MND.
Mr Dignam still has slight leg function left but recently began using a powered wheelchair for longer distances.
MND is a progressive neurological condition that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. This means messages gradually stop reaching muscles, leading to weakness and wasting. It can affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.
Mr Dignam said MND affects different people in different ways.
“I now see that I am luckier than some, as my prognosis was very slow, things didn’t change quickly for me.
“I have learned to be so grateful for the independence I have retained and the parts of me yet untouched by the disease – my mind, my voice and my sense of humour.
“Some of my fellow suffers haven’t got as much time as I have got, so I am trying to do as much as I can for as long as I can,” said Mr Dignam.
He said former RTÉ broadcaster Charlie Bird, who was diagnosed with MND last year, has been doing great work in raising awareness of the disease.
“He is a perfect example of how MND affects every sufferer differently. He lost his voice but is still able to climb a mountain – I couldn’t climb a mountain, but I still have my voice,” said Mr Dignam.
“When people ask me what the disease is like, I say it’s intrusive – it intrudes on almost every aspect of your life. And just when you think you have managed a symptom or restriction, it intrudes again.
“Even though the symptoms of MND are very individual, it’s this intrusion that is common, very personal and debilitating.”
June is MND awareness month and Mr Dignam hopes people will take part in the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association’s Drink Tea for MND fundraising campaign. See imnda.ie for how to register. It provides equipment, financial assistance towards home help, advice and home visits by an MND nurse.