Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

My anguish over nerve disease, by ex-GAA star Anto Finnegan

Former Antrim GAA Star Anto Finnegan
Former Antrim GAA Star Anto Finnegan

A former GAA captain has spoken of his devastation at being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Anto Finnegan said the diagnosis of the muscle-wasting disease – for which there is no cure – was "hard to take" and something his family was still coming to terms with.

Belfast-born Anto was part of the Antrim senior football team from 1994 to 2005, and as captain in 2000 led the Saffrons to a long-awaited Ulster Championship victory against Down.

The former St Paul's player, who remains a coach of underage teams with his club, said he decided to make his condition public because he felt more awareness of the disease was needed.

The father-of-two said his diagnosis in August 2012 was a shock.

"I had been attending hospital for a number of years with shoulder problems, but the doctor recognised some signs and sent me to neurology," he said.

"After a couple of tests they came to the conclusion it was motor neurone disease. Even now, it's taken us a very long time to come to terms with it.

"It's probably disbelief more than anything.

"Once I started understanding how the condition affects people, it was very hard to take. In saying that, once people started to know about it the support mechanisms that were in place were a great help.

"From a family point of view, we are still coming to terms with it." To help raise awareness Anto set up deterMND, an organisation hoping to help tackle motor neurone disease by raising its profile.

"When we were telling people I had motor neurone disease, the reply was, 'Oh, okay'. I could tell people didn't know about the condition – how it affects you or how it affects your life. Very early on we realised there was little awareness about this condition that affects two in 1,000."

Anto praised the GAA community that has rallied to his side in support of a number of awareness and fundraising events, including a proposed GAA game at Ravenhill. Details of fundraising events can be found on Twitter @deterMND

FACTFILE

Motor neurone disease is the name for a condition where parts of the nervous system become damaged. This causes progressive weakness, usually with muscle wasting. As the condition progresses, people with motor neurone disease will find these activities increasingly difficult – and eventually impossible. At least five people a day die from MND.

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