I want to see my kids grow up: dad's plea for £65k to fund MS treatment
A Co Antrim father-of-five with Multiple Sclerosis is trying to raise £65,000 to undergo stem cell treatment in Mexico, which he hopes will allow him to see his children grow up.
Glenariff farmer John McNaughton, who suffers from the secondary progressive form of the disease, was diagnosed six years ago at the age of just 37.
Now mostly wheelchair-bound, John has gone from being an active hurling player to having to give up his herd of cattle while assuming an "overseeing" role on the family farm.
His eldest son Shea (13) helps out with the practical aspects of managing the farm's sheep, assisted by his siblings Clodagh (11) Eoin (8) and Ruairi (6).
His youngest child, Shannon, is just three-years-old, and John has only been able to carry her once since she was born, due to his illness.
Speaking during MS Week, John (43), told the Belfast Telegraph that while his life has totally changed since his diagnosis he is "staying positive" for his kids and his wife Patricia, who is now his full-time carer.
"I was diagnosed in May 2011 but my symptoms appeared three years before that when I was 34", he recalled. "My balance wasn't as good and I was tripping often, but I had been playing hurling and refereeing and I just put it down to getting older. Since my diagnosis, it has been quite a downhill slide, which can make you feel downhearted but I'm lucky as I'm mentally strong because of the children and I am staying positive for them. I'm very grateful it's me and not any of the children who are sick."
Since John's illness was diagnosed, his young family have pulled together to continue to run the farm.
"I could only walk about eight metres with the help of a three-wheel rolator, any further than that and I would need a wheelchair", he said. "We had to get rid of our cattle as it was too much, but I would go around the farm with Shea and tell him the different grain or medication to give to the sheep as he would do the hands-on work. It's a big responsibility for Shea, a lot more than you would wish to put on a child, and we try not to let it interfere with his schoolwork."
While John has been under the care of a neurologist, none of the treatments have benefited him. After seeing the positive reviews for Hematopoietic Stem Cell Treatment (HSCT) on an online forum for MS sufferers, he decided to fundraise for private treatment abroad in a last-chance bid to halt the progression of the disease. The treatment is not available on the health service, so John will have to travel to Mexico.
"HSCT involves giving the patient two days of chemotherapy to start with, to release stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the blood", John said. "Then they give you another three days of intensive chemotherapy. They harvest the blood to get the stem cells and then give you back the 'clean' stem cells.
"MS is the body attacking itself, so this treatment is an effort to get your body to re-boot its immune system."
John says that a study shows other patients who underwent the treatment experienced a one point improvement in their Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), which monitors the change in the level of disability, six months later. "The clinic doesn't accept people over a certain EDSS score and my condition is going downhill fairly fast," he revealed.
"I have been booked in for treatment in mid-September and I need to have all the funds raised by the middle of July.
"So far, we have raised £34,000 through events at the hurling club and donations, and we are holding a fundraising event at the Millennium Centre in Loughguile on Saturday, April 29. The community response has been phenomenal, we are so grateful to people for their generosity."
To donate to John's fund, visit: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/john-mcnaughton