Walk for those who can't
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” says Ron Strawbridge.
The Taupo¯ 69 year old is talking about motor neurone disease, the muscle-wasting disease that robs a person of their strength, their energy, their movement, their speech and eventually, their ability to swallow and breathe. The only things unaffected are hearing, sight and cognitive function. The person’s mind remains alert, trapped in a body it can no longer control.
Ron knows this lies ahead and it’s not a pleasant thought. In the seven months since his and wife Yvonne’s lives were tipped upside down by the diagnosis, the former mechanic turned parts manager has deteriorated alarmingly quickly and his lungs are the worst affected. He was in hospital a week ago because he had trouble breathing.
But although he wishes things were different, Ron knows he is one of the lucky ones. He is enveloped in love and support, with his daughter and her partner living next door, his granddaughter and three children in Taupo¯, supportive friends, a caring wife and all the help he needs, whether medical or care from the team at Lake Taupo¯ Hospice.
He’s lucky to be here at all. Ron was born with a hole in his heart and was one of the first New Zealanders operated on as a child to repair it. Doctors thought he might not live beyond his 50s. But he grew up to become a fit man with a love of country music — a long-time drummer in the Taupo¯ Country Music Club’s band — three children and an active life, working until he was 67.
A few years ago he noticed he was losing strength and becoming increasingly tired. Then one day he couldn’t sign his name. He fell over when he was out with a mate. His brain was telling his feet what to do but they weren’t following. His GP sent him to a neurologist at Waikato Hospital. Long, unpleasant tests followed and the diagnosis left Ron and Yvonne reeling. There is no cure for MND and it is not known what causes it.
Ron says the hardest things are cramps, tiredness all the time and the loss of his strength.
“You say ‘I’m going to pick that [thing] up’ but you can’t because you’ve got no strength in your hands.
“It doesn’t affect the mind, that’s still as good as gold, it’s just the body that goes.”
He’s frustrated that the retirement he had looked forward to — “to get out and about, do the things that you don’t normally get to do” — has been taken from him. He can no longer help Yvonne around the house and section, he can’t pick up his 18-month-old great-grandson any more, and last Christmas he had to give up playing the drums.
Ron and Yvonne’s granddaughter Kassy Wineera says it’s hard to watch her beloved Poppa go downhill so fast.
“It’s little things like when he’s eating, you want to cut the food up for him.”
Ron says while he doesn’t particularly want to be in the newspaper talking about MND, he hopes it will raise awareness of the disease — something he had never heard of until two years ago — and funds for research into its cause, and hopefully a cure.
Because of his lungs, Ron says, “I could turn my toes up tomorrow”. But his Christian faith helps.
“I’m going home. I’ve accepted that. What else do you do? You have to accept it. I’ve accepted a lot of things in life and it’s been lovely, I can’t complain about my life . . . this is not really how I would have liked the end of it but this is how it is.”
■ Show your support for MND research by joining Taupo¯’s Walk 2 D’Feet MND, a 2.5km walk around Taupo¯’s Boat Harbour area this Sunday, November 11. Registration opens at 9.30am at the Taupo¯’s Yacht Club in Ferry Rd. Register at mndwalk.org.nz or on the day for $15 per person/$30 families. If you can’t make it to the walk, you can support Ron’s fundraising effort at walk2dfeetmnd2018.everydayhero.com/nz/RONS. Half of the funds raised go towards providing support for people with MND and their carers. The other half goes to supporting MND research in New Zealand.
Ron Strawbridge, pictured with wife Yvonne, wanted to spend his retirement travelling and relaxing. Instead, he was given the news that his life will be cut short by motor neurone disease.