Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Martin’s not a drunk... he has Huntington’s
The partner of a Coatbridge grandad battling Huntington’s disease has told how the devastating condition made people think he was “constantly drunk” – and thanked a quickthinking staff member at a museum in his home town for saving his life.
Dad-of-seven Martin O’rourke was diagnosed with the crippling neurological disease in 2015.
Once fighting fit Martin, 54, worked as a roofer before he began to struggle with his balance.
A blood test detected the condition and, in a tragic turn, his twin brother was also diagnosed with Huntington’s just one week later.
Martin, who loved doting on his five grandchildren and playing the flute, is now unable to feed himself or speak after the genetic disease robbed him of his life.
His doting partner of 27 years, Sadie Henderson, 61, says police officers would often pick Martin up in the street, mistaking his symptoms for being drunk.
Now his full-time carer, Sadie is desperate to raise awareness about the disease that has changed their lives forever.
She said: “I knew nothing about Huntington’s when he was diagnosed, I thought we’d cope okay.
“The first real symptoms I saw was when he started losing balance, he was swaying while walking and falling into things.
“Police would often lift Martin and bring him home for ‘being drunk’,” she added.
“People in shops would think he was drunk when he knocked things over. Nobody understood.”
Sadie, who shares seven children with Martin, has bravely opened up on how quickly Huntington’s has robbed Martin of his life and the turmoil the family endures.
“In more recent years it’s taken a really bad turn,” she added.
“Huntington’s has completely ruined Martin’s life.
“He doesn’t have a life other than his bedroom and the TV.
“His brain still functions, but he can’t speak or do anything for himself. He has a catheter and is in a wheelchair.
“His arms move beyond his control so he can hit things. He’s lost over
five stone and is so weak. We have to feed him two breakfasts and around eight dinners per day to try to keep the weight on.
“We don’t know how long we’ll have left with Martin. Doctors told me he could die from choking and I’ll just have to hold his hand.”
Despite the hardship the family endures, Sadie is determined to support Martin in his own home.
“The pandemic was difficult as we were shielding,” she said.
“It’s really hard. I’ve had moments where I can’t take it any more, I want to put my jacket on and walk out.
“But Martin is my whole life, he needs me and I don’t know what I’ll do without him when he does pass away.
“Our family is a great help and we get there – but there should be more support for families living with this condition.”
A common symptom of Huntington’s is that sufferers are prone to choking fits which can eventually prove fatal.
Martin was out with Sadie and his grandkids at Coatbridge’s Summerlee Museum on Saturday, August 28, when he almost choked to death.
After months of shielding during the pandemic, Sadie had encouraged a reluctant Martin to visit the tourist attraction as he rarely leaves his bed these days. But the day out turned into a nightmare after he choked on a roll and turned blue.
Sadie said: “I really thought Martin was going to die in front of his grandkids. He went blue, his eyes popped out of his head, he was like a ragdoll in my arms, it was terrifying.
“My daughter was screaming; some of the children were watching.”
A heroic museum worker, known only as Donna, saved Martin’s life by performing the Heimlich manoeuvre.
“I shouted for help and Donna ran over from the gift shop,” Sadie added.
Sadie praised the member of staff who, instead of judging Martin’s symptoms, sprung into action and saved his life.
“She did the Heimlich manoeuvre and saved Martin’s life,” she continued.
“I can’t thank Donna enough, she deserves more recognition.”
According to the Scottish Huntington’s Association (SHA), 1100 people have been diagnosed
with the condition. It’s believed 4000 to 6000 others, including young people, are at risk of inheriting it from their parents.
Alistair Haw, CEO of Scottish Huntington’s Association, said: “Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that causes severe mental health, cognitive and physical symptoms – including a loss of control over movement which affects ability to eat, drink, swallow, walk and talk.
“We are extremely grateful that Martin was able to receive the emergency help he needed during such a traumatic incident for him and his family.
“Due to its rarity and complexity, a terrible stigma still surrounds Huntington’s disease families.
“That’s why, in addition to fighting to drive up standards of care and support, we are also committed to raising awareness and reducing isolation.
“We urge anyone who needs support, or is looking for further information about Huntington’s disease, to get in touch with Scottish Huntington’s Association online.“
Summerlee Museum declined to comment.