RAF veteran bedridden with motor neurone disease

Motor Neurone Disease: Expert on early signs and symptoms

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In 2018, David Rhodes, who had served 39 years in the Ministry of Defence, learned of his motor neurone disease (MND). Now, at 61, David’s condition has greatly deteriorated, meaning he is bedridden and can only move his eyes. David, from York, joined the RAF in March 1982 and became a commissioned officer in the Air Traffic Branch, serving in Afghanistan, the Falklands, Gibraltar and Cyprus.

The father-of-four was first put on sick leave in May 2018, before tests revealed he had MND.

The Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association highlights “early signs” of MND”, such as:

  • Muscle twitching
  • Tingling limbs
  • Numbness in hands, feet or limbs
  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness
  • Legs getting thinner
  • Weak or stiff hands
  • Slurred or faint speech
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Breathing problems
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Changes to thinking and behaviour.

What is MND?

The MND Association explains the condition affects motor neurones (nerves) found in the brain and spinal cord.

These motor neurone nerves “tell your muscles what to do” but, if you have MND, those messages gradually stop doing so.

“This leads the muscles to weaken, stiffen and waste, which can affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe.”

Symptoms progress at varying speeds, and while there is no cure for MND, treatment helps to manage symptoms so that quality of life is improved as much as possible.

Affecting 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time, the typical onset of the condition is 50 and older.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of MND, it’s best to seek the support of a doctor.

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“You may be worried that you or someone close has MND,” the charity says.

“As this is not a common disease, it is more likely that another condition, illness or injury has caused the problem.”

There are numerous tests involved in MND diagnosis, including an assessment by a neurologist.

Clinical examinations could include blood tests, electromyography (a needle test to record natural nerve impulses), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

What causes MND?

There seems to be an interplay of genetic, environmental and lifestyle risk factors for developing MND.

“Together, these risk factors may ‘tip the balance’ towards someone developing the disease,” MND Association notes.

Research has shown there are possible links between MND and:

  • Mechanical and/or electrical trauma
  • High levels of exercise
  • Exposure to agricultural chemicals, and
  • Exposure to a variety of heavy metal
  • Military service.

“The evidence gained in these studies has often been conflicting and clear conclusions cannot be given,” MND Association adds.

As for David, his military career came to an end in March 2019 when he was discharged from service.

Soon after, David became reliant on his family and careers to feed, bathe, and transport him around as the condition worsened.

The former flight lieutenant air traffic controller now faces a shorter life expectancy due to the condition.

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