Friday 26 December 2014

Making big strides

On being diagnosed with MS, Liam Delahunty plunged into depression. But, as he tells Joy Orpen, taking part in adventure races have given him a whole new lease of life

Liam Delahunty

When, earlier this year, Liam Delahunty, 35, told his friends he was going to compete in an adventure race, they laughed and pointed out that he couldn't even run from one end of the room to the other. But he has proved them wrong and, right now, he is in the throes of competing in a string of physically tough races.

What makes this even more surprising is the fact that Liam has multiple sclerosis (MS) and, until recently, he was deep in the doldrums because he was certain his life was spiralling downhill.

But it seems he has not only surprised everyone around him, he has also surprised himself.

Liam, who grew up in Co Kilkenny, studied engineering before becoming a sales manager. Then, in 2007, things began to change.

"When I developed a twitch above my left eye, my GP said it was probably a muscle spasm," Liam explains. "He suggested Botox to stop the twitch, and that didn't surprise me, because I knew it had uses other than cosmetic. However, when he was about to give me the injection, he asked me why I was clutching my leg. When I explained that I sometimes felt numbness and got pins and needles, he stopped the Botox and referred me to a neurologist."

Liam saw the specialist within a few weeks. An MRI scan revealed tell-tale lesions on his brain. Spinal fluid was then taken during a lumbar puncture. It was later confirmed that Liam had MS.

It was a very challenging time for him and his new wife, Aisling, as they had just returned from honeymoon. "I was told there were different kinds of MS, with different severities. Overall, I was given a pretty gloomy prognosis," Liam recalls.

A trawl online didn't help, as most of the stories were pretty negative.

"The internet is a dangerous place," warns Liam. "It can suck you into the wrong articles."

So, it's not surprising that, soon after, he deteriorated emotionally.

"I started feeling depressed. I was on the road a lot, with too much time to think," he says. "We'd bought a new house and I thought we'd have to move to a bungalow because of the MS.

"And, when I was pushing my son around in his buggy, the thought crossed my mind that, one day, he'd be pushing me in a wheelchair. Depression can be a part of MS."

Eventually, Liam made the brave decision to get help and he called Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, the national support and information organisation for those living with the condition. He says they gave him invaluable advice when it came to dealing with his physical symptoms. But they were also there for him when he needed to talk. They suggested he participate in a programme called Getting the Balance Right.

Ava Battles, chief executive of MS Ireland, says: "Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative, neurological condition of the central nervous system.

Liam signed up for the Getting the Balance Right programme at a local leisure centre.

"Before I started, I was very down. I couldn't sleep, which sounds ridiculous when you think I had chronic fatigue. Everything was affected -- my marriage, my friendships and even my work, because I couldn't concentrate," he says.

Just five weeks into the course, which was supervised by an accredited physiotherapist, there was sound evidence that Liam had improved. "There was a huge difference in mobility," he says. "The fatigue was much less, while the tremors had decreased."

Irish Independent

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