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Ronnie heads for hills in epic trek

FOOTBALL star Ronnie Whelan will tackle an epic 130km trek over hills and along the Irish coast to raise awareness of a rare illness affecting his daughter.

The former Liverpool and Ireland midfielder is hoping his Rocky Road to Dublin challenge will also bring in donations to fund treatment of the auto-immune disease Myasthenia Gravis (MG).

Whelan's daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with the condition after a number of referrals when she first started showing symptoms five years ago.

"Luckily for us, we had access to a specialist consultant in England and her treatment was undertaken soon after the diagnosis," he said.

"However, in Ireland neurological services are more stretched and, talking with other MG patients, diagnosis can take considerable time."

Whelan said awareness of the disease is low even among medics and diagnosis can take years, while some cases go undiagnosed and untreated.

Symptoms include drooping eyelids, blurred or double vision, slurred speech, difficulty breathing, chronic muscle fatigue and difficulty chewing.

In Ireland alone there are almost 400 diagnosed sufferers but for every sufferer there are at least two to three others whose condition may be undetected, according to Whelan.

Announcing plans for a six-day awareness-raising walk across some of Ireland's most popular hiking routes, he urged people -- including less experienced walkers -- to join him along the way.

The challenge starts on April 29 and traverses the Western Way, Slieve Bloom Mountains, St Kevin's Way in Glendalough, Co Wicklow and the coastal route from Greystones to Dublin.

"When my daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with the disease five years ago, we were shell-shocked," revealed Whelan.

"There was very little information available, and we didn't know anyone else who was affected.

"As someone who is familiar to members of the public, I feel a responsibility to raise awareness about Myasthenia Gravis so that other families who receive a diagnosis do not feel isolated."