A former Bellshill driving instructor has described his heartbreak at being unable to even sit in his prized classic car due to Motor Neurone Disease (MND) robbing him of his mobility.
For MND Awareness Week Jim Elliot (65) and his wife June (65) have been sharing their story as they hope to raise the profile of the illness and the impact it can have on families.
Jim and June met in 1971 when a twist of fate brought them together.
June, who is a retired nurse, was doing her student training when she was run over by a car and broke both her legs.
She said: “I had to drop out for a year so postponed my placement at Carluke hospital. Had that not happened I probably never would have met Jim.”
The year after her accident June rejoined her course and started working at Carluke hospital, when Jim came in as a patient.
He had been in a motorbike accident and broken his leg.
Jim said “It was fated. As soon as I met her I knew. I decided to write her a note asking her out and the rest is history.”
The couple married two years later in 1973 and went on to have three children together; Scott (41), Kevin (37) and Stephen (35).
Jim worked in the steel industry as a welder and engineer in Clydesdale until 1991 and then pursued his passion for driving by retraining as a driving instructor.
He did this for 10 years and then became a driving tester for the next 15 years but, had to stop working last year because of his diagnosis.
He said: “My symptoms first started to show after I was in a car accident in February 2016.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, I was marking someone on their driving test when a car collided, side-on, with us. Although I seemed fine I noticed my leg started to droop a week or so after.
“The doctors just said it was an injury from the accident but even after a few months it wasn’t improving. We decided to go on holiday that June to our favourite spot in Italy.
“I just kept falling over for no reason – I reckon people in the airport thought I’d had a few too many pints.”
June continued: “It was really frightening because we didn’t know what was wrong and went straight back to the doctors when we got home.
“It was months and months of fighting for second opinions and tests. Time was going by and Jim went from a stick to crutches to a tri-walker before we even found out it was MND.
“The physio that had been recommended wasn’t working and they eventually suggested we go for an MRI scan, which led us to being sent to a neurologist.”
Jim received his diagnosis of MND in October and the couple have found it difficult adjusting to this life-changing news. He can no longer walk, use his arms or hands and finds it harder to speak.
Jim said: “I had never heard of MND before so it was extremely overwhelming to hear about it all. It has been emotional for us all, I think especially for my sons.
“You go from having no answers to so much information. Now we have lots of different health professionals in and out the door and it is hard to keep up with everyone.
“Our GP had never seen a case of MND in her 17 years at the practice. That’s why I think it is so important that more people are aware of the disease.”
June added: “I feel like we’ve had to battle for everything; for a diagnosis, for appointments, for an accessible bathroom and even for a ramp into the house, so Jim could get out of the house.
“It changes everything about your life. Even something as simple as clothes; Jim always wore smart trousers, now he has to wear jogging bottoms for ease and comfort.
“It’s a stressful time adjusting to the changes but our sons help out a lot which is great. We are lucky to have such a supportive family and love spending our time with them.
“MND Scotland has also been a fantastic support. We attend their local support group in Lanarkshire which is really interesting and also receive their complementary therapy service. The massages are very relaxing and relieve a lot of stress during a very emotional time.
“The charity’s Welfare and Benefits team have been very helpful and we have had a great time away at their accessible caravan in Fife, where one of our sons lives.”
Jim was always a handy man, fixing things around the house and didn’t just love driving for work; fixing and collecting cars was a hobby too.
He said: “We got a wet room fitted recently and it took them four visits to get it right. It was so frustrating not being able to just get up and do it myself – it has brought me to tears on occasion.
“My passion is classic cars. I collected them for years and did them up by working on the engines. I have sold them now, apart from my favourite, a MGC 1968. She’s magnificent or, as my kids say, “Dad’s wee beauty”.
“It really breaks my heart that I can’t drive her anymore, I can’t even sit in it now. I actually put my son on the insurance so it can still be driven.
“I even just like him to turn it on so I can hear the engine purring. Not being able to do what I love is one of the most difficult things about this disease.
“We have a wheelchair accessible car now which June drives and it gives me a lot more freedom to get out and about. We went to MND Scotland’s Fun Run in May and it was great. The whole family were there taking part or cheering us on – it was such a great day. My son, Kevin, pushed me around in my wheelchair and I even won a prize.”
Jim and June now enjoy spending time with their sons and their three grandchildren; Lucy (8), Phoebe (6) and Abigail (6).
June said: “Our sons have tried to tell the kids that their granda isn’t well. They can see now that I have to feed him and that he can’t walk or talk like he used to, but I don’t think they really understand what is happening.
“Abigail who is only six said recently ‘Look there’s grams putting grandpa into the boot of the car’ when I was pushing Jim’s wheelchair into our new wheelchair accessible car. It is quite funny how they see things and Jim couldn’t stop laughing. They keep us both going and help us stay as positive as we can.”
Craig Stockton, CEO of MND Scotland, said “I would like to thank Jim and June for sharing their experience of MND. It is very brave to put your story out to the public but it is vital if we want to continue raising awareness of its affects.
“MND Scotland supports people across Scotland who are affected by MND and funds research into a cure. We are delighted to announce that this MND Awareness Week we are investing a further £583,000 into four new research projects, which will take us one step closer to finding a cure for this devastating disease.”
This MND Awareness Week you can support MND Scotland by donating £5 by texting CUREMND to 70660.