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Former Prem and EFL player opens up on life with Motor Neurone Disease age 50

Former Prem and EFL player Marcus Stewart opens up in an interview on life with Motor Neurone Disease at the age of 50 years old.

After 12 months of testing, Stewart was diagnosed in January 2022 before revealing he has MND in September, and such clubs as Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield, Ipswich Town, Sunderland, Bristol City, Preston, Yeovil, Exeter, of whom he played for, sent their support.

Stewart said to Daily Mail that he forgets that he has motor neurone disease, with his symptoms slow, with the only visible sign that his skinny left hand and an index finger tend to stick out, meaning he couldn’t even pick up a cup, acting as a reminder of his degenerative condition, which has no cure.

‘It was at the time when you could only have a drink outside and we were at our local pub,’ his wife said, sitting next to Marcus.

‘Marcus went to pick up his drink and he said, “Lou, look at my hand”. It did not look good. It was like cramp. He had to peel his fingers open. But I thought it was probably just because of the cold.’

Stewart recalls: ‘I was doing home workouts and over the course of time my hand kept coming off the pull-up bar or I’d drop a dumbbell,’ he explains.

‘Then I remember being sat down and turning the TV on and noticing my hand looked a bit skinny. I looked at my arm and compared it to my right. I’ve always been slim but I’m left-handed so my left arm should be a little bit bigger. That was it and it just went from there.’

He had months of hospital appointments and tests, becoming weak in the arm (now by 10%), which was put down to a bone spur in his neck pressing on a nerve.

However his wife, Louise, was scared when Motor Neurone Disease was listed as a possible cause in a letter from the NHS.

‘I googled it and it said you have one to two years to live,’ she says. ‘That was the worst moment. I was in a bit of a hole.’

‘MND didn’t even cross my mind,’ he admits. ‘Lou was worried, but I was like, “Shut up, soppy, I’m fine, there is nothing wrong with me”.

‘I went to the appointment all happy, thinking they are going to give me the all-clear. The specialist got me on the bed and I had to stay as still as I could for five minutes as she checked my legs, arms and mouth.

‘We then sat down and she went, “It’s highly likely you’ve got MND”. She was so cold. She was like, “There is not a lot we can do, I’ll book an appointment and see you in six months”. I was completely dumbstruck. I’m quite good at taking things, but I just didn’t expect that.’

‘I just remember crying,’ adds Louise. ‘I went into panic mode. Then he came home and turned up with a bunch of flowers for me. I took a photo because that doesn’t usually happen.’

‘I’ve probably only had four cries — one was that moment I was told and the next was telling my boys,’ he says. ‘I went up to Huddersfield to see them. I had to have a beer. I couldn’t tell them without a bit of Dutch courage. It was a tough moment.

‘But I said to them, “I’m carrying on as normal and I’m going to be here for a long time yet. When I can’t pick a pint up, just take the mick out of my hand”. And they do. They got over the initial shock and they are fine now, as am I. I’ve just got a problem with my hand.

‘It’s quite funny because I got my finger caught in the car boot because I thought it was bent and obviously it’s not. It’s only when I’m making a cup of tea, carrying a suitcase in from the car or need to do my zip up that I’m reminded.

‘But I’m not stuck in a wheelchair. I can still walk. I can still talk. I can drive my car and I still ride my bike.’

Stewart found out that his specialist didn’t expect he would be able to do when he went for his first follow-up appointment in June last year.

‘She said, “Marcus, I am really pleased today because I didn’t expect you to be walking or talking”,’ he says. ‘We walked out of there dead happy because it felt like a win.’

‘I don’t worry about myself, I just worry about you and the kids,’ he says to Louise, who is brought to tears for the only time of our interview when the same question is directed her way.

‘The answer is yes, I do,’ Louise admits. ‘But I try not to let that consume me. I go to a picture in my head of Marcus playing with our grandchildren in the garden and that makes me smile.’

Former Prem and EFL player opens up on life with Motor Neurone Disease age 50

Stewart spoke on the ‘overwhelming’ support from those within the football world since he went public.

Stephen Darby who was diagnosed with the disorder in 2018 and whose charity, ‘the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation’, which Stewart supports, has also been helpful.

Marcus and Louise took part in the marathon-distance London Winter Walk at the weekend (Sunday 29th January) and also plan to host a charity football match at Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium on the 13th of May.

‘The fundraising is kind of where I have channelled everything to try and make it positive,’ says Louise. To which Marcus adds: ‘She has got her head into the fundraising stuff because it keeps her away from the dark place. She thinks there is a solution to everything, but with this one, at this moment, there isn’t.’

There is hope that funds and donations raised can one day help find a solution.

‘I’m not so sure that MND is associated with heading the ball,’ Marcus replies on studies have shown footballers are more likely to develop neurodegenerative disorders, primarily dementia, because of the impact of heading the ball. ‘I’m not saying Alzheimer’s isn’t, but I’m not so sure about MND. If that is the case, why aren’t there more footballers and rugby players with it?’

Stewart remains positive, ending the chat with a message from Rob Burrow. ‘Why worry about the game in six games’ time when there is a game next week?’ he adds. ‘I have nothing to be negative about. I am the lucky one.’

You can help raise funds for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation by clicking on the following links: justgiving.com/team/teamstewart254 or instagram.com/teamstewart254

Read more of the interview by clicking HERE.

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