While months of nursing a life-long partner then losing them would be enough to rock the majority of people, Ann Kerr is made of sterner stuff than most and decided to do what she could to help others affected by the same terrible condition.
Ann’s family knew nothing about Motor Neurone Disease when her husband Archie was diagnosed in 1999.
Tragically, not only was she to lose Archie in December 2000 but little over two years later, her son Gordon also died after being diagnosed with MND. He left behind a wife and three children, aged only 12, eight and six at the time.
But instead of sitting back with her memories and her pain, this former teacher was determined to do what she could to raise awareness of MND and fundraise to help those affected.
She formed the Central branch of MND Scotland and since then has worked tirelessly to support individuals and families in our community who suffer from this rapidly progressing terminal illness.
This week Ann joined a long list of ‘unsung heroes’ who have received the Rotary Club of Falkirk Community Achievement Award.
There are over 30 names on the Rosebowl trophy that she will hold for the next 12 months, but few if any will have had the impact on members that Ann had as she told her personal story and those of others struck down by this debilitating condition.
While cheerful festive lunches were being served in other parts of the Park Hotel in the room where the Rotary members meet weekly there was a hush as Ann’s words hit home.
MND takes no prisoners.
It’s a name given to a group of illnesses which affect the body’s motor nerves known as motor neurones. Doctors often simplify it by saying these are the body’s wiring and those who get MND have the plug knocked out of the socket.
Whereas for healthy individuals motor neurones carry signals from the brain to the muscles, those with MND no longer can send the signals. Over time muscles weaken and eventually stop working.
Like most conditions, it affects everyone differently – some may lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided.
Others may also experience changes in their behaviour, personality and the way they think. A small number may experience severe changes associated with a type of dementia.
But Ann’s message was that everyone can be affected in different ways and one of the first hurdles people experience is being diagnosed.
For Archie, a former Motherwell FC footballer, he spent two years looking for a cure for his niggly cough. Then his speech became slurred.
Ann remembers how people would often think her husband, a former captain of Tryst Golf Club, had been drinking but sadly his family knew the real reason was one of his symptoms of MND.
Son Ian, who lives in Larbert, nominated his mum for the Rotary award and said that after his father died his mum decided “to look further into the challenges that MND Scotland were facing in terms of fundraising, research and raising awareness of MND in general”.
He added: “Within months, Central branch evolved and the serious fundraising and support began. Never daunted by the difficulties that face her, she progressed the branch, recruiting volunteers and like-minded people who helped my mother raise the profile and ultimately supported individuals and families.”
He said after his brother’s death, her resolve became even stronger and the need to support and fundraise became even more of her passion.
Together with the members of the Central branch and despite being in her eighties, Ann has helped raise over £200,000.
Although much of the cash raised has gone to research, now it is also helping to purchase equipment to help people who have been diagnosed.
Machines which allow those who have lost the power of speech to still communicate by using their eyes to work a keyboard are a boon for sufferers and their families.
In 2015, Ann, who is born and bred in Falkirk, and continues to live near the town centre, was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
As well as the trophy, her latest accolade saw her receive a cheque for £400 from sponsors The Falkirk Herald and Morton Pacitti Solicitors to give to charity.
There was no surprise when she said this would go to MND Scotland. Despite her protestations that others were more deserving than her, Ann said: “I’m delighted to receive this award. I was very surprised and hopefully it helps to raise awareness about MND.”