Strathcarron Hospice nurse diagnosed with Huntington's disease taking on double wing walk for charity

A mother-of-three diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder is set to take to the skies for a double wing walk to support two causes she holds dear.

By Jonathon Reilly
Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:56 pm

As if tiptoeing along the outside of a plane thousands of feet up in the air isn't daring enough, Gillian NcNab will also repeat the feat while strapped to an aircraft performing a loop-de-loop.

The 51-year-old has signed up for the hair-raising events to try to generate as much money for and awareness of Scottish Huntington s Association (SHA) and Strathcarron Hospice as possible.

Her fundraiser is the latest in a line of daredevil stunts Gillian has faced up to since being diagnosed with Huntington’s disease ten years ago.

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Strathcarron Hospice nurse Gillian McNab is taking on a wing walk and loop de loop for the service and Scottish Huntington's Association. Picture: Michael Gillen.

After learning of her diagnosis, the Strathcarron in-patient unit nurse created a bucket list featuring things she wanted to do before she was no longer able to.

The Lanark woman has already taken on fire walks, a skydive and a 100-day dance marathon.

Aiming to live her life to the fullest, Gillian, who is symptom-free, is now preparing herself for the wing walks in Yorkshire on July 3 – a fundraising mission she’s dedicating to her late mum, Myra, who also had Huntington’s and died in 2001.

She said: “In 2019, I was turning 50 and I’d put skydiving on my bucket list.

Gillian McNab will fly high and walk on the wings of an aircraft in a bid to raise money for Strathcarron Hospice and SHA. Picture: Michael Gillen.

“I took it back off because I was too scared to do it! When I turned 51 I thought I’d go for it. I absolutely loved it.

“People said the only thing bigger than that is a wing walk. I didn’t really think about it until I saw how Strathcarron was really struggling through the pandemic with their fundraising and thought, ‘What can I do?’

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“I started thinking about a wing walk and contacted someone from Strathcarron who sent me a video. I Googled it and Phillip Schofield’s mum was 80 when she did a loop-de-loop. If she can do it, so can I!

Claire Kennedy, Strathcarron Hospice community fundraiser; Gillian McNab, staff nurse; and Linda Winters, fundraising officer for South West Scotland, Scottish Huntington's Association. Picture: Michael Gillen.

“I’m doing this, not only in memory of my lovely mum, but for all of those who are, or have been, affected by Huntington’s disease.

“The SHA are a lifeline not only for those affected by Huntington’s disease but their families and carers as well.”

A rare, genetic, degenerative brain disorder, Huntington’s affects movement, coordination, mood and the ability to walk, talk, eat and think.

As she has the gene herself, Gillian knows her daughters Emily, 20, Kerry, 18, and 14-year-old Gemma have a 50 per cent chance of developing the condition.

Gillian McNab, who was diagnosed with Huntington's disease a decade ago, will go to extreme heights in support of Strathcarron and Scottish Huntington's Association. Picture: Michael Gillen.

The girls were not made aware of their mum’s diagnosis until 2017, following a conversation Gillian had with a professor who alerted her to research which revealed it’s better for children to be told of a parent’s condition at a young age.

She said: “My daughters were amazing from the outset and really supported me.

“I’m doing lots of talks. They know I’m trying to raise awareness. They agree that what I’m doing is important and know it’s doing good.”

Having witnessed the way SHA assists entire families, Gillian’s more than happy to go to extreme heights to boost its profile and has already raised more than £3300.

She continued: “Scottish Huntington’s Association is pretty special because they support the whole family.

“In most families, kids grow up knowing they’re at risk, watching family members with the disease, and there’s a 50 per cent chance they’re going to develop it.

“Family members end up becoming carers. It’s a long time of caring – it can be 15 to 20 years before somebody dies, so there’s a lot of carer burden.

“Young people need to be 18 before they get tested. SHA has a financial side to the charity to help people get benefits they’re entitled to.

“It’s difficult to get life insurance because there’s a lot of discrimination from companies but their financial well-being service helps people.”

The donations Gillian receives for her wing walk efforts will be split equally between SHA and Strathcarron, where she has spent the past nine years of her career.

Full of admiration for all the Fankerton-based palliative care facility does, she said: “Strathcarron means so much to me.

“A year after my diagnosis when I started there, I didn’t tell anybody initially. We have patients with Huntington’s so when the first patient came in it was hard.

“That’s when I started confiding in my colleagues and now everybody knows because of my talks. I’ve got a very long commute and people say, ‘Why don’t you get a job closer?’

“I say I love where I live and where I work. I’d just like to say how supportive my colleagues are and why, regardless of the commute, I would never want to work anywhere else.

“It’s a very special place with very special people and they have my back. I know if they notice any symptoms, they’ll take me aside and have a chat and support me through the tough times.

“Working at the hospice makes me feel lucky because I’m working with people who are often younger than me, who have been diagnosed and things are quite far advanced, so they don’t have the time I have.”

The support of family, friends and colleagues, Gillian admits, has taken her aback.

“I’ve been blown away by the kindness and generosity of everyone,” she said.

“Even messages of support have helped me. They’ve been overwhelming.

“I just feel I’m so lucky and blessed to have time to prepare for this, make a bucket list and make the most of my life.”

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