Ex-Liverpool Stephen Darby on motor neurone disease diagnosis and effect on wife Steph Houghton

Former Liverpool footballer Stephen Darby has spoken out one year on from being diagnosed with motor neurone disease about how it is affecting his wife and fellow footballer Steph Houghton.

Darby, 31, was told he had the incurable neurological condition just months after getting married to England women’s captain Steph Houghton in 2018. 

The ex-Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers star says the ‘brutal disease’ and its ‘terrible prognosis’ of two to five years is having a devastating effect on his family.

He told the BBC: ‘It doesn’t just affect me. It affects my wife, my mum and dad, my brother, family, friends. It affects everyone. 

‘It’s a brutal disease with a horrible prognosis. That’s the message we need to get across to people to help move forward.’

Stephen Darby, 31, was told he had the incurable neurological condition just months after getting married to England women's captain Steph Houghton (with him right) in 2018

Stephen Darby, 31, was told he had the incurable neurological condition just months after getting married to England women's captain Steph Houghton (with him right) in 2018

Stephen Darby, 31, was told he had the incurable neurological condition just months after getting married to England women’s captain Steph Houghton (with him right) in 2018

Speaking at the launch of his charity, which he founded with fellow MND patient and Afghanistan veteran Chris Rimmer (with him at Bradford v Liverpool match in July), he detailed his progressive symptoms

Speaking at the launch of his charity, which he founded with fellow MND patient and Afghanistan veteran Chris Rimmer (with him at Bradford v Liverpool match in July), he detailed his progressive symptoms

Speaking at the launch of his charity, which he founded with fellow MND patient and Afghanistan veteran Chris Rimmer (with him at Bradford v Liverpool match in July), he detailed his progressive symptoms

The couple are pictured together at Bradford City v Liverpool in Bradford in July this year

The couple are pictured together at Bradford City v Liverpool in Bradford in July this year

The couple are pictured together at Bradford City v Liverpool in Bradford in July this year 

Speaking at the launch of his charity, which he founded with fellow MND patient and Afghanistan veteran Chris Rimmer, he detailed his progressive symptoms.

He said: ‘Physically, I’ve got hand weakness and my arms are weak at the moment.

‘But I’d say a year after being diagnosed I’m not doing too bad.

‘Life expectancy is normally two to five years for anyone with MND. A third of those people die within a year, that’s obviously quite tough.’ 

Darby’s condition saw him retire from football at 29. His friend and fellow charity founder Chris Rimmer medically retired from the Army at 32 in 2015. 

Choking back tears, Darby said the launch of his charitable foundation was an ’emotional day’. 

He hopes it will raise much-need funds and awareness to help manage and even cure the condition.  

Despite battling the aggressive disease, the 31-year-old was there every step of the way when his wife was fighting for World Cup glory in France this summer. 

He was on the sidelines cheering her on when they were beaten by the USA in the semi-final. 

Houghton has hinted she may give up her career if her husband’s condition worsens.

She said in a previous interview: ‘He’s my priority. If anything were to change in the near future, my job is to be the best wife I can and look after him.’ 

Darby was treated for another condition for a year before doctors started testing for MND.

Eighteen months in he was finally given the devastating news.

Describing his symptoms on the charity’s website he writes: Over the course of the last 2 and a half years, symptoms have been progressing slowly. I

‘I have weakness in both hands and twitching in my arms, legs, chest and tongue.’

He added: ‘Starting the foundation was a way of turning something so devastating into something positive. 

‘To have a positive impact on MND and to help those individuals and families living through it to support them.’ 

The ex-Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers star (pictured with wife Steph right) says the 'brutal disease' and its 'terrible prognosis' of two to five years is having a devastating effect on his family

The ex-Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers star (pictured with wife Steph right) says the 'brutal disease' and its 'terrible prognosis' of two to five years is having a devastating effect on his family

The ex-Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers star (pictured with wife Steph right) says the ‘brutal disease’ and its ‘terrible prognosis’ of two to five years is having a devastating effect on his family

WHAT IS MOTOR NEURONE DISEASE (ALS)?

History 

The NHS describes motor neurone disease (MND) as: ‘An uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time.’

The weakness is caused by the deterioration of motor neurons, upper motor neurons that travel from the brain down the spinal cord, and lower motor neurons that spread out to the face, throat and limbs. 

It was first discovered in 1865 by a French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, hence why MND is sometimes known as Charcot’s disease. 

In the UK, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is referred to as Motor Neurone Disease, while in the US, ALS is referred to as a specific subset of MND, which is defined as a group of neurological disorders.

However, according to Oxford University Hospitals: ‘Nearly 90 per cent of patients with MND have the mixed ALS form of the disease, so that the terms MND and ALS are commonly used to mean the same thing.’ 

Symptoms

Weakness in the ankle or leg, which may manifest itself with trips or difficulty ascending stairs, and a weakness in the ability to grip things.

Slurred speech is an early symptom and may later worsen to include difficulty swallowing food.

Muscle cramps or twitches are also a symptom, as is weight loss due to leg and arm muscles growing thinner over time.  

Diagnosis

MND is difficult to diagnose in its early stages because several conditions may cause similar symptoms. There is also no one test used to ascertain its presence.

However, the disease is usually diagnosed through a process of exclusion, whereby diseases that manifest similar symptoms to ALS are excluded. 

Causes

The NHS says that MND is an ‘uncommon condition’ that predominantly affects older people. However, it caveats that it can affect adults of any age.

The NHS says that, as of yet, ‘it is not yet known why’ the disease happens. The ALS Association says that MND occurs throughout the world ‘with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries and can affect anyone’.

It says that war veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS and that men are 20 per cent more likely to get it. 

Treatment

There is no cure for MND and the disease is fatal, however the disease progresses at different speeds in patients.

People with MND are expected to live two to five years after the symptoms first manifest, although 10 per cent of sufferers live at least 10 years. 

Occupational therapy, physiotherapy and medicines such as riluzole are used to palliate the effects of the the disease. 

Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939. He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed 'The Iron Horse'

Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939. He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed 'The Iron Horse'

Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939. He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’

Lou Gehrig’s Disease

As well as being known as ALS and Charcot’s disease, MND is frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939.

He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’. 

His strength, popularity and fame transcended the sport of baseball and the condition adopted the name of the sportsman. 

He died two years after his diagnosis.  

Link hienalouca.com

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