The retired police officer from Coatbridge will be taking on a 5-day trek along an ancient wonder, the Great Wall of China, in aid of charity MND Scotland, departing on 14th September.
Paul met his future wife 15 years ago, while they both worked for Glasgow airport, and married eight years later, just three and a half years before Wendy died.
Wendy, who was Mum to two daughters, was originally from Kilwinning and moved to Irvine with Paul in 2011, where the couple planned to spend their retirement together. Their world was then turned upside down when Wendy first started to notice something was wrong.
Paul said, “Wendy`s initial symptoms were a bit random for around 18 months. She had a number of regular fainting episodes. She was feeling weak in her hands and just had a general loss of power; we didn’t really think about it until she had a couple of unexplained falls. It all came to a head when she took part in the Glasgow “Race for Life” in May 2017 - an ambition she`d held for a number of years.
“She was so excited as they all set off and I made my way to the finish line to cheer her home. A while later I saw her and her friend cross the line. Something was wrong, I could see she was looking around at the crowd trying to find me. We made eye contact and as she got closer to me her smiles began to turn to tears. She had tripped and fallen just before the finish line. In true “Brownlee brothers” style her friend had got her to her feet and they managed to finish the race. Off we went to the first aid tent where she was treated for a dislocated shoulder and black eye. We had no idea at that time what a huge achievement it was for her to complete the race.”
Wendy had been to see her GP several times but they were unable to pin point the cause of the symptoms but following her fall at the race she was referred to a neurologist for further investigation.
Paul said, “At the beginning of July 2017 an MRI had revealed that she was suffering from a brain tumour and an aneurysm. Our world began to collapse.
“Over the next few weeks her symptoms got progressively worse. She had trouble standing and couldn’t really walk far without assistance. Wendy asked the neurologist if she could have MND and I joked that only professional footballers get that. The doctor said nothing. As we left the neurology department Wendy turned to me in tears, “I`ve got MND haven’t I?”. I just lost it. I knew I had given the doctor the chance to put our minds at rest. I knew he didn’t and I knew what that meant. We just stood there in the street hugging and crying, then laughing when we realised that everyone passing were staring at us.”
In September 2017 Wendy and Paul received the call to confirm the diagnosis of MND.
“To be honest it wasn’t that great a shock. We were both expecting it, but we were devastated none the less. We both knew what it meant. Trying to comprehend the enormity of it all. You’re alone. Scared. Lost. You expect to be overwhelmed by a procession of doctors and experts. You’re not. You’re left alone to get on with it.
“Wendy’s symptoms continued at a breath-taking pace – we were on a roller coaster that we couldn’t get off. She was in a wheelchair in weeks. Couldn’t dress or feed herself and needed my help with nearly everything.”
Paul and Wendy, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, turned to the charity MND Scotland for guidance and support.
“When we were introduced to MND Scotland it was like a breath of fresh air. We got financial advice, help dealing with the support from our local authority and even a holiday grant. The bathroom was fast becoming a problem area and there again were MND Scotland helping with another grant to adapt it for disabled use. What a difference this made to Wendy. To retain her dignity meant everything to her.
“We realised that we were benefiting from the efforts of those who had gone before us so it became really important for us to give back and make an effort for those coming behind us.
“Wendy`s sister organised a huge charity event and many other members of the family have done various crazy things and have raised around £11,000 for MND Scotland. Peoples’ compassion and generosity has been quite overwhelming and very humbling.”
Wendy passed away not long after she celebrated her 50th birthday in March 2018.
“She died peacefully on 1 May 2018 in Ayrshire hospice with me holding her hand. I was relieved for her. It was what she wanted and I was happy she was free and not suffering anymore but when her pain ended ours had only just begun.”
Paul took the leap to sign up for the Great Wall of China, for MND Scotland, with Wendy’s encouragement. Having raised over £6,500 for the trek, Paul will be jetting off to Beijing in September with 38 other MND Scotland fundraisers in memory of his beloved wife.
“I saw MND Scotland’s trek to the Great Wall of China and Wendy said, “You should do that”. She was so happy and proud of me when I decided to sign up. Though I now realise that it was because she had given me something to live for, a reason to keep going after she was gone. It has and as departure approaches, I’m naturally excited but also a bit apprehensive. It’s my last link to her so it’s a huge thing for me. I know it’s where I`ll have to let her go and I`m dreading it. But I know that my group will get me through it.
“Wendy was the most incredible human being I have ever met. She was the love of my life. She was kind and gentle, smart, thoughtful and hilariously funny. She was beautiful. Inside and out. People just felt better in her company. It was a gift. A smile that brightened your day, and that’s how everyone who knew her, will remember her.”
Iain McWhirter, MND Scotland’s head of fundraising, said “I’d like to thank Paul for bravely sharing his story with the nation. This challenge will be an unbelievable achievement and I know Wendy would be so proud of Paul, and everything he has done to raise funds for, and awareness of, MND. Without supporters like this, we simply would not exist and would not be able to continue providing vital support to people affected by this devastating illness or funding research to find a cure.”
You can support Paul's fundraising efforts by donating online at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-sharpe66.