Never lose hope, Colm, says the man who was diagnosed 35 years ago

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He is Ireland's Stephen Hawking, a man who has lived longer with motor neurone disease than anyone else in the country -- yet he has never taken one tablet for his condition.

When Andy McGovern's knife and fork started falling from his hands in 1977, doctors told him he would be dead within five years.

More than 35 years later, he is living life to the full. The disease took away the use of his arms and hands, but, in a rare case of remission, it did not spread any further.

Since then, the 78-year-old Leitrim man has written a book with his toe, climbed Croagh Patrick twice without a stick, and learned to enjoy his favourite tipple through a straw. "There is no reverse gear with motor neurone disease but Guinness tastes just as good with a straw and all the pubs in my locality kindly stock them now," he says.

"Watching poor Colm the other night was just shocking. He is such a brave man and is doing such a service to other people who are diagnosed. But I'd like to tell him never to lose hope.

"I know several people who have lived with the disease for 20 years or more. I compare it to a shoal of fish in Dunmore East or Killybegs. The net is coming in but you'll always see a fish or two dropping out of it.

"When I was diagnosed with motor neurone, I went through hell in the first few years. Back then, it was very depressing because no one knew anything about it. They would shrug their shoulders and walk away from you."

In despair, Andy went to Lourdes and begged for a cure.

"I prayed like I never prayed before. I went back home and thought I would be fine but the disease started to spread to my other arm. I was infuriated and turned bitter against my religion. But then I got another chance to go back again and I took it. One night I was coming home from the grotto, when a man who was watching me walk said I was the fittest invalid in Lourdes. He was paying me a tribute but I didn't see myself like that at all. I went back to the statue of Our Lady where I had stood 10 years earlier and I felt so guilty.

"When I got back, things started changing completely for me. I started going out again. For me it was a case of mind over matter. I'm convinced positive thinking really plays a role."

Today, Andy, whose wife has moved into a nursing home due to arthritis, manages with the help of his son who lives nearby, and carers who help him to dress and cook.

"I haven't been to a neurologist for years. They can do nothing for me.

"My legs are still perfect. If I fall, I can't get a message to my hands to save me so my head will hit the ground, but thank God that hasn't happened. I'm looking forward to my 80th birthday next year."

Andy's book, 'They Laughed at This Man's Funeral', is available from the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, Coleraine House, Coleraine St, Dublin 7. His next book is due out soon. For more information on the disease or to give a donation, contact 1800 403 403 or visit imnda.ie

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