BEING diagnosed with a serious illness is enough to knock the wind out of anyone’s sails but one person who is determined not to let his condition get the better of him is Greenlaw’s Alan Fairbairn who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of just 36.
Alan is a popular figure throughout Berwickshire due to his keen involvement with youth football and from working at Hutton Stone and he was met with an wealth of support following the heartbreaking news in January.
After experiencing frequent tremors in his hand, leaving him unable to complete menial tasks like writing a note or typing a text message without difficulty, Alan thought it was time to seek medical advice, although he admits that his major goal was to quit smoking- he never imagined he’d be diagnosed with Parkinson’s, particularly at his age.
“Last year I went to the doctors about my smoking habit; I really wanted to give up,” he recalled.
“While I was there I mentioned that I’d had these recurring tremors, where my hand would freeze and things like holding a pen and picking up a phone were proving tricky.
“I was also starting to have some difficulty walking, something my mates picked up when I went to watch them in a rally.
“I’d put it down to a trapped nerve and I was put on beta-blockers and then a stronger dose as the problems got worse and I became more and more conscious of them.”
Alan then fell into the trap that many people in this day and age do when they think they’ve got something wrong with them- he searched the internet for answers.
“I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he admitted in hindsight.
“A lot of different things came up and although I didn’t necessarily hit the panic button I did start to worry when Parkinson’s cropped up again and again.
“My mum works at the Knoll Hospital in Duns and she said she’d heard young people could suffer from it although she’d only dealt with older people with the condition.
“I was told to go and have a DaTscan which I didn’t realise at the time was a test for Parkinson’s. That wasn’t too bad but after some abnormalities were identified I was given an MRI scan.
“That was a completely different experience entirely- I nearly fell asleep during the DaTscan but during the MRI all I could hear was bangs and rattles; it was very indimidating.”
After having the scan all that was left for Alan to do was wait for the results and find out exactly what was wrong with him. He got the news on January 6, a day he said he’ll never forget.
“My mum came along with me for the diagnosis and I’m not going to lie being told I had young onset Parkinson’s was absolutely devastating.
“Like everyone else I always associated Parkinson’s with older people but the more I’ve read up on it, the more I’ve found that a lot of young people suffer from it.
“After being diagnosed I read about Bryn Williams, who was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age and set up the Wobbly Williams support group. I sat and typed a message to send to him on Facebook but before I’d hit the send button I’d had one from him offering his support.
“I was also put in touch with Coleen Henderson-Heywood from Duns (local champion of young people and fellow Parkinson’s sufferer) who has also been a great help.”
As well as receiving great support from those going through the same thing, Alan’s diagnosis has led to his close friends and family- particularly his partner Ashley- educating themselves about Parkinson’s so they too can relate to what he’s going through.
“Everyone has been fantastic since I found out the news,” he continued.
“Ashley has been amazing throughout as have my two daughters Taylor and Holly.
“One of the side effects of the medication I have to take is that I get very tired all of a sudden. One minute I’ll be playing with the kids and the next I’ll be falling asleep; I can’t control it and it means my sleeping patterns are all over the place.
“Like me, my friends didn’t know a lot about Parkinson’s and that it could affect someone so young but they’ve been reading up on it to so they can understand.”
Alan said his diagnosis and networking with others with Parkinson’s made him realise that there was a lack of awareness of the condition and a lack of support for those with young onset Parkinson’s.
“There is one part-time nurse who covers the whole of the Borders,” Alan explained.
“I’m not taking anything away from her as I’m sure she works extremely hard but it almost feels like I’ve been left to get on with it; the support just isn’t there.
“I’ve spoken to the local representative of Parkinson’s UK and they think it’s probably down to funding.
“It sounds strange but I was actually quite relieved when I was finally diagnosed. I had symptoms that could have related to all sorts of serious neuroligical conditions but the fact it was pinpointed to Parkinson’s means I could get the knowledge I needed for myself and to spread the word about the condition.
“I always refer to it as a condition rather than a disease as it’s not like I can pass it on to anyone or people can contract it from shaking my hand.”
Unfortunately, Alan’s diagnosis led to him being signed off from his job at Hutton Stone but one thing he is still heavily involved in is Greenlaw Football Club and he said this was a commitment that was really helping him to stay positive.
“I absolutely love my football; I coach the under-nines team and I get a great sense of achievement from seeing them doing well.
“Everything tends to revolve around my football- there’s training during the week and then matches on Saturday- luckily Ashley is very understanding!
“I also play football myself on Fridays which some people find a bit odd; they can’t get their heads around the fact I can play football but have trouble holding a pen.
“It’s all down to the fact that writing a note uses a different side of the brain to kicking a ball and running about.”
A inspiration to others suffering from Parkinson’s and everyone who knows him, Alan said he “will take the fight to Parkinson’s” and won’t let the condition get the better of him, adding: “I’ve had my dark days but I’ll stay strong not just for me but for my family as well.”