MULTIPLE Sclerosis has been in the public eye due to high-profile cases like Jack Osbourne who was diagnosed in 2012 aged 27.
But what isn’t often reported is how the family that surround the sufferer cope with the disease.
Oliver Keenan, from Westhoughton, is one such family member.
The retired primary school teacher lost his wife of 40 years, Winefride, to the neurological disease in 2011 — nearly 30 years after she was first diagnosed.
Mrs Keenan, also a teacher, was a keen artist and walker — but due to the progressive nature of MS, which attacks the nervous system, over time it left her unable to walk and use her hands so she had to give up both of her biggest passions.
But she continued to keep a positive outlook and would imagine going on her favourite walks around Rivington and the Peak District.
Seven years ago, Mr Keenan, who is a member of Hart Common Golf Club, arranged a charity golf tournament to try and raise money for the MS Society and help him cope with the “cruel nature” of his wife’s disease — who by this time was wheelchair-bound.
Due to its success he made it an annual event with the help of club owner Peter Roberts who donates the course for free.
Mr Keenan’s wife died in June, 2011 and since then he has raised more than £42,000.
The father-of-three said: “We got married in Manchester in 1972 and within 10 to 15 years, when our eldest was 13, Winefride was diagnosed with MS.
“She went to her GP and she was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed that she had MS.
“But rather than be miserable she carried on and was a soldier to the end.
“It got progressively worse as she aged. It all started with loss of balance and clumsiness, she went through the walking stick and zimmer frame stages before she ended up in a wheelchair permanently.
“She could still see and hear though. This continued until the end when she could only move her head.”
Despite her debilitating condition the former art teacher stayed positive. Mr Keenan, aged 68, said: “She was rarely downhearted and always very spiritual in her mind. She was a pleasure to be with. She was a real creative person but the MS didn’t help that.
“She was an artist and she loved walking and loved music. She was a real home-maker too. She loved doing things for the house such as painting. But the illness attacked the two things she loved and in the end she couldn’t hold a pen or a brush or go for a walk which was sad to see. She was trapped in her own body but she would say that she was going to go for a walk in her head and enjoy it that way.
“Towards the end she could only move her head. She had a computer with a menu that could answer the phone, make phone calls and open the door which gave her a certain amount of independence, so I could leave her for a period of time. Carers would come four times a day to help, although towards the end they were staying overnight so I could get some rest.
“The Marie Curie nurses and Bolton Social Services were a fantastic support.
“She wanted to die at home which she did. She died peacefully in her own chair.”
Mr Keenan turned his attention to fundraising for the MS Society a few years before his wife died — and has continued to do so ever since.
He said: “I ran the charity golf day while she was ill to raise money for the MS Society and continued after she died in 2011. It started off with about 50 people but now we’re up to 140 and it’s been going for about seven years. Raising money for a good cause has helped me cope with my loss because I feel like I’m doing something positive to make a difference.”
Mr Roberts said: “My father had MS so it is something that is very close to me.
“I remember being a young boy and having to fetch and carry for my father when he was at his worse.
“We are asked to help many different charities at the club but unfortunately we can’t help them all, but after speaking to Oliver about his situation, we decided to do one big annual fundraiser for the MS Society, and it keeps growing year on year.”