A Fife woman has raised an incredible £45,000 in the space of six years to increase awareness of a rare brain disease which claimed the life of her husband.
Elizabeth Birrell, from Anstruther, is ensuring her late husband Ian’s legacy lives on by raising money for research into progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) a degenerative condition which causes sufferers to have difficulty with balance, movement, vision and speech.
Actor Dudley Moore and newspaper columnist Nigel Dempster are among the high-profile victims of PSP in recent years, yet many GPs are still unaware of the warning signs.
“My GP had never heard of it, and none of the nurses had ever heard of it, so I think it’s important to raise awareness of how it can affect someone,” said Mrs Birrell.
“I think Ian was probably diagnosed quite quickly, but there are other people who probably don’t know what to look out for.
“There has been at least six people in east Fife that I know of who have been diagnosed since Ian and it’s just a terrible thing to go through.
“Before he died, Ian said he wanted to donate his brain and spinal cord to Queen’s Square Brain Bank in London to help others and help research into PSP after he was gone.”
Mr Birrell, who passed away last year aged 71, worked at the Craw’s Nest Hotel in Anstruther for 33 years and he was a highly respected figure and honorary member of the town’s Rotary Club.
Mrs Birrell revealed that the first sign of anything wrong came in 2008 when Ian was out caddying a pastime he loved after retiring.
She said: “One minute he was standing, the next minute he was looking up at the sky, and I thought he might have just slipped but his speech started to go a wee bit funny as well.
“He went to the doctor and they told him to come back in a week. But things got worse and the doctors wondered if he might have had a slight stroke.
“The doctors maybe thought it was some sort of Parkinsonism, but then they eventually sat me down and said ‘I’m afraid it’s PSP’.”
Thankfully the couple were allowed to go on various visits to relatives in America in the years that followed, but things gradually deteriorated.
“He died last October, but I try my best to help raise funds and awareness for this charity as it gets no government help,” said Mrs Birrell.
The fundraising effort is to continue with jewellery open days at 3 Back Gate, Pittenweem, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 10.30am to 4.30pm.
Meanwhile, a group meeting for people suffering from PSP, or those affected, is to be held on Thursday December 3, at 2pm, in Douglas Community Centre, Dundee.