Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow opens up on facing his toughest battle yet
HIS WIFE Lindsey and three young children are at the forefront of Rob Burrow’s thoughts as he faces up to terminal illness.
The Leeds Rhinos reserve team coach and club legend was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) eight days ago and made his condition public yesterday.
In those living with MND, messages from the motor neurones gradually stop reaching the muscles, leading them to weaken, stiffen and waste.
Those affected may lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and ultimately to breathe.
There has been an outpouring of support for Burrow since his announcement and he pledged to battle the illness for as long as possible, for his loved ones’ sake.
Burrow, father to Macy, Maya and Jackson, said: “The big thing is my family. I know they will be all right after, my wife is brilliant with the kids.
“I am fine with dying, it’s not being able to watch your kids grow up so if there’s ever an incentive to be around for a while, I’ve got it. It is a challenge and I am not going to lie down – I didn’t do it in rugby and I’m not going to start now.
“I am feeling really good, I am the best out of my family at feeling good about it.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world, the worst thing in the world is your kids getting poorly.
“You would take anything for your family – it is me and I am happy with that. Hopefully I can fight it and if miracles do happen – there’s some trials coming out in March and I’ll try and get on them – who knows?”
There is no known cure for MRD which is classified as a terminal illness. It affects around 5,000 people per year across the UK and is most common in those aged over 50.
“The average lifespan is three years, but I’m a lot younger,” Burrow said. “Older people might give up, but I’m not going to.
“I haven’t got a goal in my head, but unrealistic is 10 years, realistic I think is five years.
“I’ll always remain positive and with the support I’ve got around me how can I not be?
“I’m certainly not down about it, apart from it being new. You’ve got to keep strong and keep fighting all the way.”
Burrow this week met with former Scotland rugby union forward Doddie Weir, who was diagnosed with MRD two years ago and received the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show last Sunday.
“Just to ask him questions was really interesting,” Burrow said. “His mindset is unbelievable, he said the best medicine or medication is positive thinking.”
Burrow, 37, became concerned this autumn when his speech began to slur and an online search suggested MND as a possible cause.
“I had shoulder pain, through rugby – an operation and arthritis and stuff,” he explained.
“I was taking medicine for that and it makes you a bit drowsy at times. I thought it was that, to the point where I thought I need to come off this, because it is affecting my speech’.
“I changed brands, but I was off it a week and nothing had changed so I texted the doctors for a bit of advice and they said it might be best getting checked out with the neurologist.
“I mentioned that to the Rhinos’ doctor and he arranged for me to be seen. I did some tests, walking a line, touching my nose and he sent me off for a nerve conduction test, which was like shocking me and sticking needles in my muscles.
“I had an MRI and that showed all clear. From Thursday to the following Thursday I was good, nothing had shown up. No news is good news so they say.
“I thought I’d turn up on Thursday and they’d give me some medication. I might have a viral infection or something.
“I was sat in the waiting room, drinking free coffee and in good spirits. I was expecting to celebrate after – but then I was told on the nerve conduction test three out of four came back positive for motor neurone.”
At just 5ft 4ins tall, Burrow took some heavy punishment during his playing days and suffered several concussions. But asked if he believes his rugby career contributed to the illness, Burrow said: “If the MRI would have shown anything, then maybe.
“But there was nothing on my scan and once I got by that I thought I was going to be fine.
“Early in my career I played on when I shouldn’t have; later on when I got a head knock I stayed off because I was thinking about my kids.
“But the MRI came back fine, normal, so you presume it hasn’t had anything to do with that. They said – and a lot of things are vague – maybe my muscles had worked too hard, but every player tries their maximum.
“It could be something to do with my DNA, there’s no answer. There’s a million things on the internet that it could be, but there’s no proof.
“I don’t think it’s rugby. Early on I thought about it, when I had the MRI, because I’m forgetful and I have had knocks on the head.
“When I was getting tests I thought this is going to be something to do with rugby, but nothing showed up.
“Whatever, the chance is of getting it is minute, but it’s just the way it is.”