Eight years of MS symptoms before scan revealed truth

SALESMAN Bill Tucker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2011 – but his first symptoms appeared many years earlier.

He began suffering from numbness in his right leg in 2003 which eased after physiotherapy.

As a keen walker and golfer, it was a relief. But when he began stumbling and falling around three years ago, he realised there was a further problem.

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He had developed foot drop syndrome in his right leg – instead of landing on his foot, he was stepping on his toes.

“I was tripping over in the street and on the stairs for no apparent reason,” he said.

“I found myself telling people ‘it happens all the time’ but then I thought it shouldn’t be happening all the time.”

A full body MRI scan was ordered by his neurologist Helen Ford which revealed he was suffering from MS.

“I knew something was wrong. But when I was sitting outside Dr Ford’s surgery, I was thumbing through leaflets knowing that something was up and was kind of hoping it was MS as opposed to other neurological illnesses.

“It wasn’t a major surprise – it was a relief that it was MS and not something more serious like Parkinson’s or motor neurone disease.”

He now uses a stick when he needs to walk any distance or over uneven ground. Other symptoms include worsening balance and particularly fatigue.

“I still work and can fight it off during the day but it means I’m early to bed,” said Mr Tucker, 59, of Oakwood, Leeds.

Dr Ford, who is based at Leeds General Infirmary, said there were many unanswered questions about MS including difficulties making an effective early diagnosis, or making predictions about the course of the illness, which affects around 100,000 people in the UK.

For the majority who go on to suffer progressive illness, there is no treatment to alter the course of the condition.

The illness affects more women than men, often striking people in their late 20s and early 30s. “It’s devastating to develop it at that time of your life”, said Dr Ford. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and it’s an awful lot to live with. People lose their jobs, livelihoods, there’s a lot of marital breakdown, people become isolated, have difficulties walking, have to walk with a stick, with two sticks and become wheelchair users.”

Priorities for the proposed centre of research excellence in Leeds include examining how to stop the degeneration of nerve cells in the illness and analysis of why patients suffer relapses.

Another focus of research is likely to be the Asians in Bradford who originate from Mirpur in Pakistan where MS is rare, but who are now becoming more likely to be sufferers. Discovering why could be an important clue as to what causes the disease.

Mr Tucker is not taking drugs and is not in pain, which is unusual for MS, but knows his condition will deteriorate.

“It does affect people in different ways and there are a whole bunch of people a lot worse off than me,” he said. “The way I look at it is the future is in a box and when I get there I’ll open it and deal with it then. At the moment I make the best of every day. Any kind of research is bound to have some affect on finding a cure or a means of preventing MS and hopefully other neurological diseases.”