Former rugby player from Yorkshire diagnosed with MND discovers symptoms were caused by statin pills

A Yorkshire man told he was going to die after being diagnosed with a terminal illness later discovered his symptoms had been caused by his prescribed statin pills.

Paul Gill, 65, brought his wedding forward and was given the choice of dying at home or in a hospice after being told he had Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in June last year. The former rugby league player was resigned to suffering a fate similar to fellow ex-Leeds Rhinos star Rob Burrow, who has been left wheelchair-bound by the condition.

There is currently no cure for MND, which affects the nerves and brain and slowly robs patients of the ability to walk, talk and eat. But following six months of extensive therapy and life-prolonging treatment, Paul was shocked to find that his health had actually started to improve.

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On January 25, he learned he actually had statin-induced myopathy - caused by his nightly 40mg cholesterol tablet - which he stopped taking after his MND diagnosis.

Paul with his finace Christine Metcalfe, 55.Paul with his finace Christine Metcalfe, 55.
Paul with his finace Christine Metcalfe, 55.

The grandfather-of-one, who had expected to die in agony but could now make a full recovery, said: "I'm just in shock. It's a wonderful feeling, an incredible feeling. I feel like I've had a death sentence and I've been let off - like I've come off death row.

"A couple of my good pals that I played with at Clayton Rugby Club, unfortunately, they had MND - and I thought of Rob Burrow straight away. But the big key decision I made - which I didn't realise at the time was going to be absolutely massive - was I stopped taking my Statins when I got diagnosed.

"The consultant told me when I went back on January 25 that was probably the best decision I'd ever made. They were actually impacting my muscles.I'm still speechless, and it's just a miracle."

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Paul, who played 47 times for the Headingley club in the 1980s, began to feel unwell at the start of last year when he struggled to climb steps. He chose to get checked out by doctors in February after a holiday to Lanzarote where he failed to walk around 300 yards along the promenade at Playa Blanca.

Paul (centre, holding cup), with teammates days after winning the Alliance Cup in the late 1980s.Paul (centre, holding cup), with teammates days after winning the Alliance Cup in the late 1980s.
Paul (centre, holding cup), with teammates days after winning the Alliance Cup in the late 1980s.

Back home in Bradford, he underwent a series of examinations in hospital, where he was given MRI and CT scans as well as dozens of blood tests. In just a couple of months, the former water billing and collection manager lost four stone in weight and was left wheelchair-bound with the mystery illness.

Following a test to measure his muscle's response to electronic pulses, he got the news that he had MND on June 18 at an appointment accompanied by his fiancee Christine Metcalfe, 55.

Paul said of the diagnosis: "I was absolutely gobsmacked. It was easily the worst day of my life. We were both absolutely on the floor, basically. I can remember the day as the darkest day for us both.

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"I don't think I've ever been as low in my life. Of course, I thought, 'Well, what happens now?' I thought 'It's just all downhill I'd imagine.'"

Paul was immediately referred to an MND support team in Bradford who he said provided "magnificent" care to him over the next few months. He even received a call rugby league legend from Kevin Sinfield - who has raised over £8m for people affected by MND - to share his commiserations at the news.

Paul said: "He rang me out of the blue to say 'How are you?' He heard that I got it. He just rang up to say, 'Oh god, you've got MND - another rugby player.'"

However, by October last year, he bizarrely began to witness subtle improvements in his mobility and strength. These positive developments didn't line up with the normal rapid health decline of people who have MND.

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Paul said: "I'd been losing literally half a stone a week. But I suddenly started putting some weight back on. I started feeling, 'Gosh, I feel a bit stronger, a bit more mobile,' and I could do more stuff. I was just thinking, 'I've slowed the process down,' if you know what I mean."

Paul said he went to his GP at the beginning of January this year who had asked point blank: "Where would you want to end it? At home or in a hospice?"

Baffled Paul confided in him that he was actually feeling much better, and after speaking with his MND support team, he was invited to be retested.

On January 25, his stunned consultant revealed the news he didn't have the fatal disease after all.

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Instead, his health woes resulted from statin-induced myopathy, which causes muscle weakness among some patients who take the drug. An estimated 8m people take statins in the UK, and Paul took the branded Atorvastatin around six years ago before coming off it. Two years prior to his MND diagnosis, his doctor gave him a new prescription which it's thought led to the condition.

Although Christine had asked consultants at the time if his symptoms could be linked to the medicine, she said they had dismissed this suggestion.

Christine said on hearing the news: "We were so shocked when they said he didn't have it. We're still getting our heads around it. It is absolutely fantastic news. It was absolutely brilliant to hear. But it takes a bit of time to get used to.

"That week we had been to a funeral, and Paul was sitting there thinking, 'Which song do I want to have at mine?' Then a couple of days later we got told, 'He's not dying.'"

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Paul is now able to walk around 100m (110 yards) without assistance, and doctors have even said he may make a full recovery or get very close to full fitness.

He said: "The consultant said with this Statin-induced myopathy, you may get back to 100 per cent, but what's against me is that I'm 65. If I get back to 80 per cent, I'd be over the moon. It's just so much easier to stomach."

The father got engaged to Christine, his partner of 17 years, a few years ago and they had rapidly arranged a wedding for February following his MND diagnosis. He now says the previously sombre occasion would be cause for a huge celebration.

He said: "We've got rid of that MND cloud, and we'll have the greatest day ever."

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Paul helped raise £12,700 for sufferers and research following his MND diagnosis, and he plans to continue collecting cash, just like Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow.

He said about the two ex-players: "They are just amazing, utterly amazing - for how they have lifted the profile of MND and how much they have raised."

Myopathy, or muscle weakness, is a rare side effect of taking Statins, a drug that can help lower the level of cholesterol in the blood. However, it is often reversible after withdrawing the drug and most sufferers report recovery occurring within 2-3 months.

A spokesperson for Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "We strive to deliver the best possible care and treatment to all our patients. We are pleased that Paul is doing well but if he had any concerns about his care, we would ask him to raise these with us."

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