The unsung NHS hero in Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow's book Too Many Reasons to Live - Tom Richmond

Every Saturday.

Rob Burrow back at Headingley. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

ROB BURROW was already a hero to many in these parts, myself included, long before the rugby league legend was struck down with motor neurone disease – the condition that afflicted Professor Stephen Hawking and Scotland’s rugby union talisman Doddie Weir.

Yet the humility shown by Burrow, and his family, has been even more inspirational as they’ve come to terms with the devastating diagnosis.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It is epitomised by the cover of Burrow’s new autobiography, Too Many Reasons to Live, and a photo of the Leeds Rhinos icon lifting his right arm aloft at his beloved Headingley while holding his young son Jackson.

This is a story of raw courage – the smallest player in Super League becoming one of its greatest giants because of his unrivalled willpower.

This is a story of friendship – the support from former Rhinos team-mates, and the wider rugby league family, remains overwhelming.

But this is also a story of hope, after I opened the book, quite by chance, on the pages in which consultant neurologist Dr Agam Jung describes how she had to break the news to Burrow and prepare him for the worst.

And it is the care and compassion shown by this consultant neurologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust that has seen the NHS go up even further in my estimation, as well as the importance of research into motor neurone disease.

In a book of heroes, she’s the ultimate unsung hero as she describes the importance of getting the tone of the fateful appointment right to establish relationships.

“If that meeting doesn’t go well, it can be an uphill struggle,” she writes.

“When I first took over the service in 2011, I had half an hour to break the bad news. Now, I have an hour instead.”

She talks about the emotional toll it takes on her: “At the end of it, I need five minutes to gather my thoughts, because it takes its toll on me too.” Doctors are human, too, and those critical of the NHS should remember this.

She sets out what it is like to get to know patients at their most vulnerable: “It is the most emotive journey, the journey towards death. So to be part of that journey, and for Rob to tell me all the things he’s told me, is an honour.”

And, after reassuring Burrow that she’d being doing exactly the same if her younger brother had motor neurone disease, Dr Jung asks why somebody becomes a doctor.

“To help people during their worst times. And motor neurone disease is the worst of the worst,” she points out. “Accompanying motor neurone disease patients on that journey towards to death – helping them to accept it, making sure they feel supported, comfortable, and able to live their lives as fully as possible – has changed me as a person.

“I look at Rob, at his attitude and how his family and friends have come together to support him, and think ‘Wow’.”

And that is precisely what people should think of Dr Jung, the NHS and all those struggling to cure an incurable condition that is taking too many precious people before their time – the abiding lesson of a book like no other.

NOW to the absurd. Like many of you, driving round Leeds has been even more irksome of late thanks to Northern Gas Networks digging up so many roads simultaneously.

I understand why the gas mains need to be replaced. I also appreciate that summer is the best time to do so when people are away.

What I don’t get is the sheer volume of sites, the lack of urgency by workmen who say they’re short-staffed and can’t work overtime – and Leeds City Council’s lack of oversight.

The latest is temporary lights on the A65 just 30 metres or so from a four-way junction controlled by lights – and a complete lack of synchronisation between the two.

The result? Complete chaos as traffic is unable to pass between the two junctions without blocking the road for vehicles travelling in the opposite direction.

Local councillors say they’re near powerless and can only advise the gas company. I disagree. They’ll continue to take liberties unless LCC makes a stand. It is, after all, the highways authority.

IT perhaps wasn’t the best advertisement for the honours system when Sky Sports showed those knights of the realm Geoffrey Boycott and Gary Verity – remember him? – sitting next to each other at the Headingley Test on Wednesday.

They were in seating reserved for directors – and Verity is a former YCCC board member. The only discernible difference in appearance was his omnipresent yellow ‘Y’ badge was


Still, given it was one of his first public appearances since he left Welcome to Yorkshire in disgrace and the tourism body in financial freefall just over two years ago, he’s presumably now in a position to explain his actions to all those he let down. And, of course, all those taxpayers who are continuing to bailout WTY to ensure this county has a functioning tourism agency.

FINALLY, it is 50 years to the month since the one and only Harvey Smith flicked his very own ‘V for Victory’ sign after winning the British Showjumping Derby down at Hickstead after putting the sport’s leading figures in their place.

Wouldn’t it be just nice, at some point in the next half century, if we had a politician from Yorkshire with the guts to go south, take on the establishment against the odds and secure a famous triumph?

Failing that, we’ll need to build a statue of the great Harvey – who, I’m pleased to report, remains in fine fettle – performing his infamous two-fingered the direction of London.