'It's devastating news' - My Name'5 Doddie stalwart Jill Douglas reacts to English rugby star being diagnosed with motor neurone disease

As fundraising continues to help motor neurone disease sufferers as part of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation named after Melrose and Scotland rugby legend Doddie Weir who has the incurable condition, local TV presenter Jill Douglas has reacted to news that another rugby star has been diagnosed with the terminal illness.

By Craig Goldthorp
Friday, 22nd July 2022, 12:35 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd July 2022, 12:35 pm
Hawick Belles appeared to be loving life during Doddie Cycle
Hawick Belles appeared to be loving life during Doddie Cycle

The sport has been rocked to hear that Gloucester player Ed Slater has retired immediately after being diagnosed with MND at the age of just 33.

Douglas, head of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation which staged a fundraising charity bike ride starting and finishing at Melrose Rugby Club on July 17, said: “It’s devastating news. It took us back to when Doddie had his diagnosis, obviously a really close friend of ours.

"To see Ed and his lovely family trying to process this and share it with the club and with their family and friends, it’s been very, very tough.

Jill Douglas with Doddie Weir (Pic by My Name'5 Doddie Foundation)

"He’s an amazing young man, very stoic, very similar in some regards to Doddie in that he is a larger than life character, a big strong rugby fellow.

"But also very aware of the impact that he might be able to have going forward.

"He obviously has to process and deal with his diagnosis himself with his family. But also wants to do what he can to shine a light on this most awful disease and raise awareness and do what he can to help other people who share that diagnosis.”

Former Southern Reporter journalist Douglas, who was speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, was asked if there was a direct link between playing rugby and getting motor neurone disease.

She added: “There is no firm evidence that rugby, head trauma and concussion is a cause of motor neurone disease.

"There is some research being undertaken at the moment which looks at maybe strenuous levels of physical activity could be a risk factor for MND when it’s combined with specific genetic risk factors.

"But again, further research needs to be done. While we think: ‘Gosh that’s another rugby player being diagnosed’, if you think that we have a one in 300 chance of being given the diagnosis of MND in our lifetime, well there’s a lot of rugby players out there.

"Those are the hard statistics. People are being diagnosed every day.

“Eleven hundred people in the UK will receive this diagnosis this year but of course not all of them have high profile, professional careers in sport.

"As a result that’s why we know about the ones who are our sportsmen and women, rather than people in our society who get this terrible diagnosis every day.

"But it’s unusual for aomebody as young as Ed to be diagnosed. Most people tend to be diagnosed when they’re over-50.

"At 33 it’s really, really difficult to process that.”

Douglas said that – in the search for treatments for MND – the research community could be “on the cusp of something”.

"If not a cure perhaps something that could slow the disease down and give people a better quality of life,” she added.

"There is amazing work being done across the country. In this country we have some of the best in the world at what they do.

"We need to give them further funds. We need to keep trying to accelerate that breakthrough.

"One of the most awful things is when you’re given the diagnosis there is no hope, you’re just basically told to go and prepare for your death and I think that’s a really hard message.

"Whereas Doddie has always said, let’s try and give people a little bit of hope.

"It just seems ridiculous in this day and age that there is no treatment, there is no drug.

"But what there is are platform clinical trials which I think does give people a chance to be part of something that will hopefully one day lead to a meaningful treatment.”

Further money for My Name’5 Doddie was raised at the aforementioned cycle from Melrose and back, which was organised by Ride of the Legends – run by former England international Peter Winterbottom – and participated in by around 500 riders.

There was a choice of cycling either 22 miles, 60 miles or 93 miles, with the vast majority choosing to ride 60 miles, around 100 doing 93 miles and roughly 50 choosing the 20-mile option.