‘The best experience of my life’ – Woman, 60, with motor neuron disease raised €20,000 for charity by walking the Camino trail

A BRAVE Irish woman living with MND (Motorneurone Disease) walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain raising €20,000 for charity.

Alerie O’Carroll (60) was first diagnosed with the disease on October 9, 2019. “A date I will never forget,” she recalls of the diagnosis.

She was due to leave on the pilgrimage with 14 of her friends and family in May 2020, but the pandemic saw her plans canceled three times before finally setting out in May this year.

MND affects how people walk, talk, eat and breathe, but every case is different. Scientists have yet to find a cure for the condition, with a life expectancy of three to five years after outbreak. Many people with MND can lose their voice.

Ms O’Carroll said it has been difficult to come to terms with her illness.

she said Independent.ie: “It’s something you don’t forget even for a minute because it’s always there. It’s clear what’s going on in my head, but when I say it, it comes out slowly and, in my opinion, terribly.

“I don’t think I’m bad enough to use an intercom yet, but it’s always there, you never forget you have it.”

According to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA), around 140 people are diagnosed with the disease in Ireland each year.

“The IMNDA is a lifeline for everyone with this disease,” says Ms. O’Carroll. “They are always there when you need them.

“I received counseling, holistic therapies and a lot of support from her nurses.”

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Valerie O’Carroll was accompanied on the Camino de Santiago in Spain by 11 of her friends, her two daughters and her sister-in-law

Ms. O’Carroll worked as a manager at the Ballymun Child & Family Resource Center until her retirement in 2021.

Since diagnosis, she says her condition has progressed, affecting her speech and energy. However, she says: “Other than that, I’m doing very well. I try to stay as positive as possible.

“My voice has become very slow, especially in the last year. Fatigue is one thing that’s really bad.

“I find that I get tired very easily and that makes my speech worse. I have to lie down during the day and I could be in bed very early in the evening.”

After hearing the news of her diagnosis, her friend and colleague Louise Smyth asked her if there was anything she would really like to do.

“I said the Camino de Santiago without hesitation, but I really thought I couldn’t do it.

“We told a few more people who decided to do it with us. The momentum built up. My two daughters, Orla and Siobhan, were up for it too.”

A total of 14 women joined Mrs O’Carroll on the Camino de Santiago, including 11 of her Irish friends, her two daughters and her sister-in-law.

Planning for the trip began in 2020 when the resource center that Ms. O’Carroll worked for set up an iDonate page and began raising funds for the Research Motor Neurone (RMN) charity.

“I decided to raise funds for RMN because I had great faith in Professor Orla Hardiman and I felt this was a very good cause. I also started an experimental drug in February 2020. So I was very interested in finding a cure for this debilitating disease.”

The 15 women, who call themselves Valerie’s Warriors, scheduled the expedition in May 2020 and printed different colored T-shirts with the words “Walk With Me for MND” for each day of the journey.

Ms O’Carroll was the only one in the group to be diagnosed with MND.

“These 14 women were really my warriors, every single one of them was absolutely amazing,” she says.

The pandemic canceled her plans and cast a black cloud over Ms O’Carroll’s hopes that she could complete the trip.

“The longer it took, the more convinced I was that I wasn’t going to do it,” she recalls.

The trip was pushed back to September 2020 and again to May 2021 when they finally decided to give it a year and leave for Spain in May 2022.

“May 2022 came and I was so looking forward to it, even though I was nervous about it. We set out on May 16th for seven amazing days. It was the best experience of my life.

“Although I’m not religious, I found it to be a very spiritual experience. Two and a half years in the planning and we made it. We raised €20,000.”

In preparation, Ms O’Carroll took an hour’s walk each day in her local park, but admitted neither of them were “really prepared for the 70 miles”. They walked the last leg of the route from Sarria to Santiago for five days in a row, ending in Santiago de Compostela.

Ms O’Carroll is now preparing to deliver the check to RMN on July 20th outside the Ballymun Child & Family Resource Center where this whole journey began.

“We really hope the local community will be there because without them we wouldn’t have gotten far from our goal,” she said.

https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/the-best-experience-of-my-life-woman-60-with-motor-neurone-disease-raised-20000-for-charity-by-walking-camino-trail-41831155.html ‘The best experience of my life’ – Woman, 60, with motor neuron disease raised €20,000 for charity by walking the Camino trail

Fry Electronics Team

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