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Charity worker praises Anto for 'giving a voice' to sufferers of MND

SeanĂ­n Graham Health Correspondent s.graham@irishnews.com
CHARITY worker who lost his 48-year-old wife to motor neurone dis-ease has paid tribute to Anto Finnegan for 'giving a voice' to sufferers of the devastating disease.

Stephen Thompson , right, chairman of the Northern Ireland branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, described the former Antrim GAA captain's openness in talking about his diagnosis as "exceptional".

Sitting outside the Kingspan Stadium, as he prepared to collect tickets ahead of Saturday night's game, Mr Thomspon said a new level of awareness about the incurable illness had been raised by the west Belfast man.

Since the death of his wife Jennifer 18 years ago the Ballyclare father-of-two has been actively involved with the charity, which provides support to patients and their families.

"Due to the nature of this disease and how it affects your speech and physical abilities, many of those affected tend to be embarrassed about speaking in public - but Anto Finnegan is different," he said.

"By being prepared to show his face and talk openly, Anto is giving people with motor neurone the confidence to enjoy what's left of their lives. We really want to express our gratitude to him for that.

"Twenty years ago, there was very little known about this disease. In the past two years, with the Ice Bucket Challenge and now Anto's work, all that is changed and millions of pounds have been raised for research. More importantly, a huge amount of awareness has been raised."

There are presently around 120 people in Northern Ireland living with the muscle-wasting condition.

Because it is so difficult to detect, almost half of those diagnosed die within 14 months of being told they have the disease - so a quick and accurate diagnosis is vital.

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