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21 October 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
A new chapter was unfolding for Emma Hitchcock when her health started to decline.
The former Ararat resident, her partner Simon Eason and their five daughters and son had just moved into their ‘dream home’ at Beaufort when they received unbearable news.
Emma, 45, was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne in May with compromised mobility – her leg muscles were weakening.
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She was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, MND.
“The first signs of my illness were limping and I was catching my legs on uneven surfaces,” Emma said.
“This progressively got worse. I started developing a noticeable limp.”
The diagnosis came as a shock.
Emma said before the diagnosis she had led an active lifestyle, having owned a clothing shop in Ararat’s main street for many years before moving on to Hopkins Correctional Centre where she worked until her health deteriorated.
“My reaction was total shock and disbelief. I’ve always been active,” she said.
“I thought how can this be happening? My family and support network were all devastated and shocked by the diagnosis.”
Although the thought of losing her mobility was hard to come to terms with, family, friends and the Ararat community have given Emma a big reason to push on.
More than 250 people across Ararat district and beyond have helped in her fight against the life-threatening condition.
Ararat resident and former co-worker
Shane McFarlane started a GoFundMe page shortly after Emma was diagnosed.
Within 48 hours of being live, the campaign reached the halfway point of its target. And after three months, residents, businesses, friends and family helped raise more than $30,000 to go towards a hydrotherapy spa.
Emma said she was overwhelmed by the community’s support.
“I have received tremendous support, both monetary and otherwise,” she said.
“I cannot thank all who have donated money, food, support and well- wishes enough.
“The generosity of people in these trying times is truly humbling.
“It is in times like these true community spirit shines through and true local strength becomes evident.”
Emma said hydrotherapy was her best bet to salvage any quality of life as she fights to retain muscle strength in her legs.
But she said the road ahead was still unclear.
Life expectancy after an MND diagnosis is one to five years, with only 10 percent of people living past 10 years.
The needs of people with the condition vary from person to person and can be complex.
Some people begin to stumble or fall and cannot hold objects in their hands easily.
MND can also affect the throat and tongue muscles. Some people with MND begin to slur their speech or struggle to swallow.
In most cases, the disease eventually leads to widespread muscle wasting and weakness. The cause of MND remains a mystery to researchers and there is no known cure.
Months of uncertainty followed Emma’s diagnosis.
She found it increasingly difficult to walk or even stand.
“I become easily fatigued moving around. Attending appointments I require a walking aid,” Emma said.
“I’m no longer able to do the things I have always done, whether that’s cleaning, exercising, going out for coffee or shopping. I need someone with me at all times in case I fall.”
Despite an uphill battle, Emma said her family and friends were a major factor in her life, giving her the determination to stay strong.
“The support and love of my family and friends drives me to fight with all of my might and live my life as best I can,” she said.
“I am exploring all potential medical trials in hope of helping to find a cure.”
Emma has three daughters and a son, while Simon has two daughters.
The family lives together at their newly built house at Beaufort, with Simon travelling to work at Ararat’s Hopkins prison, where he originally met Emma.
Simon said it was a hard reality when the news hit.
“It was definitely a shock. You can only hope the doctors are wrong because they can’t figure out what the problem is. That was my hope,” he said.
“The cruel part about MND is, you’re still quick-witted and smart in the mind, but your body just becomes unable to act out what your brain is telling it to.”
Emotional roller coaster
Simon said the uncertainty around Emma’s condition was like an ‘emotional roller coaster’ for the whole family.
“The doctors can’t tell us much at this stage,” he said.
“No one can say if it’s going to be 12 months or 20 years – that’s the difficult part. Some days you attack it head on and think, we’ve turned the corner and we’ll definitely beat it. Then it could even be only two hours later that you become exhausted and the reality of it confronts you again and takes the wind out of your sails.”
However, in the face of improbability, the family has stuck together.
“This has definitely strengthened a bond between all siblings,” Simon said.
“Your whole world closes in and suddenly trivial matters just become insignificant compared with something like this. But it has been really strengthening for the family group.
“Luckily the kids are all fairly outgoing and have other things to stay focused on. But it does get them down at times, they’ve all got really good support networks and we try to keep the best eye on them that we can.
“I feel very lucky to be able to share my life, my children and family’s life with Emma. I feel very privileged to have met her.”
Simon said he was overwhelmed with the community’s support, especially during the socio-economic circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the times we’re in, fundraising is bloody difficult,” he said.
“That was a terrific outcome we were able to purchase the spa. That was the original goal with it, so we achieved the goal and then some. That just speaks volumes of the character of person Emma is. She is a very caring, genuine and enthusiastic person. She would do anything for anyone.
“She just sees the good in every possible situation. People wouldn’t be that generous in difficult times if they didn’t feel it was a worthy cause.”
Shane said it was inspiring to see so many people get behind the campaign he organised.
“It came as a shock to everyone when Emma was diagnosed. She is known to a lot of people,” he said.
Shane thanked the community for supporting the campaign.
“It makes you proud to think what the community has done to help out someone who is going through a tough time,” he said.
The entire October 21, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!