Couple both diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease

Liz McBain, 74, and husband Bill, 78. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Liz McBain, 74, and husband Bill, 78. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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ELTON John’s guitarist is helping out a fundraising event in the Capital after his sister and her partner were both diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Liz McBain has been living with the debilitating and incurable disease for almost two decades, thanks to the support of devoted husband Bill.

Then the unthinkable happened when 78-year-old Bill discovered that he too had the condition, a scenario so rare that the McBains know of just one other couple in the same position.

The Craigleith couple now face an uncertain future but they have strong support from family members, including Mrs McBain’s brother, Davey Johnstone – an Edinburgh-born musician known for his work with pop legend Sir Elton.

He has already auctioned off a guitar – signed by himself, Sir Elton, percussionist Ray Cooper and rock drummer Nigel Olsson – to raise £16,000 for Parkinson’s UK.

Liz, 74, a former teacher at Ferryhill Primary, who had come to rely on her husband of 53 years, admitted that the news of her husband’s illness had come as a huge blow.

She said: “It’s quite hard and I realise now how much he must have been doing for me.

“I never thought we would be in this position. When I was diagnosed it was a shock.

“It shouldn’t be a shock now he too has been diagnosed but it is.

“We are very close as a couple and he’s got very involved as I have got less able. He is my right-hand man.

“But I have said so often that there is a lot of life after diagnosis, and that’s what we have tried to prove by keeping going. The worst thing you can do is capitulate.”

The couple, both Hibs supporters, share many interests including swimming, exercise classes, indoor bowling and a painting group.

They have raised thousands of pounds for Parkinson’s UK over the past 15 years and will take part in the charity’s Moveable Feast fundraiser in Edinburgh.

Bill, 78, who worked for Miller Group, said he had helped Liz start up the various activities that the charity’s Edinburgh branch does now. He added: “We have got to know a lot of wonderful people, many of them with various forms of the condition, but I didn’t expect to get it myself.”

Bill has some symptoms, including the so-called “Parkinsonian gait”, characterised by small shuffling steps and a slowness of movement.

Dr Simon Thompson, associate professor of clinical psychology and neuropsychology at Bournemouth University, said he had never encountered a case where a married couple had both been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but stressed that sharing the same condition might bring them even closer together.

He said: “I’m sure it’s not unheard of but it is rare and this does make it a bit more challenging and unusual.

“Psychologically, one of them could go downhill quickly if they both feel the situation is very grave. But I would suggest it is more likely that they will be able to help each other through it and support one another, particularly when one of the sufferers has had it for a long time and they both know what to expect.”