Multiple sclerosis awareness week: Edinburgh seabird expert can no longer handle wild birds due to condition

An Edinburgh man with multiple sclerosis (MS) has spoken of the impact on his career after a survey revealed almost half of Scots with the condition have had to give up work because of it.

By Elsa Maishman
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 4:55 am

A survey of 719 people by the MS Trust found 79 per cent of Scottish respondents with MS reported an impact on their work or career, while 47 per cent said they had had to give up work or medically retire.

Some 42 per cent said they had lost income, while 32 per cent said their household costs had increased.

Rich Howells was diagnosed with MS in 2017, just a week before his wedding.

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Rich Howells was diagnosed with MS in 2017.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Portobello in Edinburgh, has found the condition has significantly impacted his life and career.

As a marine ornithologist he used to regularly travel to remote Scottish islands and coastlines to catch wild birds, tagging them for observation before releasing them again.

But his symptoms include clumsiness, making travel to these areas more difficult and dangerous.

He has also begun an aggressive new treatment, which results in him being immunosuppressed. This means he would be unable to fight off any diseases carried by the wild birds.

“It’s had a huge impact,” he said of his condition.

"I studied ecology at university because from a young age I’ve been interested in birds. My father was a bird ringer before me and because of that I became a bird ringer.”

Mr Howells added: “It's how we understand bird populations, and that really is my passion, my life, and the reason that I dedicated my career to studying for a degree and then a PhD. But actually I can no longer do that because it's too much of a risk to me.”

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Mr Howells also experiences pain, numbness and tingling from his MS, as well as cognitive difficulties.

He is aware his symptoms will get worse with time, so has moved into a ground floor flat.

Mr Howells is also considering having children earlier than he would otherwise have done, so he would be able-bodied for more of their lives.

"I want to make the most of life while I still can,” he said.

Despite the impact on his life, Mr Howells is determined to remain positive and urges others with the condition to do the same.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t do things, you just do them differently,” he said.

MS Trust chief executive David Martin said the right support could make a huge difference to people with MS.

“At the MS Trust we hear everyday about the effect the symptoms of MS can have on people and we can’t underestimate the impact that these have on all aspects of a person’s life,” he said.

"We hear directly from the thousands of people who contact us each year about the difference that can be made to lives by having the correct care and adjustments in place.

"Making sure the right support is available for every person living with MS is vital. Sometimes simple adjustments or an expert’s advice can make the world of difference to a person feeling unable to cope.”