When Russell Fort first heard his grandmother was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2009, he turned to his computer and googled MND.
He had never heard of the disease; not even his family members knew what the initials meant. When he finally comprehended what his grandmother’s diagnosis meant and the doctors said she would never recover, his heart froze.
“I still remember when I was told and going to see her in hospital,” he recalled. “She was just visiting a friend for coffee and she started to slur her words a little bit so her friend took her to hospital.
“She was in the hospital for two to three days before she was diagnosed with MND. The doctors said it was quite aggressive and she wouldn’t last very long. I still remember googling MND to find out what it was.
“To see my grandmother go through MND for two years and slowly getting worse, the hardest thing was knowing that nothing could be done,” he said through tears.
His grandmother’s condition steadily got worse as the horrible and debilitating disease gradually took away the use of her arms and legs, her ability to eat and swallow and ultimately her ability to breath before she passed away in 2011.
He still has vivid memories of his grandfather, who stopped working so he could look after his wife, spoonfeeding pureed food to her. When her ability to talk was taken away, his loving grandfather bought her an iPad so she could still correspond with her family.
“Because MND slowly shuts down all your systems, she lost her ability to touch, she wasn’t able to talk and wasn’t able to eat,” he shared. “Watching my grandfather feeding her puree food, I sat there and thought why is this happening to good people?
“She was the glue that kept our family together.”
Riding on the success of the AFL’s Big Freeze at the MCG, AFL Canberra hosted its own round dedicated to showing their support in the fight against motor neurone disease with its inaugural SockIT2MND round last weekend.
AFL Canberra senior competitions turned into a sea of blue in support of FightMND and the Sockit2MND Round, as all first-grade men and women’s teams donned specially designed Sockit2MND socks and beanies.
As he still grieves the loss of his grandmother eight years ago, Russell lives his life as a legacy to her, through his role as a new father and as a player and coach at Woden Blues football club.
“I live my life in a way that she would want it,” he said. “She had high expectations and always wanted us to succeed and be a good family. I have a young daughter now who is only nine months old.
“Obviously with Neale Daniher and his work with MND, it has become a disease that everybody knows about and has heard about at least and it is fantastic that AFL Canberra has jumped on board.
“All our players at Woden Blues have bought a beanie and hopefully next year, we will have specially designed jerseys to raise awareness for MND. This is something we want to own and take pride in, in any avenue we can.”
Last week, Russell surprised his dad with an MND beanie and told him about what his club was doing to help fight the disease. His father burst into tears, overcome with emotion.
“This is what this round means to my family,” Russell said.