Leeds Rhino star shares Motor Neurone Disease fight in BBC documentary

Rugby star Rob Burrow, 38, reveals the devastating toll Motor Neurone Disease is taking on his body less than a year after diagnosis, saying: ‘First it comes for your voice, then your legs’

  •  Ex Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain scrum-half Rob Burrow, 38, was diagnosed with MND last Christmas – and his deterioration has been rapid
  • In a new BBC documenatary Burrow and his wife Lindsey, who share three young children, reveal how she’s become his full-time carer in recent months 
  •  He tells BBC Two show, airing tonight at 7pm, that disease can’t ‘sap his spirit’

A moving new BBC2 documentary, which airs tonight, reveals the devastating impact Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is having on former Leeds Rhino rugby star Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with the disease in December 2019.

The rugby legend, a scrum-half who also represented Great Britain, has seen a rapid deterioration in his health – including weight loss and poor speech – in recent months.

The 30-minute programme follows his progress during the pandemic, showing how MND has dramatically affected life with his wife of 20 years, Lyndsey, and their three young children, Macy, nine, Maya, five, and Jackson, two.

The documentary Rob Burrow: My Year With MND, presented by Sally Nugent, sees interviews with his former teammates and his parents, including his father who says he’s questioned ‘Is it our fault he played rugby?’ and his mother, who says she ‘blamed’ the sport after her son’s shock diagnosis.  

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Burrow playing during a testimonial for Leeds Rhinos in January 2020, pictured with his children Macy, far left, Jackson, centre, and Maya, far right, at Emerald Headingley Stadium, Yorkshire

The documentary charts Burrow’s deterioration since his diagnosis including weight loss and poor speech; the former Leeds Rhino hooker says MND ‘can’t sap his spirit’

Burrow’s wife of 20 years and mother to his three young children, Lindsey says she’s now her husband’s carer in the 30-minute documentary

Fans have raised nearly £350,000 to ensure that Rob, Lindsey and their family have security going forward

In the emotional programme, which airs tonight, Burrow, 38, describes how MND has taken over his body, saying: ‘First it comes for your voice, then it takes your legs’. 

He adds that while his body is being diminished by the illness, a degenerative condition which affects how nerves in the brain and spinal cord work, it won’t ‘sap his spirit’ and says: ‘My mind is so strong and positive’.  

Burrow, who was often the smallest man on the pitch but could outrun much bigger oppoonents during his 17 seasons with Leeds Rhino, was first diagnosed following problems with his speech last year and doctors initially put down his slurring to a viral infection.

At the time, he said: ‘I was expecting to go and get medication and get on with life.’ 

Burrow believes the first warning sign was there last September, when his former captain Kevin Sinfield approached him at the Rhinos’ end-of-season awards night. ‘I was giving the Academy Player of the Year award and I got up on stage and the word I struggled with was ‘consistency’. 

Now needing full-time care, Burrow is seen enjoying a day out in Yorkshire this summer with his two youngest children, Jackson, left, and Maya

‘Kev came up and said, “Are you all right? Have you been drinking?” I said, “No, what are you on about?” I hadn’t even realised at the time that I’d slurred the word.’

It was a similar story two months later when Burrow was moving house. ‘The word I couldn’t say then was ‘solicitor’. That’s when I thought something was up, but I thought it might just be stress or anxiety from moving, or the long-term use of painkillers for my shoulder injury.’

He began to do his own research and read about MND. But after the club took him to hospital for testing, the eight-time Super League winner was told by his doctor to ignore his self-diagnosis.

‘The doctor said, “Why are you saying that? We are not testing for that”. They thought I might have something called myasthenia gravis, which can be treated. Then I got my MRI scan back, which was fine, so I thought I was home and dry. I thought it might be something like an infection.’

Burrow retired from playing in 2017 and was just two years into a coaching role when he was diagnosed with the illness

Just before Christmas last year, he and Lindsey gathered their three children – Macy, then eight, Maya, then four, and then one-year-old Jackson – at home to tell them the news. ‘The kids were running around and we had to say, “Sit down, we want to tell you something”.

‘We told them loosely, “Daddy is poorly”. We didn’t name what it was, apart from saying there’s no cure.

‘And Maya just said, “What are you telling us that for? That’s boring”. That was just perfect. I thought telling them would be the hardest thing to do, but when Maya said that, it lightened the mood.’

Fans have raised nearly £350,000 to ensure that Rob, Lindsey and their family have security going forward since the scrum-half revealed he had the illness. 

Donations can be made here: www.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/robburrow

Rob Burrow: My Year With MND, airs on BBC2 tonight at 7pm

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