By Melissa Sheil
PAST and present members of La Salle College joined forces to support former teacher Ben Reilly at last month’s Walk to D’Feet motor neurone disease fundraiser.
Now in its 15th year, the Motor Neurone Disease Association WA (MNDAWA) event saw a record turnout with 1300 people walking 5km around the Swan River to raise money to help find a cure for MND.
More than one hundred of those were friends, family and former La Salle College colleagues and students from Team Reilly, supporting Mr Reilly who was diagnosed with the disease in February at age 37.
Mr Reilly first recognised symptoms when he began struggling to speak in late-2019.
In a matter of months he was unable to communicate at all and now needs a wheelchair.
He said the experience had left him feeling helpless.
“I couldn’t fathom a worse disease,” he said.
“There’s no cure to MND yet because we haven’t done enough research and we simply don’t know enough about it.”
MNDAWA fundraising manager Sarah Wiley said MND was a complicated disease that affected every person differently.
“Ultimately, MND robs someone of the ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe in the span of around 27 months,” she said.
“Our job is really in funding the emotional and physical support and helping the person enjoy the remaining quality of life they have left.”
MNDAWA provides members with wheelchairs, breathing machines and counsellors for the diagnosed person, and later, grief counsellors for families.
“As well as hands on practical help, we aim to provide awareness of this disease that no one seems to know about,” Ms Wiley said.
“That’s why the [Walk to D’Feet] is a very visual mass event that makes a statement to the public – it’s only a 5km walk but to someone with MND that’s almost impossible without a wheelchair.
“Though we only have 184 people diagnosed with MND in WA, the huge amount of people at the event shows how much the disease effects the people around the person.”
Mr Reilly’s wife Emma says her husband has been a pillar of strength for herself and their three sons throughout the process.
“Ben’s positivity and drive to raise awareness has been so inspiring to so many people and I’m so proud of all that he has done, despite the constant changes he faces,” she said.
“He has been such an amazing role model for our boys.”
Though his diagnosis forced him into an early retirement, Mr Reilly hasn’t stopped educating, documenting his daily struggles via YouTube.
“My goal was initially to raise awareness to the general public, raise funds for the research, and raise hope for other sufferers but what it’s done on top of that, is given me an outlet to express myself – a kind of therapy almost,” he said.
Mr Reilly’s videos earned him the Eleonor Mounsher award from MNDAWA, a recognition of outstanding commitment to educating the community on the disease.
Mr Reilly said the public’s support had been overwhelming.
“The financial support I’ve received is wonderful, but seeing so many people at [Walk to D’Feet] and knowing they have worked so hard to raise funds means the world.
“This disease often causes me to feel isolated and alone but that day reminded me that I’m never walking by myself.”
Donations can be made to Ben Reilly’s GoFundMe page.