Andrew Wallace’s mother, Eileen, was one of his greatest supporters - not just in his successful sporting career, but through all aspects of his life.
Her untimely death in 2015 as a result of Amyloidosis - the same illness that claimed the life of Martin McGuinness - devastated the entire family.
Andrew, who lives in Bridgend wanted to do “something big and a bit mental” to remember and honour his mother, while also raising awareness of the “little known” disease that claimed her life.
Next month, the father-of-two, (Aoibhinn (9) and Cianán (7)) will take part in ‘The Race,’ a physically and mentally gruelling event with a 250k course, that incorporates a 22k run, a 15k kayak, a 96k bike race, a 5k run/walk/scramble up Muckish Mountain followed by a 68k bike race and a 42k run.
TWO DAYS EVENT
The event takes place over two days - March 25 and 26 - and Andrew’s strong sporting background, as well as his experience competing in endurance events, will hopefully stand him in good stead.
The 46-years-old, who is married to Karen, is known to many across the North West from his long and successful time playing hurling and Gaelic for Burt and Donegal. His brothers were also talented on the pitch.
Eileen, alongside her husband Austin, were regular fixtures at each match through the years, watching on proudly from the sidelines.
Eileen’s death left Andrew heartbroken and he is dedicated to now raising awareness of Amyloidosis and to raising funding for research.
Eileen, who was originally from Quigley’s Point and moved to Bridgend when she married Austin, first became ill after she began to experience a swollen tongue and shortness of breath.
The diagnosis of Amyloidosis took quite some time, which Andrew said was “frustrating, given what we know now.” He told me how the diagnosis took so long as the hospitals ‘have no idea what they are looking for,’ which is why he wants to raise awareness of Amyloidosis.
Those who will have heard of the disease may have done so because of Martin McGuinness, but there are many local people who have passed away as a result of it. Others are currently living with it and strains of the disease has, of course, links to Donegal.
WHAT EXACTLY IS
But what is it? Andrew described it as a rare disease that occurs when a substance called Amyloid builds up in one’s organs.
He added: “Amyloid is an abnormal protein that is produced in the bone marrow and can be deposited in any tissue or organ. It affects different organs in different people and there are about 30 different strains of it.
“It affects the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system and digestive tract.”
It is also classified as a rare disease, so the medical field is still learning about it, which is why research, funding and awareness is so vitally important.
The Amyloidosis Foundation (www.amyloidosis.org) states that many experts suspect that some of the Amyloidosis diseases are not that rare - just rarely diagnosed.
They add: “As funding increases for research, our understanding of the Amyloid diseases will lead us in new directions.
“A major challenge is the current lack of early diagnosis for a patient with Amyloidosis. This is a key factor. Awareness of all the amyloidosis diseases by the medical community and by the general public is essential in order to turn this around.
“In the spectrum of Amyloid diseases, there is AL amyloidosis, the most common type; AA Amyloidosis, which occurs as a reaction to another illness; Hereditary Amyloidosis - one type of the systemic Amyloidosis diseases that are caused by inheriting a gene mutation and Wild-type ATTR - which is what Eileen was diagnosed with. This is not caused by any known genetic mutations. Congestive heart failure symptoms, and an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, are the most common signs of ‘wild type Amyloidosis’ as well as shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue or edema (swelling, especially in the legs), a swollen tongue and carpel tunnel syndrome.
There are also other forms of Amyloidoisis and information on these can be found on the Amyloid Foundation website. What they all have in common are : an overabundance of abnormal protein production
Andrew said that his mother was “very unfortunate to contract the disease, pointing out how, in America, with a population of 328 million people, only 4,000 cases are known.
Andrew said he “can’t stress enough how little known” Amyloidosis is.
Before his mother was diagnosed, he had “never heard of it.”
He said: “Never heard of it - same as anyone else I’ve spoken to. Unless it knocks on your door, I think this will be the same for most people, although that’s why I’m trying to raise some awareness. Most wo’nt bat an eyelid at it, but if I can help just one family, it will be a success.”
Andrew told how he’d been waiting “a few years now to raise funds” for it and in memory of his mum.
Andrew had been undertaking adventure races, “albeit on a smaller basis - between two and five hours races.” More recently, he’s completed some mountain races, which he “really enjoys.”
His first race was the Extreme North race in 2012 and since then, he has competed in some of the toughest adventure races in the country, including Shore2Summit in Westport.
As he was looking for something “big and a bit mental, The Race was a no brainer.”
Andrew began specifically training for the challenge in early November and “slowly added the hours as the weeks went on.”
He said: “I’m at my biggest load at moment 15-20 hours a week and using some time off work to get in big sessions also.”
While Andrew very much enjoys adventure racing, he’s approaching the race with some, quite understandable, trepidation.
He explained: “I can honestly say there’s no way I’m looking forward to this, training has been pure torture both physically and mentally and the race day will be ten times worse.
“The course might be 250k but no one knows about the relentless hills involved. I can’t wait to get it over with.”
But, he’s hoping it will all be worth it.
Andrew added: “Personally, all I want to do is finish and well within the cut off.
“But, if that’s not to be, then just to finish inside 24 hours is fine. I didn’t enter it for personal gain or gratification. I want to raise lots of money and awareness.”
Andrew has set up an online Go Fund Me fundraising page and would be grateful for any donation.
“Anything, no matter how small, will help,” he said.
He admitted that donations have been “disappointing so far,” which he thinks is because people don’t know what they’re donating to.
“Hopefully this will change once people read some information on it,” he maintained.
You can donate at www.gofundme.com/the-race-250k-24-hrs-amyloidosis
On the page, Andrew states: “Mum was such a great woman and was always there for me and supported me right up until she became ill. Now I feel it’s time to honour this great lady so please give what you can for this charity. It’s an unknown disease and needs more awareness hence this.
Lately I’ve heard of more and more people locally getting this. If we’d had more info on this we just might have got to spend a few more years with mum.”
He also has a Facebook page: Andrew Wallace “The Race” 250k 24 hours Amyloidosis Fundraiser.
A tea/coffee morning will also be held in O’ Flaherty’s Bar, Buncrana on Friday, March 1, between 10.00 am and 2.00 pm, with all proceeds going to the Amyloidosis Foundation.