‘I will continue to use my voice in the time I have left': Charlie Bird opens up after motor neurone disease diagnosis 

Motor neurone disease is an uncommon condition that mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s and has five early signs to be aware of
‘I will continue to use my voice in the time I have left': Charlie Bird opens up after motor neurone disease diagnosis 

Charlie Bird had recently shared he had turned down multiple interview requests of late due to speech issues.

Broadcaster Charlie Bird has revealed he spent months “hiding from everybody” before he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) in recent days after experiencing issues with his speech.

The former RTÉ broadcaster said he first suspected an issue with his health when he experienced a coughing fit while on a walk with his family some months ago.

“I’ll never forget the first issue I had with my voice. I was walking in the mountains with my wife Claire, and my beautiful dog, Tiger. We were eating a sandwich in a remote place and I got a coughing fit that I’d never had in my life. It really floored me.

“Since St Patrick’s Day, things have been coming and going with my voice. I knew there was something strange,” he told Liveline.

Mr Bird says he suspected he had a serious illness and had been preparing himself for the diagnosis despite doctors initially saying they didn’t believe he had MND.

“I was told on a couple of occasions that the medical people didn’t believe I had Motor Neurone Disease. In some instances, it is difficult to diagnose but in my heart of hearts, I knew there was something serious there.

“In a way, I’ve been preparing myself for the news I got a couple of days ago. For months I’ve been dealing with it and I’ll be blunt: sometimes it’s not easy to deal with, but you have to get on with life.” 

Speaking to The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk, Mr Bird said he has spent months “hiding from everybody.”

“I knew something serious was wrong and when it's your voice... you can't say hello to somebody. 

"I live in a small cul de sac with 30 other houses, I walk what I call my cratur, my dog, every day, and I was hiding from my neighbors because I didn't want to have to tell them or explain what was going on.” 

“Equally with some of my RTÉ colleagues, I didn't want to meet them because of my voice.” 

The broadcaster also revealed he has had to turn down work opportunities: “I felt my voice couldn’t carry it.” 

Mr Bird said MND has “totally upended” his life and he is still trying to “get to grips” with the condition.

“I'm lucky at the moment I can still walk. I am walking 10 miles a day.

“But I do know that at some stage, things are going to disimprove.” 

Motor Neurone Disease is an uncommon condition that mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s and is caused by a problem with cells called motor neurones in the brain. These cells gradually stop working over time. It is not known why this happens.

There’s no cure for the disease but there are treatments to help reduce the impact it has on a person’s daily life.

To fellow sufferers, the beloved broadcaster said “don’t be afraid.” 

Charlie Bird with his beloved dog Tiger Picture: @CharlieBird49 / Twitter
Charlie Bird with his beloved dog Tiger Picture: @CharlieBird49 / Twitter

“I got awful bloody news, but I am fortunate. My friends, my neighbors and the most important people I have are my two daughters, my son, my grandkids and my beautiful wife. They’re all there with me and for me. It gets me through.” 

The broadcaster also gave a nod to his dog, Tiger, who has supported him throughout the last few months.

“I hated dogs four years ago but my wife forced me to get one,” he shared, “but I have come to adore that creature.” 

“He has got me through some of the most difficult days of my life.” 

Mr Bird joined the national broadcaster in 1974 as a researcher in Current Affairs, and went on to take up roles as chief news correspondent and Washington Correspondent.

Colm Murray died three years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease 
Colm Murray died three years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease 

Mr Bird’s RTÉ colleague Colm Murray died in 2013 just three years after being diagnosed with the condition at 61.

“I saw his journey and what he went through, and there are hundreds of people in this country who have motor neurone and they are going through difficult journeys,” he said.

But the journalist was also keen to highlight the plight of other people experiencing delays in the public health system as well as those who have died of Covid-19 since last year.

“People every day in this country are getting knocked, people are dying from Covid. And hospital waiting lists: there’s nearly a million people in this country waiting for different operations or to see a consultant.” 

The veteran journalist said he wants to continue to support people, even if he can no longer do it in his capacity as a frontline journalist.

“That’s what I want to do for whatever time I have left. I am going to continue to use my voice and my heart to do things for people.”

Five early signs of motor neurone disease 

  • Weakness in your ankle or leg – you might trip, or find it harder to climb stairs 
  • Slurred speech - this may develop into difficulty swallowing some foods 
  • A weak grip – you might drop things, or find it hard to open jars or do up buttons muscle cramps and twitches 
  • Weight loss – your arms or leg muscles may have become thinner over time 
  • Difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations

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