A DIAGNOSIS of motor neurone disease knocked Jim and June Elliot for six.

Side by side, as they have been for the last 46 years, they are learning how to cope.

As MND Awareness Week kicks off today, the couple share their story with ANN FOTHERINGHAM and it is a tale of enduring love, humour and hope.

IT WAS a weird twist of fate that brought Jim and June Elliot together.

The Bellshill couple, who are now 65, met in 1971 through a few broken legs.

“Not at the same time,” laughs June, who is a retired nurse. “I was doing my student training at the time and I had an accident – I was run over by a car and broke both my legs. I had to drop out for a year to recover so I postponed my placement at Carluke Hospital.”

She smiles: “If I hadn’t done that, I probably would never have met Jim.”

The year after her accident, June rejoined her course and began her placement at Carluke, when Jim came in as a patient.

“I’d been in a motorbike accident and had broken my leg,” explains Jim. “It was fate. As soon as I met June, I knew. I decided to write her a note asking her out and the rest is history.”

The couple married two years later and had three children together – Scott, now 41, Kevin, 37, and 35-year-old Stephen.

Jim worked in the steel industry as a welder and engineer in Clydesdale until 1991 and then pursued his passion for driving by retraining as a driving instructor and then tester.

But in February 2016, everything changed.

Jim explains: “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was marking someone on their driving test and a car collided, side-on with us.

“About a week later, I noticed my leg starting to droop. The doctors said it was probably just an injury from the accident, but even after a few months it wasn’t improving.

“We decided to go on holiday in June to our favourite spot in Italy. But when I got there, I just kept falling over for no reason – I reckon people in the airport thought I’d had a few too many pints.”

Scared and confused, Jim and June went straight back to see their GP as soon as they returned home from holiday.

June says: “It was really frightening because we didn’t know what was wrong. It was months and months of fighting for second opinions and tests.

“Time was going by and Jim went from needing a stick to walk, to having to have crutches to a tri-walker before we even found out it was MND.”

A course of physiotherapy made no difference and eventually, Jim was referred for an MRI scan and a neurology appointment.

In October 2016, he was told he had MND. It is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which stops signals from the brain reaching the muscles, causing someone to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided.

There is currently no cure or effective treatment for MND and the average life expectancy from diagnosis is just 14 months. There are more than 450 people in Scotland currently living with MND and on average around 160 new cases diagnosed each year.

“It’s been hard to adjust,” says June, softly. “Jim can no longer walk, use his arms or hands, and he finds it harder to speak. Getting that news is life-changing.”

Jim adds: “I had never heard of MND before so it was extremely overwhelming to learn about it all. It has been emotional for us all, I think especially for my sons.

“You go from having no answers to being overwhelmed with so much information. Now we have lots of different health professionals in and out the door and it is hard to keep up with everyone. Our GP had never seen a case of MND in her 17 years at the practice. That’s why I think it is so important that more people are aware of the disease.”

June agrees. “I feel like we’ve had to battle for everything; for a diagnosis, for appointments, for an accessible bathroom and even for a ramp into the house, so Jim could get out,” she says.

“It changes everything about your life.”

Despite the stress, Jim and June are positive and upbeat, helped greatly by their lively grandchildren Lucy, 8, and six-year-old Phoebe and Abigail.

“It’s a stressful time adjusting to the changes but our sons help out a lot which is great,” adds June. “We are lucky to have such a supportive family and love spending our time with them.

“MND Scotland has also been a fantastic support. We attend their local support group in Lanarkshire which is really interesting and also receive their complementary therapy service.”

For Jim, one of the hardest things about adjusting to life with MND is being unable to do the things he loves.

““My real passion is classic cars,” he says. “I collected them for years and did them up. I have sold them now, apart from my favourite, an MGC 1968.”

He smiles: “She’s magnificent or, as my kids say, “dad’s wee beauty”. It really breaks my heart that I can’t drive her anymore. I can’t even sit in it now.

“I actually put my son on the insurance so it can still be driven. I even just like him to turn it on so I can hear the engine purring..”

Jim adds: “We have a wheelchair accessible car now which June drives and it gives me a lot more freedom to get out and about. We went to MND Scotland’s Fun Run in May and it was great. The whole family were there taking part or cheering us on – it was such a fantastic day. My son, Kevin, pushed me around in my wheelchair and I even won a prize.”

In fact, Jim’s family – who called themselves Callie’s Crew – have raised almost £2000 for MND Scotland. Jim’s nickname was Callie after the cartoon character Calimero, who wore steelworkers’ hats.

The diagnosis has been tough on the rest of the family too, but despite everything, the couple can still find humour amidst their darkest days.

“Our sons have tried to tell the grandkids that their granda isn’t well, and they see me feeding him and understand he can’t talk or walk the way he used to,” explains June.

“But I’m not sure they fully understand yet what is happening.

“The other day, Abigail spotted me pushing Jim’s wheelchair into the car, and Abigail shouted – look! There’s grams putting granda in the boot of the car!”

She smiles: “We couldn’t stop laughing. Sometimes it’s great to see things through their eyes. They keep us both going. They help us to stay as positive as we can.”

This MND Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday, you can support MND Scotland by donating £5 by texting CUREMND to 70660. For more information about MND or MND Scotland please visit www.mndscotland.org.uk, email info@mndscotland.org.uk or call 0141 332 3903.