Grandfather with multiple sclerosis describes his 'life-changing' first steps in 28 years

  • Video report by ITV News reporter Mike Griffiths

A grandfather with multiple sclerosis has described the "life-changing" moment he took his first steps in 28 years.

Merlin Curtis, 75, had relied on crutches and later a wheelchair after being diagnosed with the condition in 1987.

His breakthrough came when he took part in a free exercise course run by MS Society Cymru, which helped him regain strength and mobility.

Merlin, who lives in Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, with his wife of 54 years, said: “It’s so hard to put that feeling into words – it was absolutely wonderful.

"After 28 years of not walking, I never imagined that moment would happen. My wife was by my side and couldn’t believe it either. And the first time my children and grandchildren saw me taking steps, their eyes were like saucers."

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, making it harder to do everyday things like walk, talk and eat.

People can experience it differently, with symptoms ranging from serious to mild.

Merlin had previously tried physiotherapy to help with his symptoms, but was unsure about the idea of an exercise programme.

He decided to sign up for the free ‘Active Together’ course after learning of it through friends at his local Rhondda Cynon Taf & Merthyr MS group.

The course was co-designed with Cardiff University as part of a lottery-funded project for MS Society Cymru, and aims to improve quality of life for people with MS by helping them get physically active.

Merlin took part in 16 weeks of circuit-style sessions that incorporated upper body and lower body movements, core exercise and cardio.

After four months, his strength grew and he was able to go from standing to taking his first steps using a walking frame.

Merlin had previously relied on a wheelchair. Credit: MS Society Cymru

Unfortunately, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Merlin had to shield, only leaving the house for medical appointments.

His hard-earned progress began to decline - until one day he signed up for online classes, which helped him to begin walking once more.

He said: “Coronavirus had a huge impact on me. I was spending a lot of time sitting around watching TV or doing quizzes and started to undo all the progress I’d made.

"Then in November, the realisation hit me that I needed to get active again. I found out the MS Society were running classes online, and now I’m doing two Zoom classes a week – and back walking again!"

Bethan Moss from MS Society Cymru, who led Merlin’s classes, said: “It has been amazing to watch Merlin progress and grow in confidence.

"When he began the programme he could stand up in his wheelchair, but hadn’t considered taking steps. Through the 16-week programme his strength grew and grew, and he’s a real testament to the extraordinary benefits of exercise."

But Bethan also warned that MS is "unpredictable and different for everyone".

"While Merlin’s results are truly remarkable, not everyone with MS will see the same kind of improvements," she said.

"But exercise can improve symptoms and boost quality of life for people living with MS at all stages of the condition."

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