Call to help those with motor neuron disease

Philip Engelbrecht and his wife, Lynette Engelbrecht, at the strongman competition in Melkbosstrand, on Sunday October 30. Mr Engelbrecht was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2019.

Lynette Engelbrecht, of Melkbosstrand, is calling on companies to invest in the training of motor neuron disease (MND) caregivers.

Ms Engelbrecht is the wife of Philip Engelbrecht, who is suffering from MND, the same disease that claimed the life of rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen.

Mr Engelbrecht was diagnosed with the disease in 2019, and Ms Engelbrecht said his first symptom was his loss of speech.

“He started slurring words, and it took a year for him to be diagnosed, and this was obviously a shock to us as a family,” she said.

The disease slowly attacked every muscle in Mr Engelbrecht’s body. Ms Engelbrecht said it was a terrifying experience for her family.

“There isn’t a single muscle that can escape it, and watching somebody you love suffer in that way and not being able to help them is terrifying.”

Ms Engelbrecht said it cost, on average, R50 000 a month for a day-and-night registered nurse, which is what Mr Engelbrecht needs as he is on life-support machines and must be monitored 24/7. Ms Engelbrecht said she knew they could not afford that and medical aid did not cover it, so she had taught herself how to care for her husband herself.

Ms Engelbrecht has a vision of helping MND patients and their families. Through her awareness campaign, PowerPhil vs MND, she is hoping to attract sponsorship to start a training programme for MND carers.

MND is also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease and symptoms include muscle weakness in the hands, feet or voice, although it can start in different areas of the body and progress at different rates. It is a severely life-shortening condition for most people. Life expectancy after diagnosis is one to five years. However, some people may live for up to 10 years, and, in rarer circumstances, even longer.

On Saturday October 29 and Sunday October 30, a strongman competition was hosted by the Southern African Strongman Federation (SASF), in Melkbosstrand, to raise awareness and show support for MND patients countrywide. It was also in honour of Mr Engelbrecht who previously participated in the competition, in 2017 and 2018, for charity.

The SASF was established to give strongmen and strongwomen in southern Africa the chance to compete at an international level against the world’s strongest.

Event organiser Marnette Meyer said this year’s event was one to remember.

“The event started off with a bang bringing honour to Philip Engelbrecht and our late friend, Southern African Strongman Federation founder Andre Engelbrecht (no relation to Philip Engelbrecht),” she said.

Philip Engelbrecht’s daughter, Ashley, 19, and son, Robin, 24, took part in the competition in honour of their father and all who fight MND. Ashley pulled a Land Cruiser while Robin pulled a 10-ton truck.

“They know first hand how soul destroying this disease is and wanted to be part of the awareness showing their love and support,” Ms Engelbrecht said.

She thanked the organisers and said she wanted to honour her husband for what he stands for and who he is.

Melkbosstrand Ratepayers’ Association chairwoman Smokie la Grange thanked everyone who helped to make the event a success.

Philip Engelbrecht’s daughter, Ashley Engelbrecht, 19, pulls a Land Cruiser, at the strongman competition in Melkbosstrand in honour of her father.
Philip Engelbrecht’s son, Robin Engelbrecht, 24, pulls a 10-ton truck at the strongman competition in honour of his father.