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Rob Burrow BBC Documentary: ‘I’m A Prisoner In My Own Body’

October 14, 2022

 

One of Great Britain’s greatest rugby league players, Rob Burrow, is being helped into a swimming pool by his wife, Lindsey.

It is the only way that the former England, Great Britain and Leeds Rhinos player can manage to walk without suffering debilitating pain in his joints caused by Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

“I know when you get married you say, ‘in sickness and in health’. I did not think she signed up to look after me so soon,” he jokes.

In another scene, his mum, Irene, spoon-feeds him.

“I need my parents for everything. It’s like I’m their kid again.”

Burrow is characteristically jolly and cheeky throughout, joking with the camera crew as they document his life since his diagnosis for a new BBC documentary, ‘Rob Burrow: Living With MND’.

But his demeanour makes his situation no less desperate.

In 2019, two years after retiring from a glittering 17-year career that saw him win eight Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups, Burrow was diagnosed with MND. It is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure.

In this heart-breaking 30-minute BBC Two film, viewers get unparalleled access to his life.

‘I’m a prisoner in my own body’

In the opening scenes, Burrow explains a little about MND.

“I’m a prisoner in my own body. The lights are on, but no-one’s home. I think like you, but my mind doesn’t work right. I can’t move my body.”

The 40-year-old has to speak via a computer, using recorded samples of his voice.

His consultant, Dr Agam Jung, calls MND “an extremely cruel condition,” explaining: “You may not be able to speak, you may not be able to swallow, you may not be able to breathe independently, you have weakness in your arms and legs. This leads to dependency and a reduced life span.”

While Burrow jokes with the doctors and tries to maintain a positive attitude, the question of end-of-life care hangs in the air.

“How do I have the conversation around death?” asks Dr Jung. “It’s there in the patient’s mind. It’s there in the family’s mind. If I do not bring the topic up, that conversation will never happen.”

Wife Lindsey says: “I can’t imagine a world without Rob.”

‘I was such a hands-on dad’

Alongside looking after their three young children and working as a physio in the NHS, Lindsey has had to take on the role of Rob’s primary carer.

“It kills me seeing Lindsey juggling everything,” says Burrow, adding: “I was such a hands-on dad.”

Lindsey and Rob met as teenagers. There are incredibly emotional scenes when she talks about the prospect of life after Rob.

“He always says, ‘find somebody else, you’re still young’,” she explains tearfully. “There will never be anyone else. No-one can ever take Rob’s place.”

‘Kev is like a brother’

Kevin Sinfield was Burrow’s captain at Leeds Rhinos.

After Burrow was diagnosed with MND in 2019, Sinfield began a series of fundraising challenges. He completed seven marathons in seven days in 2020, and then in 2021 he ran 101 miles in 24 hours, raising millions of pounds for MND research and support.

Describing his former team-mate, Sinfield, 42, says: “Pound for pound, he was probably the strongest player we had in the squad. I’m honoured to have played alongside him.”

“Kev is like a brother,” says Burrow. “The stress he puts on his body for me, it’s unbelievable.”

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