Mayo man is face of MS Ireland’s World MS Day campaign

ANDY Walsh, a proud Mayo man living with multiple sclerosis since 2020, has been chosen as one of the 'faces' for MS Ireland’s World MS Day campaign.

The theme of the Faces of MS exhibition featuring Andy in the St. Stephen’s Green Centre in Dublin in partnership with Novartis is to highlight and challenge the perceptions of what people living with MS look like and are capable of.

MS Ireland is commemorating World MS Day with an exhibition of portraits of eight members of the MS community as part of MS Ireland’s schedule of events marking the international awareness day all over Ireland.

World MS Day, on May 30 every year, aims to raise awareness and support for people living with multiple sclerosis, the most common debilitating neurological condition affecting young adults in Ireland. This day of celebration brings the global MS community together to share stories, raise awareness and campaign for everyone affected by MS.

Multiple sclerosis is different for each person impacted by it. They experience different symptoms, with different degrees of severity for different amounts of time. There is no one way to ‘have’ MS, there is no one way to live with MS. The aim of the exhibition is to showcase a range of experiences so people will better understand that MS is a very individual condition.

While Andy has experienced some MS related challenges including issues with walking, he has not let this hold him back. He has a very positive mindset.

Andy loves all sports, but especially high adrenaline motorsport where he has a high profile in the Irish motorsport scene as he interviews crews on Facebook Live at the end of a stage at rallies with an online following of over 60,000 people.

Describing his MS diagnosis, Andy said: “I use the phrase ‘mixed blessing’ to describe my multiple sclerosis, because I have changed and improved my lifestyle massively since my diagnosis and I count myself lucky to be able reframe the priorities in my life.

“I was diagnosed by accident if you like; difficulties while walking led to an MRI to see if I had an issue with a slipped disc but when a day appointment for a MRI lead to a week-long stay in hospital which consisted of more MRI’s and numerous other tests, I left the hospital with a diagnosis of RRMS.

“But it was about a month after returning home from the hospital that a flare up left me with no power on my right side from chest down and unable to walk properly, resulting in me struggling to come to terms with what had actually happened. I had gone from being actively involved in coaching roles in my local GAA and soccer clubs, and a weekend media job reporting at stage ends at Motorsport events up and down Ireland to now, being unable to negotiate my way across my kitchen unaided.

“I didn’t know anything substantial about MS when I first started my journey and I struggled to find anyone to dismiss the image I had of myself in a wheelchair, all I wanted was hope - examples of people who were getting on and living their best life!

“However, it turns out there is a whole community out there of people with MS doing amazing things. I was lucky enough to connect with MS Ireland and utilise the information on offer to help me make the life changes necessary to allow me to live well with this.

“I am currently on a fantastic treatment plan, and coupled with a work-life balance, that prior to diagnosis was pretty hectic, but there’s a whole new structure now with a renewed focus on what’s really important.

“I can confidently say that through the lifestyle changes I’ve made to live with MS, I am physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier now than I was before. Sounds counter-intuitive, but I am an improved version of me because of it.”

Ava Battles, chief executive of MS Ireland, commented: “There is no singular experience of MS, the journey is unique to each individual. Our community has seen huge developments in terms of treatments and therapies over the past three decades but we still have hurdles to overcome. This World MS Day we want to challenge misconceptions around MS and redefine the 'face of MS' in public perception by shining a spotlight on the full and varied lives of those who live with it.”

MS Ireland is holding events and activities to raise awareness on World MS Day through its great network of local branches and regional offices throughout Ireland with all details on their dedicated webpage