Heartbreak as ex-Royal Navy specialist dies from devastating illness

A heartbroken widow who has spent the last two years watching her husband deteriorate cruelly before her eyes, going from an active former specialist in the Royal Navy to someone who couldn’t walk, talk, eat, drink or move , paid a loving tribute following his untimely death.

Mark Fawcett, a 47-year-old former Royal Navy electronic warfare specialist and father of three, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in November 2020 but had been showing symptoms for months before. His devoted wife Rachel was his full-time carer at their home in Newton Abbot.

He died on April 14, leaving Rachel without the man she hoped to be with for the rest of her life and is now fueled by a determination to help raise awareness about MND and the need for a treatment and cure. so that others do not. I don’t have to endure the pain and loss that she and Mark went through.

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MND describes a group of diseases that affect the nerves (motor neurons) in the brain and spinal cord that tell your muscles what to do. With MND, motor neuron messages gradually stop reaching the muscles. This leads the muscles to weaken, stiffen and lose weight.

MND can affect the way you walk, talk, eat, drink, and breathe. Some people also experience changes in their thinking and behavior. However, MND affects everyone differently.

Mark and Rachel Fawcett have had to live with the impact of motor neuron disease

There is a one in 300 chance of contracting MND in a lifetime. It can affect adults of any age, but it is more likely to affect people over 50. Only 5-10% of cases are due to genetics, meaning the majority of cases are sporadic.

Rachel said: “Half of people die within a year of being diagnosed with MND, so Mark has done better than that. A third die within two years.

“People don’t realize how aggressive it can be, especially if you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is the most common form of MND and that’s what Mark had. It’s been 16 months between the diagnosis and his death, and the onset of symptoms, that was two and a half years ago.

“The problem with MND is you want answers but it will never change the outcome. It’s not like cancer where if you catch it early enough you can do something about it. It was frustrating at that time whether Mark’s diagnosis was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but whether or not he had an early diagnosis was irrelevant.

“That’s why it’s important that we raise awareness about MND and get funding for research. We need to find a decent treatment for MND and eventually we need a cure because that was the thing. most horrific and traumatic to watch him slowly die for two years, little by little everything was taken away from him and in the end he was completely locked away.

Mark and Rachel Fawcett enjoying a trip to Teignmouth
Mark and Rachel Fawcett enjoying a trip to Teignmouth

“He couldn’t move any part of him except his head slightly and he could blink his eyes. He lost the ability to speak, eat and swallow around Christmas. The movement in his hands happened just before that. .

“The essence of him didn’t change; he was still Mark. Cognitively, he was still Mark and he was aware of everything that was happening to him, and he could feel his body deteriorating.

“But physically he wasn’t Mark. I can’t imagine how awful it was for Mark because I know how awful it was to watch him.

“The thing about MND is you don’t get a chance to be sad about all the things that get lost along the way because you’re so busy coping with the next thing, like losing the use of his legs or his voice. You always have to move on.

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“That meant I never had the chance to be really sad that I couldn’t hear him say ‘I love you’ anymore or he couldn’t hold my hand or hug me anymore. You have no chance of mourning these things because you are so busy doing everything that needs to be done It was an absolute privilege to take care of him, but the disease took him slowly, insidiously. and traumatically.

“There are no words to describe how horrible it is for everyone. There is nothing anyone can do but try to treat the symptoms. Mark suffered from horrible muscle spasms, cramps and pain caused by his muscle deterioration.”

The last months of his life, Mark was housebound, but last summer he and Rachel were able to create special memories together, like vacations and getaways. Mark died at home, which was his dying wish with Rachel by his side, along with his brother and sister-in-law.

Mark and Rachel Fawcett on their wedding day
Mark and Rachel Fawcett on their wedding day

Rachel said: “The support we received from Rowcroft Hospice was amazing and also from the Ashburton and Buckfastleigh district nursing team who were phenomenal. It meant I was able to sleep while Mark was watched. I can’t thank them enough as it allowed me to keep my promise to Mark that I would keep him home and I was glad we could do that for him.

“He knew we were there when he died, so that was really precious.”

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Paying tribute to Mark, she said: “He was a gentle man and a gentleman. He was this big guy who was 6ft 3” and broad, but he was a gentle giant who had the kindest heart. There wasn’t a bad bone in his body.

“Everyone who spoke about him and those who served with him said what a lovely man he was and have fond memories of him. He made everyone feel included and would do anything for anyone.”

A memorial service for Mark will be held on Saturday May 21 at St Andrew’s Church in Ashburton at 3.30pm. The family only blooms, with donations split equally between MND and Rowcroft Hospice.

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