Her sister describes her as ‘our own Mother Teresa’, such is the kindness and generosity Sue Harvey has shown to all those around her over the years. Now the 58-year-old is facing a battle of her own, as she explains to SARAH SINGLETON

SUE Harvey has devoted her life to caring for others.

She took early retirement in order to look after her beloved husband, Bryan, who has Parkinson’s disease, and when her twin sister, Rosemary, who has epilepsy, came to live with them, she took care of her too.

On top top this, she has dedicated herself to numerous charities, while finding time to help out her extended family and elderly neighbours.

So it came as a huge shock to very many people when Sue found out she was facing a challenge of her own — Motor Neurone Disease.

The beloved sister, wife and step-mother was diagnosed a year ago – and told she had between one and three years to live.

It is hard to imagine how anyone copes with such distressing news, but Sue, 58, is determined to appreciate every moment she has.

“What else can I do?” she says. “I could curl up in a corner – or just carry on. I make the most of each day. We know what’s going to happen.”

Sue, from Upper Stratton, described her profound shock when she received the diagnosis and realised what it meant.

“I was devastated and very emotional. At times, I wished I was dead.

“Now I take each day as it comes, and set myself challenges and goals. I have a 10-day holiday in Greece later this month, and then it’s my birthday on November 5.”

One of 11 children, Sue Sharland, as she was then, grew up in Swindon and went to school at Pinehurst and then Hreod Burna School – a time from which she has many happy memories.

“We had a lovely childhood. My dad ran a roofing company, we used to go on holiday to Weymouth,” she recalls.

After school, she worked for various Swindon companies, including Torch Engineering, Blue Bird Toys and finally BMW.

She met her future husband, Bryan Harvey, 33 years ago, at the Ferndale Social Club. He had two young sons, five-year-old Wayne and 14-year-old Paul.

“I am a proud step mum of two, and godmother to 10 children,” Sue says. “It hasn’t always been easy and needs some give and take. I treated them like my own children. Brian and I have been a good team, and we still are.”

About 17 years ago, Bryan noticed that his hands were shaking and twitching. He went to the doctor’s and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Bryan, a former plumber and maintenance worker for Swindon Borough Council and Jephson Housing Association, says: “It was a bit scary at the time. The condition has remained stable.”

Bryan, now 77, was able to keep working until he retired at 70, despite his condition, but Sue eventually took early retirement to care for him. She also looked after her twin sister, Rosemary Heath, who has severe epilepsy and came to live with them.

Sue also worked hard for local charities, including the Prospect Foundation and the Royal British Legion. She helped her brother Paul raise £10,000 over 10 years, when he ran marathons for Breast Cancer Research.

On top of this, she would wash and iron for her nieces, who recently had children, and cared for elderly neighbours.

“I took them shopping and did some cooking for them. I was also taking them to doctors’ appointments and to the hospital,” she explains.

Sue’s sisters paid tribute to all the work she has done for so many people.

“She is our own Mother Teresa,” Jane Harris says. “She is the most kind and caring person you could ever meet. She helps everyone before herself.”

“Sue is an angel,” Rosemary adds. “She will help anyone. She wouldn’t hurt a fly and is so loving and thoughtful. I can’t say enough about her.”

It was in 2016 that Sue started experiencing some unusual and unsettling symptoms, such as her speech becoming slurred.

“It was like I had been drinking — I sounded drunk,” she says.

“At first we thought she had had a stroke,” Jane adds.

It was not a stroke, however. She was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in September last year.

MND is a rare condition which causes progressive damage to the nervous system, leading to muscle weakness. Specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord stop working properly, leading to loss of speech and mobility.

Sue has bulbar onset MND, which means her throat has been first affected. She finds it hard to speak and often uses a whiteboard to help her communicate, although her mobility is still good.

Despite her condition, Sue is still a full-time carer for her husband, although her sister Rosemary is now living in supported accommodation.

Sue’s diminishing ability to speak is a huge challenge, though positive as ever, she says people respond well when she is out and about and trying to communicate.

“It is frustrating,” she says. “I use a keyboard and a screen, which talks for you. And I have my whiteboard. It gets tiring and exhausting, trying to speak.”

She pays tribute to Dr Eric Holliday at Eldene Surgery and to Dr Graham Lennox, the neurologist at Great Western Hospital, for the quality of her care and explains how she is taking part in research into MND at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford — which has involved lying in a scanner for two hours at a stretch.

Her family organised a special benefit event for Sue in August at Swindon Town Football Club, with a casino night — using play money — a disco and a raffle, with prizes donated by the Great Western Hotel, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gala Bingo, among others. About 250 people attended, raising £1,700 towards Sue’s care, and another £400 for the MND Association.

Her sister, Jane, expressed the depth of grief experienced by the whole family when they learnt of Sue’s diagnosis, and how much it would affect them to lose their beloved sister.

“It’s a death sentence,” she says. “We know what’s going to happen and it will be so hard.”

Sue, however, remains positive: “I know it will happen to me, but I will handle it.”