My Life Story
Hi, my name is Ian Pratt. I was born into a loving family with parents Alan (Mick) and Dorothy and am the youngest of five siblings, Mary, Val, Doug and Michiel. I grew up in Gympie, a small country town in Queensland Australia.
I completed my primary education at Monkland State Primary School and attended Gympie State High School for my secondary certificates. After rather dismal school results mainly through lack of interest on my part and my insistence on annoying and distracting others whilst always on the lookout for the more exciting life I then spent two years at college to graduate with an Associate Diploma of Business and turned my academic life around. It was at this point that I realised the importance of learning and have Judy Gronald and Tancie Thompson to thank for this.
I have worked hard all of my life, always supporting myself as much as I could, obviously the bank of Mum and Dad offered pretty good lending rates but I tried to minimise my dependence on them as much as possible as money was always a little tight in the family home.
My first day of real work (other than picking beans) was at the supermarket Coles. I don’t know if I came across as a know it all or I genuinely convinced them I knew what I was talking about, but at the ripe old age of 16, I was employed on a part time basis as the 2IC front end controller, responsible for the 18 checkouts in the Gympie supermarket.
My first day of full time employment came at ANZ banking group. I was quickly identified at being efficient at my job and was moved to the Regional Office where Gary Davis was instrumental in making a banker of me. I remember my first day being called into Gary’s office and him saying to me, “when you go to the toilet, you wipe your bum once. I expect the same of you in your job. In my office you do something once and do it right the first time.” If only we could all have a boss like Gary, how much more efficient this world would be.
However my new found work philosophy was tested to the limits when I was appointed as the Finance and Administration Officer at Education Queensland, the public service wasn’t yet ready for me but I also wasn’t prepared to change my ways to suit the stuffy old public servants. So whilst I had lots of challenges along the way, I also had lots of victories.
I also had a Director, Mike Keily that took me under his wing and paved a path for me to work my way fairly quickly up the Public Service greasy pole.
It is through my work at Education Queensland that I met some of my closest friends still incredibly dear to me. The most notable of these are Deidre Thian, Alex Behrend, Sharon Romano, Ann-Maree Leyden and of course my beautiful wife Catherine McGaw.
I left Education Queensland in 2001 when I decided to spread my wings and immigrate to the UK. My first contract job was at London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. I then travelled loads and eventually setup my own business, School Financial Services in 2006 with the view to deliver better services to schools.
On this journey, some of my work colleagues have become my closest friends, Karl Richardson, Lee Jeffreys and Jan Faulkner. Not only have these guys welcomed me into their life, their families have become very much part of our extended UK family.
Bobby and Anelle Londt are also an incredibly special couple that I am fortunate enough to call my dear friends. There are obviously many others to mention and I don’t want to single anyone out so I will apologise now and beg for forgiveness.
After playing hard to get for many years (remembering that we first met in 1992), Catherine and I eventually married on 28 August 2009 at Hotel du Vin in York. We had a special and very intimate ceremony with 18 of our closest friends. Many of whom I have mentioned. It was one of those memorable and happy days that you cherish above all others.
Glen Anderson and I have been incredibly close mates for many years so he was the perfect choice as my best man, it also meant that we got to spend some time with his lovely wife Anthea.
Catherine and I continued to travel around with work commitments and fit in regular holidays but it is through Catherine that my close knit circle of friends was extended even further. Jessica and her mum Judy Unruh and Greg (Brady) and Marie Young are all dearly cherished friends that push over into the family circle without question.
On 31 August 2010, Catherine and I extended our own family when we welcomed our beautiful daughter Georgiana Elizabeth Ann. It was Georgiana that pushed many boundaries with me but the most significant of these was the ability to love. I never believed it was possible to love someone as much as I love Catherine and Georgiana and the impact that these two individuals can have on my life.
Whilst I was never the sporting type at school and was never really interested in team sports, I did enjoy athletics and was very good at sprinting, long and high jumps. I guess athletics offered me the ability to compete against others but more importantly I could always challenge myself.
I used to enjoy going to the gym 4-5 days per week and consumed a relatively healthy diet. Wine has always featured quite well in my diet though as I firmly believed it to be part of my five a day fruit intake.
I have lived a relatively healthy and active life but things started to go wrong in about 2008 when for no apparent reason, I started to suffer from incredibly painful cramps. These cramps could be anywhere but the most painful of these were in my legs and neck.
Whilst the cramps could be dismissed as something insignificant, the 18 Kilograms I lost at the end of 2011 almost overnight could not be. I was referred to a Rheumatologist and a Neurologist that put me through a battery of scans, blood tests and Neurological examinations.
It was Doctor Smith at Rotherham Hospital that called me into her office and told me the results of all my tests. I remember breaking down in relief when she told me that I didn’t have cancer. Little was I to know that possibly, just possibly, some diagnosis could be worse than cancer.
I recall Dr Smith saying to me that “You have a condition that I can’t help you with and I have discussed your result with our resident Neurologist, it is our decision to refer you to Professor Pamela Shaw”. Without a second thought I thanked her for her time and left happy that I was in the all clear and that the worst it could now be was a kinked nerve in my neck from a recent car accident.
After going home and Googling Professor Pamela Shaw, I discovered that she was a specialist in Motor Neurone Disease, and whilst I had no idea what this disease was, I spent far too many hours researching it. The more I read, the bigger the hole in the pit of my stomach became.
I had an appointment with Professor Pamela Shaw, it was her colleague that after a rather extensive Neurological examination looked at me and said, “In my professional opinion, you do not present with typical symptoms of MND and I think we could rule that out.” Professor Shaw on the other hand did not appear so dismissive and booked me in on the 30 August 2012 for two days of tests.
I passed all the tests with flying colours and nothing was showing up as being the cause, little did I know that a negative result on all of these test coupled with the experience of a good Neurologist actually gave a positive diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, simply because there is nothing else it can be.
On 10 September 2012 Professor Pamela Shaw delivered the results. “I have no conclusive single test to support my findings but in my heart of hearts I believe that you have a slow progressing form of Motor Neurone Disease”.
Professor Shaw’s next statement still resonates regularly through my mind, “This is a progressive disease for which we have no treatment and currently, there is no cure.”
My world came crashing to a halt. I just wanted to get out of her office to pick up my little mouse Georgiana from nursery and hug her more than I ever had previously. Why did this disease choose me, I have a beautiful family, a gorgeous wife and the most precious little girl that I need to be here to nurture and protect?
It took some time to accept my diagnosis, because my symptoms were atypical (I heard this word used so many times during my diagnostic process), I couldn’t accept that Professor Pamela Shaw got it right, there has to be some other answer.
I had a choice to make, accept the disease and enjoy each and every moment I am blessed with or fall into a dark hole of self-pity. Given my positive attitude in life to this point, the choice was simple. It couldn’t be anything but acceptance coupled with a determination to fight for every blessing I have. Too many people loved me and I was not prepared to give up on them. I have had 3 wonderful years with my gorgeous little Georgiana and 4 years married to my best friend. We have lots of memories yet to create.
The disease continues to progress slowly and whilst I am finding it more difficult to walk and the use of my arms is becoming somewhat limited, the thing I miss the most is being able to pick up my little girl when she needs a hug.
On a professional level I have had to slowly close down my business and hand my clients over to my competitors. This was an incredibly difficult thing to do when I invested so much time in building the business in the first place.
Catherine now assists me to shower and get dressed as these tasks have becoming increasingly difficult and challenging for me to undertake unassisted.
MND affects every aspect of my life however, my challenge is to find a way to overcome these challenges, I still cook my Thai curries, BBQ’s and make my sourdough bread, it just takes me so much longer to do it but where there is a will there is a way.
The biggest challenge that MND presents is one of frustration. This frustration comes from once being a self-sufficient abled bodied active independent person; to having to articulate my thoughts and needs to others in a way that they understand. Clearly this frustration becomes decidedly more difficult as the ability to communicate becomes compromised.
We are slowing replacing the buggies, push chairs, high chairs and stuff used to raise a child with mobility aids to improve my quality of life. The mobility scooter, wheelchair and appropriate vehicle now replace those things that we needed to transport Georgiana safely around.
The stair-lift whilst imposing at first is a necessary piece of equipment that allows me to get from the ground floor of our house to the first floor to our bedroom, family bathroom and of course Georgiana’s room.
First and foremost I am a husband and father, living with MND is my second priority in life and something I spend as little time as possible thinking about when I am less busy with the first two.
It is very important to keep this all in perspective, MND must never take over my thought pattern, if it does, then it wins and whilst I accept this is the only battle in my life that I have embarked on where the odds are significantly stacked against me, I intend to take great delight from the occasional victory over personal challenges or one of the many memories created on this journey we call life with my closest family and friends sharing and creating these moments with me.
I have always believed that people come into our lives at a time when we need them and that we cross paths for a purpose. They are here to help and guide us on our journey, provide comfort or teach us some lesson or teach us to look further within ourselves to find our own inner strength.
I met Tony Bray through the MND Weekend Wipeout Facebook page. We had an instant rapport, Tony used to host a weekend radio station and we would frequently chat through our Sunday morning champagne breakfast and our guests would get quite excited by the fact he would frequently say hi on air to them.
My mum came over from Australia in July of 2013. Mum, Catherine, Georgiana and I travelled to the Isle of Wight to support Tony on his initial Swim the Solent Challenge. I was so overwhelmed to meet this individual that has never been personally affected by MND to dedicate the efforts he has through training and personal sacrifice to raising funds and awareness of this insidious condition.
It is people like Tony that have the dedication, commitment and ability to raise awareness in the wider community. It is through his determination that more and more people know about this disease.
I am very fortunate to be able to call Tony one of my closest friends when he called me to ask whether he could make the Swim an annual event, and name it after me, I was so honoured.
My life shall touch a dozen lives before this day is done;
Leave countless marks for good or ill, ere sets the evening sun.
This is the wish I always wish, the prayer I always pray:
Lord, may my life help other lives it touches by the way.