A grandfather got a devastating shock when he went to watch ‘The Theory of Everything’ and realised he had motor neurone disease – just like Professor Stephen Hawking.
Paul Whyley, 62, went to see the hit film with wife Jayne, 59, and two close friends but was gobsmacked when he started seeing his own symptoms unravel on the big screen.
He silently ticked off all the signs of the brain disease as the plot of the romantic drama starring Eddie Redmayne progressed and began to fear the worst.
The grandad-of-four said nothing to his wife of 40 years but visited his GP straight after watching the film at the UCI cinema at Merry Hill, near Dudley, West Mids.
Doctors had previously been baffled as to what was wrong with him and he told them he thought he had motor neurone disease during a visit in early March.
Mr Whyley, from Hagley, Worcs., was sent for hospital tests and within two weeks was given the earth-shattering news he had the same debilitating condition as Professor Hawking.
The retired blind-fitter, says: “We went to see ‘The Theory of Everything’ just two weeks before my diagnosis.
“There’s a scene at the start where Stephen Hawking is running and he suddenly falls over, and I’d had a few falls at work recently.
“Then he’s writing on a blackboard, but he can’t reach with his right arm.
“With my job I had to use a drill to put up blinds, but I was having to put my right arm into position with my left because I couldn’t use my right arm.
“I knew for sure after the scene where they list all the symptoms. I just thought ‘I’ve got all of them’.
“They said a floppy foot is a tell-tale sign of the disease, and I’d just started getting that.
“But I said nothing – it was a good film.”
Paul, who has also read Hawking’s book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, said he had been “as fit as a fiddle”, but began suffering from pain in his right shoulder and had breathing difficulties in November.
He had been seeing his GP for a couple of months before going to the cinema, but the doctors weren’t able to say what was wrong with him.
After the film Paul realised how serious his illness was and knew he needed help.
There was a lengthy wait to see a neurologist, so he went straight to a specialist at West Midlands Private Hospital in Halesowen, West Mids. instead.
He was given a nerve test at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and was told he had motor neurone disease on March 18 – but still had to wait six weeks to confirm the results.
The rare condition progressively damages parts of the nervous system, destroying muscles until walking, speaking, swallowing and breathing becomes impossible.
Jayne, a retired GP practice administrator, who shares the same name as Professor Hawking’s wife played by Felicity Jones in the film, said: “It’s a vile, evil disease.
“It’s frightening and has come as such a shock to us. We’d got a normal life – everything was fine and we were both looking forward to retirement.”
“But this has hit us so suddenly and now I am looking after Paul 24/7 and we don’t even have a downstairs bathroom.
“I want to raise awareness about just how rapid and devastating this disease is.
“A lot of people think of Stephen Hawking when they hear motor neurone disease mentioned, but he’s not like most people.
“Over the last three months my husband has gone downhill so quickly.
“He has a private piloting licence and was very active – now I have to bathe him.
“He can’t walk, he can’t use his right arm, and he has a machine to clear his lungs because he can’t even cough for himself.”
Paul met Jayne when they started working together on their local paper in the early 1970s, and they instantly fell in love.
They recently celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary with a trip to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with their two daughters, Lauren and Heather, and four grandchildren.
Stephen Hawking has famously defied the odds and has lived with the disease for over 50 years, but doctors believe Paul’s days could be numbered.
As Paul doesn’t have the money or the hi-tech resources of Professor Hawking, with his voice machine and electric wheelchair, his sister-in-law Glynis Palmer is raising funds herself.
She wants to get enough money to install a stair lift in his house and get him a motorised wheelchair, as the NHS can’t provide them for Paul.
Glynis, 63, from Pedmore, in Stourbridge, West Mids., said: “I was totally shocked – devastated – when Paul was diagnosed.
“Paul and Jayne are still as in love as when they met and this is tragic.
“We haven’t set a fundraising target but just want to raise as much as we can to help make their lives easier.”
Glynis has organised a summer fete at a school to raise money and the couple are are also being assessed for grants from the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Anyone wishing to donate can visit: www.crowdfunding.justgiving.com/Paul-Whyley