Ray Armstrong
Ray Armstrong

Ray of sunshine



DRIVING a car, cleaning the gutters, mowing the lawn ? everyday activities for many of us, yet Ray Armstrong would trade six months of his life for a day to perform those simple tasks.

Despite his upbeat personality, the 53-year-old suffers from a rare motor neuron disease, known as Amyotrophic Lateral Schlerosis (ALS), which within the next three years will claim his life.

Ray was diagnosed with the rare disease on January 19 of this year.

"To be honest I took things for granted and I think everyone at some stage should be confronted with their own mortality," he said.

"In hindsight, the things that once mattered don't mean anything at all."

For 17 years, Ray worked as an overseer in the roads department for the Grafton City and later Clarence Valley Council, where he was responsible for stormwater and drainage.

"In my job I used to deal with adjustments needed for disabled people and I used to wonder what they were whining about.

"But now I understand that even a small oversight can make it impossible to use a facility," he said.

Ray approached The Daily Examiner in response to a string of negative letters to the editor.

"People don't realise they live in the best country in the world, it's God's country and this is a great community to live in," he said.

"It seems like it's only one kid doing the wrong thing and has got all of the attention when 500 kids are going to parties and doing the right thing.

"I've had so much support here and I can't help thinking there are so many unsung heroes who never get nearly enough recognition."

He refers to the people and organisations who have assisted him in the past eight months.

"Sometimes I think that sports people get too much recognition and that there are a lot of everyday people doing great jobs," he said.

Members of the Clarence Valley Club, after talking briefly with Ray's wife, Ann, showed up on the Armstrong's doorstep with a motorised wheelchair.

Ray asked them how much he owed, but they insisted he could have it for as long as he needed it, at no cost.

Grafton community nurses visit him once a week and he describes their treatment of him as 'terrific'.

He is also appreciative of his physiotherapist and describes him as 'the young bloke from the hospital who always has a smile and comes out to strap my back'.

Council, his former employer, was also supportive and helped him remain at work as long as he could.

"You think you work for a mob and are just a number, but they have gone out of their way to help me."

Ann said: "Even the two guys who came out to modify the downstairs bathroom were terrific, they put a cloth over my computer so it wouldn't get anything on it."

These days Ray finds it hard to understand how people can whinge about having to spend three minutes waiting on a bridge.

He contemplates the difficulties the future holds and feels the best things in life make him the saddest, especially when he thinks about his two children, a daughter 19 and son 21.

He has gone from a walking stick to a frame to a wheelchair and has read the words of a fellow sufferer who wrote: "I used to be a me, but now I am a she."

ALS is one of the worst diseases with which to be diagnosed as there is no palliative care and no medical treatment.

Around 400 people per year are diagnosed with ALS.

Although ALS is not a highly painful affliction, it can cause pain due to muscle wastage and eventual dislocation. But Ray, who has lived in the Clarence Valley for 23 years, is still positive and has a great sense of humour.

He said as the interview ended: "Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, today is a gift, that's why they call it the present".

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