‘I’m not letting motor neurone disease stop me from helping India’s dancing bears’

Lisa Milella hasn’t let motor neurone disease stop her from visiting India to care for the bears she helped save from exploitation. By Amanda Riley-Jones

In her earlier life as a veterinary dentist, Lisa Milella used to spend ten hours a day in operations, performing complicated procedures that ordinary vets couldn’t take on. Back then, in 2012, she wasn’t surprised when her hands sometimes cramped up during the work. But then she began noticing other problems.

With a deep intake of breath at the start of each sentence, 43-year-old Lisa recalls: “I could no longer activate my car key with my thumb, and another time my legs turned to jelly. I went to the doctor, thinking I had a vitamin B12 deficiency.”

After being referred for brain and spine scans and nerve tests, she was in a state of disbelief when the consultant diagnosed motor neurone disease. The progressive neurodegenerative disease – which affects the transmission of information to the muscles, leading to weakness and muscle-wasting of the limbs and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing – has an average life expectancy of less than five years.

“A serious disease wasn’t on my radar. I felt quite well and I’ve always been healthy,” says Lisa, who is sitting in a wheelchair, her hands curled inwards on her lap. “I lay awake that night, dreading what was going to happen.”

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