'Some things you can't control' - Ex-Ireland cricketer Andy Patterson on life-changing diagnosis

Family impact the hardest part of my condition - Patterson

"You've got to sort of accept the way that it is and get on with it".

It has been more than eight years since former Ireland wicketkeeper Andy Patterson was diagnosed with hereditary spastic paraplegia, or HSP.

As time has passed, the condition has forced the father of three to make adjustments in the way he lives his life.

For quite a while the impact was manageable; a frustration if not a totally transformative diagnosis. The disorder causes weakness and stiffness in the leg muscles, meaning running and strenuous exercise have become increasingly difficult in recent years.

The effects of HSP are irreversible, and gradually get worse over time, which is why as the rest of society eagerly readies itself for a return to something closer to normality as Covid-19 restrictions ease, Patterson too must make preparations for his own 'new normal'.

"It's been quite difficult the last year or so, it has deteriorated quite quickly," says Patterson, who made 61 appearances for Ireland in the years before they gained full one-day international status - and also spent the 2000 season with Sussex.

"Now I need a walker to get around with. It kind of wasn't real before, because there were things I couldn't do but a lot of that you probably wouldn't be able to do anyway with age."

In September, Patterson and his family were informed that his strain of the condition had been identified, and that he would imminently need to use a wheelchair.

With that, a new urgency to adapt their home accordingly was introduced, and the financial reality of such an undertaking came into clear view.

Andy Patterson and family
Patterson (front right) lives in England with his wife and their three children

"I kind of didn't realise what a burden it was in terms of getting things done with my house and stuff like that," Patterson says.

"Two years ago, we did stuff on the house in terms of future-proofing work with an architect.

"The next stage is getting a lift into the front of the house and getting a disabled en suite [bathroom] in our room.

"The big thing for me is to have some sort of security in terms of my house and future-proofing a few things, so that when things deteriorate as they will, I don't have to worry about that as much."

'Men struggle to talk about it... but we want to gather round him'

In a bid to alleviate some of the financial burden, a group of Patterson's friends and former team-mates have organised a 24-hour fundraising cycle ride around every club in the Northern Cricket Union.

The North West Cricket Union has also signed up to a leg, as Ireland's cricketing fraternity gathers around the former keeper-batsman to complete a 400km cycle ride.

"If you played with or against Andy you knew what a competitor he was," says former Ireland team-mate Kyle McCallan, who played alongside Patterson from age-grade cricket right through to the international side.

"He has approached this as we would expect him to. He's brave, courageous, doesn't speak much about it, he has just got on with it.

"I think it's something that men struggle to talk about and to a degree as friends we haven't spoken a huge amount about it. This whole exercise, yes it's important that we raise money for Andy, but we also want to gather round him as friends."

Andy Patterson
Wicketkeeper-batsman Patterson won 61 caps for Ireland

The cause has already raised over £17,000 with the hope that donations can go beyond the £20,000 mark before they embark on the challenge.

The fundraising, says Patterson, will lift a huge weight off his shoulders in terms of ensuring everything is in place to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

Of course, the financial burden is only one consideration as Patterson comes to terms with the other realities that a deterioration in his condition will present.

"The hardest thing for me at the moment is not being able to do the stuff that I want to do with my kids and wife, and not expecting to be in this position in this stage of life," he says.

"I find that quite difficult, where Sarah, my wife, has to do a lot of heavy lifting so to speak. Especially with the youngest [son], he's 10 now, he's well into his cricket and rugby and I can't do stuff with him that I would like to do."

Amid the worries, Patterson finds meaning in a conversation he had with former West Indies fast bowler Winston Davis, who was left paralysed from the neck down after falling from a church roof.

"There's things that you can control, and things that you can't control," recalls Patterson of the conversation.

"And for whatever reason, this is happening so you've just got to get on with it, and get through it."

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