Rob Barrow BBC Documentary: ‘I am imprisoned in my body’

Rob’s wife Lindsay helps him with physiotherapy in the pool.
Watch Rob Burrow: Living with MND on BBC Two on Tuesday 18 October at 19:00 BST and on BBC iPlayer.

One of Great Britain’s greatest rugby players, Rob Barrow, is helped into a swimming pool by his wife, Lindsay.

It is the only way the former England, Great Britain and Leeds Rhinos player can manage to walk without suffering debilitating joint pain caused by motor neurone disease (MND).

“I know when you get married you say ‘in sickness and in health’. I didn’t think he signed on to take care of me so soon,” she jokes.

In another scene, his mom, Irene, feeds him with a spoon.

“I need my parents for everything. It’s like I’m their child again.”

Burrow is characteristically cheerful and cheeky throughout, joking with the camera crew as they document his life since his diagnosis for a new BBC documentary, ‘Rob Burrow: Living With MND’.

But his behavior makes his situation no less desperate.

In 2019, two years after retiring from a glittering 17-year career that saw him win eight Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups, Burrow was diagnosed with MND. It is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure.

In this shocking 30-minute BBC Two film, viewers are given unprecedented access to his life.

“I am imprisoned in my body”

Barrow's mom, Irene, feeds him.
Barrow’s mom, Irene, has to look after her son while his wife is at work.

In the early scenes, Barrow explains a bit about MND.

“I’m imprisoned in my body. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. I think like you, but my mind isn’t working right. I can’t move my body.”

The 40-year-old must speak through a computer, using recorded samples of his voice.

His consultant, Dr Agam Jung, calls MND “an extremely harsh condition”, explaining: “You may not be able to speak, you may not be able to swallow, you may not be able to breathe independently, you have weakness in your arms. This leads to in dependence and reduced lifespan’.

While Barrow jokes with the doctors and tries to maintain a positive attitude, the issue of end-of-life care hangs in the air.

“How do I have the conversation around death?” asks Dr. Jung. “It’s there in the patient’s mind. It’s there in the family’s mind. If I don’t bring it up, this conversation will never happen.”

Wife Lindsey says: “I can’t imagine a world without Rob.”

“I was such a hands-on dad”

Alongside looking after their three young children and working as a physiotherapist in the NHS, Lindsey had to take on the role of Rob’s main carer.

“It kills me to see Lindsey juggling everything,” Burrow says, adding, “I was such a hands-on dad.”

Lindsey and Rob met as teenagers. There are incredibly emotional scenes when she talks about the prospect of life after Rob.

“He always says, ‘find someone else, you’re still young,'” she explains tearfully. “There will never be anyone else. No one can ever take Rob’s place.”

“Kev is like a brother”

Kevin Sinfield was Barrow’s captain at Leeds Rhinos.

After Burrow was diagnosed with MND in 2019, Sinfield started one fundraising challenge series. He completed seven marathons in seven days in 2020 and then in 2021 ran 101 miles in 24 hours, raising millions of pounds for MND research and support.

Describing his former team-mate, Sinfield, 42, said: “Pound for pound, he was probably the strongest player we had in the squad. It’s an honor to have played with him.”

“Kev is like a brother,” says Barrow. “The stress he puts on his body for me, it’s unbelievable.”

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