West Bromwich vicar, Lisa Mitchell, was 30 when she was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD).
She said, "there is a family history within my family of FSHD. When I look back now, I can see the signs were there from probably my early teens. There was fatigue and weakness, which I hid through humour. At the time of my diagnosis, I was told I would be in a wheelchair by the age of 50. It was a very tough period, when I felt ‘written off’. I had two young sons, was totally exhausted and I had physically given up."
Following the diagnosis, Lisa started working for her local church as an administrator. Eleven years later she found herself exploring ‘ministry’ and finally, in 2019, she was ordained in Lichfield Cathedral. She is currently a curate in a ‘training parish’ and hopes to have her own church next year.
I was a bit late to the party but I got there eventually. Thanks be to God that I am not in a wheelchair. To be honest I feel the best I ever have, both physically and mentally.
Lisa said it was finding faith which helped her to turn a corner.
"I had a new found passion for life and I began to focus on the things that I could do rather than the things I couldn’t. I had spent many years trying to hide my disability, to the point of pretending I was just lazy. Now I have regular visits with my specialist and try to keep as fit and healthy as I can, but most importantly, I recognise when I need to stop".
My muscular dystrophy is no longer something that I try to hide and be ashamed of. I recognise that is part of who I am! It’s time to embrace it and fly! I know that sounds a bit cheesy but it is exactly how I feel.
Lisa has wanted to do a skydive for many years.
"While I cannot physically run or walk a long distance to raise money, I always felt that I could jump out of an aeroplane. Strangely, once I had publicly announced it and saw the terrified reaction of others, I suddenly felt nervous and began to question my blasé reaction to jumping! But I’m over it now and can’t wait to enjoy the whole experience".
It is a first-ever fundraising event for Lisa who said, "I did once try to do a sponsored silence - but it didn’t go too well!"
She said her parishioners absolutely love having a skydiving vicar.
"They have been fantastic and so supportive. They think I am a bit crazy but to be honest I think they knew that anyway! (After all, church should be fun, shouldn’t it?) I just hope I can get photographic evidence to put in the church magazine and on the Facebook page. The fundraising has been absolutely brilliant so far; quite overwhelming in these difficult times how many people have sponsored me. There’s been a real excitement about it within the church community, which is great".
"There is no cure for FSHD, but research has come a long way, the wonderful scientists have now found a possible treatment to slow down the progression of the condition, which could change the lives of many, including myself. Any money donated here to help my fundraising into the research would be amazing".
Charles Horton, MDUK Regional Development Manager, Wales, South West and West Midlands, said:
"We are delighted that Lisa decided sign up to skydive to fundraise for MDUK. We can’t wait for her to fly through the sky, raising awareness of her condition. It will be a great story to tell her parishioners for many years to come!"