Former RAF airman plans deep brain op

Five years ago Cliff Williams was serving in the Gulf as an engineer weapons technician in the RAF. The 33-year-old enjoyed his career and being a fit man he would think nothing of playing football or going for a ten mile run during his spare time.

Five years ago Cliff Williams was serving in the Gulf as an engineer weapons technician in the RAF.

The 33-year-old enjoyed his career and being a fit man he would think nothing of playing football or going for a ten mile run during his spare time.

But while serving on his second tour of duty Mr Williams noticed a tremor in his hand and a year later he was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson's Disease, the same illness Hollywood actor Michael J Fox suffers from.

While medical experts are unable to provide answers as to how or why he got the progressive neurological disease, Mr Williams, now 38, from Attleborough, blames the anthrax injections and nerve agent pre-treatment he was given before deployment to protect him in the event of biological warfare.


You may also want to watch:


“They were not compulsory, but I was recommended to take them,” he said. “I blame them.”

After being diagnosed with the disease, Mr Williams was medically discharged from the RAF on a full pension after 18 years service which saw him collect four medals. He now runs a gardening business, which allows him to work at his own pace.

Most Read

Mr Williams, who is under the care of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn and Addenbrookes in Cambridge, currently takes a cocktail of drugs every day to help keep his symptoms under control.

But in a bid to give him a better quality of life he is preparing to undergo a potentially life-threatening five-hour operation on his brain.

Deep brain stimulation surgery involves the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain. The surgery does not cure the disease, but can help manage some of its symptoms.

Mr Williams was due to undergo the operation last week but it was called off at the last minute after neurosurgeons realised equipment that had come from France was incomplete. The operation has now been rescheduled for December.

Mr Williams said: “It has taken me about 18 months to come to the decision to have the operation, taking on board all the risks that it involves. Addenbrookes and the team have been absolutely brilliant.

“Hopefully it will give me 25 to 30 years of normal life, which is what I want. There is no cure at the moment for Parkinson's, but research is ongoing and I am optimistic about the future.

“I am ready for the operation. It is what I want. I do not want to take the drugs. I would rather trust something mechanical than chemical.”

Mr Williams is seeking to raise awareness of the disease, particularly among younger people.

He said: “When I was diagnosed it came as quite a shock because I didn't realise the disease could affect people so young. But one in 20 people diagnosed with the disease will be under 40,” he said.

Mr Williams has been buoyed by the support of his wife Tracey and the couple's four teenage children.

Mrs Williams said: “They see Cliff when he is at his best and his worst. They know everything about the operation. We wouldn't keep anything from them.”

For more information about Parkinson's disease visit www.parkinsons.org.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter