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Mildenhall man who lost wife and son to Motor Neurone Disease in just two years to take on charity Inca Trail Challenge aged 80

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 February 2016

Catherine Salas in 1976 on her visit to the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu.

Catherine Salas in 1976 on her visit to the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu.

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Thomas Salas’s family was devastated by Motor Neurone Disease.

Thomas Salas (right) and his wife's son Jonathan in 1976 on there visit to the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu.Thomas Salas (right) and his wife's son Jonathan in 1976 on there visit to the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu.

After suffering the heartbreak of losing his wife and son to Motor Neurone Disease in just two years, a 79-year-old Suffolk man is taking on a mammoth challenge in their memory.

Thomas Salas, who will be 80 when he attempts the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, Peru, will have to contend with the literally breathtaking high altitudes and extreme terrain for four days and three nights.

Thomas, from Mildenhall, is returning to the ancient wonder in April, 40 years after he, his wife Catherine and her son Jonathan visited on a “trip of a lifetime” family holiday.

“The Inca Trail was Jonathan’s idea,” said Thomas. “I told him I wanted to raise money and he found the charity challenge.

Thomas Salas lost his wife and son to Motor Neurone disease. He is going to trek the Inca Trail in their memory and to raise awareness. Thomas is pictured in Mildenhall.Thomas Salas lost his wife and son to Motor Neurone disease. He is going to trek the Inca Trail in their memory and to raise awareness. Thomas is pictured in Mildenhall.

“I told him I am going to do this walk for you and your mum – but I had to stop planning as his condition worsened and he died last year.

“Now I go to the gym every morning – I hadn’t been to the gym since I was in my twenties but luckily I am in good health. I am doing a lot training as I know it will be tough.”

In September 2013 Catherine died aged 78, after being diagnosed with the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) just 10 months before.

“Catherine was a lively person and an avid reader. She was a proud Scottish woman,” said the Texas-born Thomas. “She was raised by her aunt in Scotland after being sent there when she was six weeks old during the pre-war evacuation.

Thomas Salas lost his wife and son to Motor Neurone disease. He is going to trek the Inca Trail in their memory and to raise awareness. Thomas is pictured in Mildenhall with Bruce the dog.Thomas Salas lost his wife and son to Motor Neurone disease. He is going to trek the Inca Trail in their memory and to raise awareness. Thomas is pictured in Mildenhall with Bruce the dog.

“While her condition was getting worse I bought a dog for her and she called it Bruce after Robert the Bruce – she loved Scotland.”

Bruce the white Standard Poodle is now Thomas’s “only companion” and the pair are well known in Mildenhall where they walk everyday.

Thomas has spent 30 years living in Suffolk after he came to the country to work as a civilian for the US Air Force at RAF Mildenhall.

The US base is where he met a “beautiful” university registrar called Catherine in 1969 and married her in 1971. Since then he has helped raise her son Jonathan as if he was his own.

After MND took his wife and his step-son, Thomas, who volunteers for the Mildenhall Suffolk Museum, has been preparing to take on the Inca Trail for the UK MND Association and hopes to raise £5,000.

The trip is more than just raising money though, with Thomas retracing the same trek he embarked on 40 years ago with his wife and son.

“She loved Machu Picchu,” said Thomas. “We went there not long after it had been discovered and she told me shortly before she died it was the best experience of her life.

“She had read all about the ‘city in the clouds’ and it was a dream come true for her, it will be very emotional being back there.”

The other motivator for Thomas is how little people in his adopted home of Britain seem to know about MND.

“You don’t read much about MND in Britain – in America it is called ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] and it is more well known,” said Thomas. “I want to raise awareness of this incurable, horrible disease; people just don’t know how quick it can take someone and what to look for.

“First you can’t walk properly and drag your leg, then you can’t move your arms, then you can’t move at all, then you can’t talk you’re completely paralysed and then it stops you breathing.

“It can be passed down through families, which many people don’t know, and it is incurable. There is just one pill you can take which can slow MND down, but nothing can cure it.”

On the day Thomas buried his wife he suspected his son might have MND as well. He said: “I saw him and he was having problems with his leg and I said to him he needed to go to hospital. His mother’s disease started that way as well.”

In May 2014 Thomas’s worst fears were confirmed and Jonathan was diagnosed. In September that year he married his wife Lynda but died aged just 56 ten months later.

“To lose both of them has been so hard,” he said. “This challenge has been keeping me busy, I need to keep fit, and Bruce (the poodle) has been keeping me company. I want to make them proud.”

Donate to Thomas’s cause by either visiting uk.virginmoneygiving.com/THOMASSALAS or send cheques made out to the ‘UK Motor Neurone Disease Association’ to the EADT and Mercury Offices, 11 Woolhall Street, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1LA

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