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Nicky Marr: No room for sibling rivalry after this!

By Nicky Marr

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Iain and Isabella.
Iain and Isabella.

It’s never a good idea to compare ourselves to others. We know this to be true when it comes to filtered posts on social media, and when we sacrifice happiness to “keep up with the Joneses”.

But a competitive mindset is ingrained within us all. It’s why we love sport, and why we talk about winning in business. It’s why we strive to be thinner, faster, richer, stronger and better. It starts young, with the playground boast: “My dad is bigger than your dad”.

Nowhere is rivalry stronger than among siblings. I’m the eldest of three; with four years between my sister and me, our brother appeared a year later. Growing up I was the bossy one, and the one who did things first. I was first to go to university, to get married and have kids, and first to make monumental mistakes.

The baby of the family, Iain, was slower to wake up to academia, and there weren’t many hopes that he would get through his Highers. This was the late 1980s, and university was our parents’ competitive hope for us all. Iain pulled it out of the bag, was accepted into Aberdeen to study medicine, and found his niche. And boy, has he found his niche.

You might have seen news stories last week about a new-born from Moray, Isabella Whinfield, receiving the world’s most expensive drug to treat a rare form of the often-fatal condition spinal muscular atrophy. The list price of Zolgensma is £1.79 million. In a single dose it replicates a missing gene and restores nerve and muscle function. It saves tiny lives beyond their two-year expectancy, hopefully rendering future treatment unnecessary.

Isabella was the second patient in Scotland to receive the gene therapy; the first, a toot who received the hour-long infusion in February, is reported to be doing well, and the oldest child to be treated with it is now five.

But who was the neurologist leading the team of doctors who treated Isabella in Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children? My wee brother, Dr Iain Horrocks.

The decision to treat Isabella wasn’t taken lightly, nor was it Iain’s alone. The gene therapy was approved for use by NHS Scotland earlier this year and is said to be a game changer.

Iain said Isabella was the perfect candidate. Her diagnosis was confirmed at just 11 days old, and she was treated nine days later. She’s now at home with her parents in Archiestown, doing reassuringly well.

I’ve spoken to Iain – typically, I saw the news reports before he thought to mention any of this to his family. He is a little stunned by the publicity – his focus remains on Isabella and the team’s other patients with neuromuscular disorders.

The ethics of gene therapy and costs of treatment are for another forum. All I can say is that for once, I almost regret our childhood scrapes and how mean I was to him when we were kids. There’s no room for sibling rivalry any longer. Hasn’t my skinny, scabby-kneed wee brother done well?

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