By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Scott Baskett
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ian Phillips
Phillip Eling was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy called Bethlem Myopathy – affecting the skeletal muscles and connective tissue, the disease is characterised by slowly progressive muscle weakness and joint stiffness.
In Phillip’s case, his fingers, wrists, elbows and ankles are weak, however, he has also been diagnosed with the most severe case of his condition in the Southern Hemisphere and has to use a wheelchair to get around.
Due to his lack of physical health, the 31-year-old, who lives in Adelaide, Australia, has experienced many hardships in everyday life, but remains positive and ambitious thanks to his wife Susan Eling.
Originally from Kenya, Susan moved to Adelaide in 2015 and just two years later, her and Phillip were engaged.
The differences between them are noticeable to all and after their wedding video of them dancing went viral online, they received a torrent of negative comments towards Susan in particular and how she was only with Phillip for his apparent wealth.
But in spite of this, the married couple couldn’t be happier and are looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together.
Philip told Barcroft TV: “Me and Susan came together by fate, it was an absolute miracle for me to meet my lovely wife.
“I was always told that I wouldn’t make it until the end of the year, so dating for me was always like, why date someone and get attached to them and then ruin their lives by dying?
“It was only when I was told that my condition had longevity that I wanted to start dating. It took a lot of courage to get Susan’s number – so for me, it was really an off the bang perfect relationship.”
Phillip was originally misdiagnosed by doctors who said he would never be able to speak or learn anything new.
The motivational speaker said: “My rare form of Muscular Dystrophy wasn’t actually diagnosed until 2016. I was the first person to be diagnosed with a case this severe in the Southern Hemisphere.
“When I was born, the first prognosis was inaccurate, they did a brain scan and said I was mentally handicapped.
“The first paediatrician told my parents and said forget about me, because I would never speak, learn or know anything around me. They said I was a vegetable.
“You know, I am not mentally ill, I am not unstable. I have really loose joints and the main thing I have to worry about is the respiratory issues, so getting sick can lead to pneumonia and for me, that can be more than life threatening.
“I grew up in a hospital, so I grew up around very positive people and it turned me into the positive man that I am today.”
Fortunately, Phillip applied his positive attitude to his studies and didn’t really experience bullying in school.
“Growing up with a muscle disease; I wrote in a book once that you can’t focus on what you can’t do, but focus on what you can do and become better,” Phillip said.
“I was never victimised, I was never ridiculed. My classmates and people around me just treated me like everyone else.
“Some days the pain can be unbearable. Some days you can be in so much pain that you wonder why.
“My wife knows that I have been through the most excruciating pain that would bring the strongest man to his knees. But what I can’t handle is to see the people around me suffer because I am suffering. That’s the hardest part of living with my condition.”
Phillip met Susan whilst working in a facility that help those living with disabilities, as a customer engagement officer.
They began texting shortly after and became besotted with each other, just a year later, they were married.
Susan now helps Phillip around their house with every day activities like washing and eating – she admits that this is something she enjoys to do.
Susan said: “My husband can’t do much of the physical things, so he will depend on someone else helping him.
“When I met Phil, he was very passionate about his life from the start, what he wanted, what he was looking for and he was very courageous with the way he approached me.
“He was just direct in the point, ‘yes I love you, you are gorgeous and I’d really love to spend the rest of my life with you’.
“On top of everything, he was loving and I knew this was the man I was after.
“I can’t see the wheelchair, I can only ever see him. His disability was never a problem for me.”
Unfortunately, there was a very mixed response to Phillip and Susan’s relationship when one of their wedding videos went viral online.
Shortly after their big day, they received more than 2 million views and 8,000 comments on a Facebook post – some of which were very negative.
Phillip said: “When I proposed to Susan, I proposed in her native language. The journey from engagement to wedding wasn’t easy because we knew that there were people out there wanting us to fail.
“The comments mainly circled around why anyone would marry a disabled man. ‘I bet you wouldn’t marry a disabled African man, you are only doing that to get into the papers and to stay in the country’ they said.
“You know, they’d write ‘he has to be rich’ and there were numerous inferences that she was going to murder me after becoming a citizen and take my money.
“If I tell you we had 3 million comments and a hundred thousand were negative, those hundred thousand alone were enough to not let Susan sleep at night.”
Susan added: “It’s just so mean.
“In my social life, when I was at work, everyone would come and make funny jokes to me, ‘oh you’ve got a handsome dude’, and I was like ‘yes he is handsome’.
“They would always say they were joking, but I know they weren’t jokes, he or she was just trying to pass on a message.
“My parents and siblings were all very supportive and that’s what kept me going. For me and my husband, our love will always remain strong.”
Susan’s close friend, Anne Flowers, admits that her friend’s relationship is ‘unique’, but ultimately, she sees love and happiness.
Anne said: “I definitely see uniqueness in their relationship.
“It’s unusual. It’s unheard of really. But you know, they’ve been together close to two years now and I don’t think anything is unusual.
“They’re great together.”
Despite the negativity they have faced online, Phillip and Susan remain stronger than ever and can’t wait to see what the future has in store.
Phillip said: “The future for us definitely holds children.
“You know, Susan came into my life knowing that I had my condition.
“I look at Susan every single day when I see her putting clothes on, doing the dishes, it doesn’t matter and I think to myself I am worthy of this love from this woman.
“The admiration I have for my wife is of no other human being that I ever have encountered, because she is worthy of more than I can ever give to her, and yet, she chooses to be with me.
“So yes, I am indeed proud to be married to Susan, to the extent that I can’t describe it.”
Susan added: “We love each other and that is what keeps me going every day.”