Fourteen close friends who met at the University of Lincoln are training to run 50 kilometres (31 miles) for charity, after one of their friends was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

Some of the friends at an event. Photo used with permission.

Dean Keats, 35, developed the condition at the end of 2020, receiving support from Facial Palsy UK.

Now, the group, which includes members taking part from Australia, Abu Dhabi and the United States, are aiming to raise £25,000 for the small charity, after their initial goal of £2,000 was met within 72 hours, followed by their second goal of £5,000.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome is a complication of shingles which can cause facial paralysis and weakness, as well as a host of other symptoms.

Brad Rea, who initially organised the charitable effort, said it’s intentionally ambitious: “It’s a challenge. If it was short, there’d be no challenge to it.”

“It’s a bit daunting,” said Luke Tebbett, another member of the group. “But I’ve never felt so close to everybody, even though we’re so far apart, which is a bit cheesy, but it’s quite special for us. It’s really brought us all together.”

Mr Keats, a husband and father to a 2-year-old boy, whose diagnosis inspired his friends to take up the endeavour, initially thought he was suffering from a simple ear infection.

Dean Keats now. Photo: captured from a video call.

As he was repeatedly misdiagnosed by an already-strained NHS battling COVID-19, his symptoms worsened, until the pain was severe, half of his face had slumped and become unresponsive, and his hearing was impaired.

“They just wanted me out of the hospital,” Mr Keats said. At one point, he was even misdiagnosed with a possible brain tumour.

Charles Nduka, CEO of Facial Palsy UK, said: “Our research shows more than half of those with a diagnosis of Ramsay Hunt syndrome are initially misdiagnosed.”

“More awareness about symptoms is urgently needed,” he added.

After the correct diagnosis was made, Mr Keats was left to navigate day-to-day life with the condition.

Facial Palsy UK was able to support Mr Keats and provide him with helpful resources. But the charity now needs £25,000 in order to survive for another 18 months.

“If they weren’t around, I would have had no clue of anything, really,” said Mr Keats.

“Facial Palsy UK have been my guiding light throughout, offering me all the advice I need to fight this condition – that’s why I’m so proud of the boys for stepping up and raising awareness of them,” he added.

Some of the friends at a club during their time at the University of Lincoln. From top to bottom, left to right: Dean Keats, Tom Lemons, Adam Higgins, Si Watson, Miguel Hayes, Paul Martin, Greg De Souza, Jamie Fricker and Steph Banaszak. Photo used with permission.

And the rest of the group is just as proud of him.

“[He’s] sincerely one of the best, most down to Earth, I would say softest lads,” said Tom Lemons, one of the runners. “He’s got a heart of gold and is one of the nicest blokes I know.”

“If you look through all of our university pictures, you’ll always see Dean with a massive grin on his face,” said Steph Banaszak, another runner.

The group is set to complete the run across the Norfolk Broads, part of the The Broads Challenge, in June.

You can donate to the effort by clicking here.

By Matt Shaw

News Editor at The Linc.