WEST Midlands MEP James Carver is supporting a campaign to raise awareness of a rare chronic disease which claimed the life of his first wife.

Mr Carver's wife Carmen died at the age of 42 from scleroderma in 2009 and ever since the Worcester-based UKIP MEP has been determined to ensure other sufferers receive crucial early diagnosis, and that money is raised for research to find a cure.

Scleroderma is a disease of the immune system, blood vessels and connective tissue. There are around 2.5 million sufferers worldwide, with 12,000 people currently living with the disease in the UK.

It is an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy tissue in the body.

Speaking ahead of Scleroderma Awareness Day, which takes place on Thursday, June 29, Mr Carver said: “Losing a loved one at such a young age, who bravely battled this illness on a daily basis, has, without doubt, proved to be the most defining moment of my life, and I am determined to do all that I can to help give patients, and their loved ones, the best opportunity to beat this wicked disease. Only by raising awareness, and funding, can we hope to find a cure.

“Awareness raising – and fundraising – has been going on all month ahead of next Thursday’s scleroderma awareness day and I hope that telling my and Carmen’s story will go some way towards helping spread the message more widely.”

Mr Carver made a lifetime commitment to raise money for the Scleroderma Society – recently renamed Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK – and in 2012 he completed the London Marathon and raised more than £6,000 for the cause.

Speaking in the European Parliament earlier this month, Mr Carver paid tribute to the work of the charity and that of the Federation of European Scleroderma Associations in supporting patients and their loved ones.

Mr Carver had previously staged an awareness-raising event in the European Parliament in 2015, with medical experts and scleroderma patients speaking to other European MPs.

To make a donation to the charity, or for more details, visit sruk.co.uk.