Gary’s first inkling that something wasn’t right occurred in 1992 while travelling through the British Isles. A developing weakness in his right arm, according to his doctor, was likely tennis elbow. The weakness never completely disappeared.
Six years later while visiting Disney World and taking a dip in the pool, he found himself swimming in circles, his right arm almost void of strength. After multiple doctor visits the situation was written off to the effects of personal stress. Gary had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and went through extensive surgery. He was off work for a year because of complications. During that time he lost both of his parents. Depression was the diagnosis. But Gary knew something else was going on.
A month later while talking on the phone, he collapsed. Rushed to the hospital with a suspected heart attack. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but the doctors were puzzled and brought in a neurologist.
Prior to this Gary had been experiencing problems at work – forgetting meetings, leaving his car running, forgetting passwords. He hadn’t even realized that his right leg was starting to drag when walking. After a lengthy consultation, the diagnosis was early onset Parkinson’s. He was 55. Gary had no idea what would continue to happen, how fast or how often symptoms would occur. He was told to travel while he could, stop driving and reduce working. Being an active ‘Type-A’ personality, this was devastating news for Gary.
Three months and several tests later, Gary was advised to remain home on long-term disability. With all he was going through, Gary began to think, “Why me?” A voice replied, “Why not me?” And he forged ahead.
He enrolled in a six-week education course at Parkwood Hospital for people dealing with Parkinson’s. Then Gary and his wife Elizabeth contacted Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario and joined the London Parkinson’s support group to learn as much as possible about Parkinson’s. Elizabeth jumped right in as well, taking on the role of facilitator for the London Parkinson’s support group for seven years. They are both still part of support group.
Gary’s rock is Elizabeth. “My luck has been having the most loving caregiver a person could have, my wife Elizabeth. She is a retired registered nurse. We have a wonderful and supportive son and daughter along with six special grandchildren. What more could we ask for? Life has been good to us.” This positive nature which they share has helped them through this often-tough road.
Gary kept busy by volunteering for 11 years at a local public school helping out a grade-one teacher. He enjoyed every minute of it. He regularly attends the Parkinson’s biweekly exercise program at Parkwood Hospital. Upon returning home he counts his blessings after seeing individuals in worse shape than him. Everyone is so different with this disease.
Gary’s health has definitely deteriorated over the last two years. He is experiencing more activity tremors and falls, often resulting in major medication changes, as well as having to use his walker much of the time. But he remains as active as he can, working in the garden and playing cards with friends. He always believes a positive attitude prevails.
According to Gary, “The most positive thing that we have experienced over the past years is the wonderful friends we have met during this difficult journey. We all share some of the same symptoms, but also have to chuckle and try to keep moving forward.”