When I started running I could maybe complete a mile. My father, Dudley, kept me accountable for my training as I did for his. I trained three times a week, he trained just as hard at physical and speech therapy to help manage his Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms.
My dad is going on nine years with PD. For the longest time it was manageable. Many people, even some of our closest family friends, didn’t know he had it. But it progressed quickly over the last few years so last summer he underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. His doctors said it was the most minimally invasive brain surgery with a pretty easy recovery.
Due to a malfunction, his symptoms exponentially worsened. Overnight, I went from a 24-year-old who calls her father for everyday advice to managing his medications and preparing his food.
I was living in South Carolina and working full time, but my mother had started a job that required extensive travel so I took two months of leave and flew to Iowa to take care of my father. It’s interesting to be the 24/7 caregiver for your parent when they’ve been there for you your entire life.
It was difficult for me to see my father like that during the first few days. I would get emotional and upset, but he would make light of every situation and this wasn’t the exception. I took him to his neurologist, DBS, neurosurgeon and doctors’ appointments, and took care of all of his at-home needs.
His dyskinesia became unbearable. Several times it would prevent him from sitting down. On those days, when we both wanted to break down and cry, he would start laughing. “Things can’t get worse,” he’d say. Because things got so bad after surgery, we made every little improvement a huge victory. Throughout our time together we had some really tough conversations, but we also found time to laugh. We grew closer. Overall, we’re both grateful for those two months we had together; I just wish he never had to go through it.
Eventually we found out what was causing the worsened symptoms. DBS works because a lead and wire sends electrical impulses to the brain, which interferes with the electrical signals that cause PD symptoms. In my father’s case, the lead never worked. It was fixed, but DBS still didn’t give us the outcome we wanted. We were still happy that my father’s symptoms improved enough for him to regain some independence.
We now knew how bad PD could get. Since he’s only 66, to better himself in the short and long run he started an intense physical therapy and speech program. He inspired me to challenge myself.
His symptoms were improving so I moved back to South Carolina and started running. The three days a week he had physical therapy, I ran. We called each other to report our physical feats. There was no better motivation in the world. Months into our training he visited me in South Carolina. The first thing he did when he arrived was his PT exercises.
I’ve never been a runner, but after witnessing how PD can impact my father’s life so quickly I wanted to raise money for Parkinson’s. I signed up for the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon as part of Team Hope™ for Parkinson's. It gave me something to train for while pushing myself physically. Over the next few months, my running and his PT made us stronger, upped our endurance and improved our overall health.
Finally, it was race day. My parents had flown to California to support me. My mother said waiting for me at the finish line was the happiest she’d seen my father in a long time. The first eight miles were good, the last five were tough. Then I saw him. At 100 feet from the finish line we both instantly started crying happy tears. It made every bit of the race worth it and I decided that I had to run another one.
I run with Team Hope™ because I want to beat PD. I’m proof that with enough training and motivation anyone can run and make a difference in the fight against Parkinson’s. I will run as part of Team Hope™ again.
Join Team Hope™ and help the National Parkinson Foundation make life better for people with Parkinson’s. To register for an upcoming race, visit parkinson.org/TeamHope or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.