Since the day I was born I had the amazing opportunity to have my grandparents live in my backyard. As a result, I constantly saw them and to this day visit them very often.
However, being 18 years old, I’ve only ever known my Pappy with Parkinson’s disease(PD) because he has been living with the disease for about 20 years now. The hardest thing to comprehend was hearing how he was before he was diagnosed. My family tells me he was the strongest, most dedicated, fit and talented man. From being the star and hall of fame athlete in nearly every sport in high school to retiring from UPS after 35 years and a 3 Million Mile Safe Driving Award, while starting a small trailer hitch business on the side with just $1,000 that is now a nationwide leading retailer in the cargo trailer industry. He never failed to impress or shock anyone with his abilities and attitude.
Thus, sparked my confusion and sadness when he was diagnosed. I’ve grown up seeing my Pappy transition from walking, to using a walker, to now in an electric wheelchair. I’ve seen him lose a tremendous amount of movement to the point where it takes him twice as long to do something as simple as reaching for his glass of water. I’ve grown up basically learning a new language because his speech declined rapidly. I’ve seen his hands and arms shake constantly, until he underwent deep brain stimulation. I grew up being done with dinner 45 minutes before he was because of his swallowing issues and coughing. But most importantly, I’ve grown up seeing him be placed in a nursing home, which was one of the hardest things my family and I ever had to do.
Yet, although my grandfather is now in stage 4 of Parkinson’s and is unable to walk and talk, he still never ceases to amaze me. He participates in a fitness program at his nursing home where he boxes twice a week, in order to improve symptoms.
What gives him hope and happiness is when we got involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation. My family and I created the campaign KnockOutPD, where we host a 5K at his nursing home. He enjoys being a part of this event and helps us plan it.
Along with creating our own campaign as Parkinson’s Champions, we also stay involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation in many different ways. For example, my mother and I attended the Volunteer Summit in California where we not only told our story about my Pappy and what we do to raise awareness and funds, we also learned so many new things and met so many people.
One of the biggest things my family and I have learned throughout this journey with my grandfather is that Parkinson’s is a disease that needs to be taken one day at a time. There will be good and bad days, but they never come in a specific order. Parkinson’s is a disease that my grandfather knocks out every day.
Another one of the biggest lessons we have learned in order to better manage Parkinson’s is to have a healthy nutritional and exercise plan. Exercise is the MOST important drug and is the easiest way to delay the disease. As Scott Rider, a speaker at the summit and a man fighting the same battle as my Pappy said, “delay the disease, manage the disease and improve the disease.”I have hope that one day there will be a cure, and then we will all have better lives together.
My grandfather’s battle inspires me in life and school. As part of my two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in high school, I wrote, in honor of my Pappy, a 4,000-word extended essay on PD which entails all my research on PD and what a healthy exercise and nutritional program can do for people living with Parkinson’s.