My Spiraling Road into the World of Advocacy for PD

April 8th, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Myra Hirschhorn is a shining example of someone who has found multiple ways to serve as an advocate for Parkinson’s disease in her local community. We are grateful that she lives in New Jersey!

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

Myra Hirschhorn.pngParkinson’s disease (PD) has been in my life for as long as I can remember. As a child I watched my grandmother live with the complications. This was before the gold standard drug, Sinemet became available. The symptoms and complications were much quicker to surface and the prognosis for patients was much dimmer back then.

Fast forward to September, 1999. My husband, Stu noticed a tremor in his index finger. This led him to a movement disorder specialist and he was diagnosed with PD at the age of 53. This brought PD back into my life. Fortunately, Stu was able to continue to work for five more years. During that time I began attending the Parkinson’s Disease Support Group at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mt. Holly, NJ. Through this support group I learned about various Parkinson’s organizations and conferences. These organizations and meetings made me aware of local resources and programs that were beneficial to me and my husband.

As I learned more, I became an advocate and found ways to provide education, resources and information to members of the Parkinson’s community.

Since 2009, I have been the facilitator of the Virtua Parkinson’s Disease Support Group. I offered to take on this role and have never regretted it. The members of this group are so supportive of one another. I’ve secured speakers on relevant topics, and provided information on current issues and upcoming events for the group.

Myra Hirschhorn 2I became involved with Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) and am currently the NJ State Director of PAN. I’ve traveled to Washington, DC to attend the PAN Forum and have met with representatives of Congress to lobby on behalf of the Parkinson’s community.

A couple of years ago, Voorhees Senior Living, a local assisted living facility developed a PD Support Group. I assist the support group by sharing information on issues and events that may be of interest as well as helping to secure speakers. People in that area are very pleased to have a group available to them.

I was part of a group of people who worked to bring Dance for PD’s program to our area. I am thrilled that the Virtua Parkinson’s Movement Class has been in existence for a year now, with Stacey Macaluso as the talented and caring instructor.

Last year, I worked with the Willingboro Library to schedule periodic speakers at the library for people with Parkinson’s disease, their care partners and friends. In addition, the library now offers classes in Qi Gong and Delay the Disease for people with Parkinson’s as well as the general public.

At all of these venues and at senior expos, health fairs, freeholder meetings, and local Parkinson’s walks, I am “armed” with brochures and share information about the various Parkinson’s organizations. This raises attendees’ awareness of all the support that is available, provides opportunities to learn about living well with PD and how people living with PD can advocate for themselves.

Recently I attended an LSVT-BIG training for occupational therapists and physical therapists, with attendees from all over the world. I provided them with information they can in turn share with their clients. All of the PD organizations have been more than happy to provide me with information to share.

Returning to the Parkinson’s Unity Walk in Central Park each year is always a high point for my husband and me. It is empowering to see the thousands of people all gathered for this cause and to be able to touch base once again with all the organizations that provide so much support to the Parkinson’s community. The Unity Walk is the best source of information and inspiration for people with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones.

We each need to find a way to make a difference. I encourage you to find opportunities to raise awareness and educate people in your own community about Parkinson’s disease.

Myra Hirschhorn
Team Captain, Stu’s Supporters

Calling All Team T-shirts!

April 5th, 2014 by Helaine I., Event Director
2013 PUW Memory Quilt

2013 PUW Memory Quilt

Many of our teams proudly wear their team t-shirts at the Walk, displaying their bright colors, clever team names and creative designs. Do you see your 2013 team t-shirt in the photo?

Did you know that the top 50 team captains will be entered into a raffle drawing to win a PUW memory quilt made up of approximately 50 team t-shirts from the 2014 Unity Walk? Whether or not you win, we hope you’ll be part of this prize by bringing your team t-shirt shirt with you on Walk day and dropping it off with the volunteer at the Team Photo booth. Can’t make it to the Walk or forgot to bring it with you the day of the Walk? No problem. You can mail it to the Unity Walk office at PO Box 275, Kingston, NJ 08528. The Unity Walk reserves the right to select which t-shirts to include in the quilt.

We received a treasure trove of team t-shirts last year and hope to have the same experience this April.  Having your team t-shirt be a part of this quilt symbolizes the important part you play in the Unitiy Walk. We couldn’t have the Walk – or create this quilt without you!

Thanks,
Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

Ken Aidekman, PUW Co-founder reflects on the First Parkinson’s Unity Walk and its Meaning to the Parkinson’s Community

April 1st, 2014 by Guest Blogger

To kick-off Parkinson’s Awareness month, we’ve asked Ken Aidekman, Co-founder of the Unity Walk to reflect on the first Walk in 1994 and how far we’ve come over the past twenty years. We are grateful to Margot for her vision and Ken’s commitment and support throughout the years.

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

1stWalkand2012Walk

Twenty years ago, I witnessed 200 walkers come together in Riverside Park to raise $16,000 for Parkinson’s research. This year, over 10,000 walkers will gather and raise over 100 times more than we did at that first Parkinson’s Unity Walk!

I have seen the amazing things that a Parkinson’s grassroots effort can accomplish. I watched a small band of advocates succeed in raising awareness and funds for research in Washington. I saw Margot Zobel take a simple idea for a walk and turn it into a dynamic force for good. She sensed a vacuum in New York and turned it into an opportunity for people around the world. Her strength derived from her conviction that individuals have the power to change their lives through creative cooperation.

The energy that Margot brought to the Walk remains with us today. You can see it in the faces of family members who have traveled great distances to be here. You can hear it in the voices of people living with Parkinson’s who describe how it helps get them through the difficult the months ahead. And you can feel the love that goes into every t-shirt and sign supporting a grandparent, parent, spouse, child or friend.

What is it about this Walk? Joan Samuelson, the founder of the Parkinson’s Action Network, talked about it at the second Parkinson’s Unity Walk.

“I don’t know how many of you were in the same situation I was when I decided to come and people said “Are you going to walk?” and I said “No, I can’t walk that far.” Because often I can’t. And it was pretty nice for me to be with others in the same situation – who didn’t know if they could make it for sure the whole way.

One thing I knew was that it would be OK if I didn’t, which isn’t always true in the world we live in. We try to be equal to everyone else around us. We want to be able to do all the things that we used to do. It’s hard to give those things up. But, it was nice to walk today knowing that if at some point my foot started doing the crazy things it does or if I got tired that it would be OK. And that somehow, somebody in this crowd would make sure that I got here by the end.”

The Walk is about a day of faith, trust, friendship, love, commitment and empowerment. There are many individual teams at the Walk, but no matter what, we are all members of the same team – the team to end Parkinson’s disease.

Together, we take pride in our accomplishments in fostering community and funding research. We find inspiration in our growth and empowerment. But, there’s a long road ahead before we cross the finish line. We want nothing less than the total banishment of Parkinson’s disease from the human condition. Let our battle be remembered as a glorious triumph by those who believed that one person can make a difference.

Each step in Central Park brings us closer to our goal.

Join us on April 26th. We can’t wait to see you!

Ken-signature030-(2)
Ken Aidekman
Co-founder, Parkinson’s Unity Walk

Yoga and Parkinson’s: A Healing Path for Every Side

March 25th, 2014 by Guest Blogger

We are sometimes asked “What is the best exercise for a person living with Parkinson’s disease?” The answer – the exercise you will actually do. For some people, it is yoga. I first met Renee Le Verrier several years ago at a Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease conference  in Providence, RI. I was amazed at how she transformed the room while leading a chair yoga class for people living with Parkinson’s disease. We are grateful to Renee for sharing the impact that yoga has had on her life and her Parkinson’s disease.

Renee Le Verrier, RYT, is a certified yoga teacher and author of Yoga for Movement Disorders:  Rebuilding Strength, Balance and Flexibility for Parkinson’s and Dystonia (book and DVD). She teaches at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Parkinson’s Yoga and Lecture Series, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital’s stroke rehabilitation program. Renee also collaborates with the MA Chapter APDA and TriYoga Boston in offering a five-day certificate program for yoga teachers who want to learn how to work with students with Parkinson’s. For more information, please visit http://www.limyoga.com/.

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

DSC_2301I stumbled in to my first yoga class, literally, when I was in my 30s. I didn’t notice the half-step up and I entered the quiet space with an aayee, whoop, and oof. Embarrassed, I tugged my hoodie around my reddening face. Though my left side moved slowly and felt uncoordinated – the result of a childhood stroke – I’d never quite gotten used to the limp, the stumbles.

When I snuck a peek around the room, I discovered that no one seemed bothered by my noisy, clumsy interruption. A peacefulness lingered in the room.

The teacher led us through poses and I felt my body absorb both the movement and the calm around me. Sore muscles softened, my breathing had a rhythm to it. Even a bit of the residual hypertonia and imbalance in my left arm and leg released. I felt taller.

The biggest surprise came as I realized that my mind relaxed, too. All that brain chatter – mental to-do lists, a review of the morning’s appointments in my head, automatic self-correcting (those should’ves and could’ves, as in: should’ve seen that step) – hushed. Even the song lyric that had replayed itself over and over for the past three days was gone. Yoga had led my mind from planning ahead, thinking back, judging myself. It guided me to the only moment that there really is: the one happening now. I felt free.

mod1childMy Parkinson’s diagnosis occurred after a decade of practicing yoga. I’d started to stumble because my right side moved slowly and felt uncoordinated. Thoughts rushed into my brain: What will happen? How will I manage? Can someone please help me open this jar? I was 42 and I was running out of sides.

Parkinson’s provided plenty of opportunities to stumble and to worry about the future and yearn for what was.  Yoga helped ease the physical struggles by making me stronger and more flexible. It also calmed the emotional struggles because it continued to guide me along the path to the center within me.

I decided to spread the good word about yoga for Parkinson’s while I was attending physical therapy sessions early after my diagnosis. In that six-week program, I worked with therapists in the pool, socialized with fellow patients during lunch, attended counseling sessions. There was a bit of almost everything therapeutic. The one thing missing, I commented at one point, was yoga. As engaging as the rehab was, no one session linked body and mind, providing that freeing sense of well-being, of being in the moment.

I still remember the look the OT gave me when I said that. She gazed across the table, raised her eyebrows and with a dramatic blink, tilted her head and stared wide-eyed at me. What she said without saying a word was: What are you going to do about that? Can you think of anyone who knows yoga and knows what it’s like to live inside a movement disorder body? Um, I remember thinking. Me? Within the week, I had registered for teacher training. That was seven years, countless classes, and a published book ago.

When I stumbled into that first yoga class, I stumbled into something bigger than an approach to movement. I discovered that I do have another side. In addition to my left and my right, there is a healing, centering side: my inside.

Renee Le Verrier

Advocacy through PDF’s Parkinson’s Advocates in Research Program

March 11th, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Karen Smith PUW for blogReceiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease was not what I was expecting when at the age of 42, I sat in the office of a neurologist. That day, I took the first step on a long unknown journey. My life was not over but life as I knew it was. For the first few years, I only shared the diagnosis with close friends and family. I didn’t want to be perceived as handicapped or “less than” in anyone eyes. I didn’t want sympathy so I erected walls around the Parkinson’s piece of me. If I didn’t take PD out of those walls, I didn’t have to examine it or contemplate what effect the disease would have.

Over the course of the last thirteen years, I’ve experienced many physical and cognitive changes. Muscles refuse to cooperate and my body’s movements grow difficult. My view of myself has changed also.  I don’t want to become my illness. I tell myself every day “You are still you.”

I’ve had to redefine my life and what brings meaning to it. I made up my mind to live the best life possible with Parkinson’s disease. I determined that a part of that life would include advocacy. I not only want a better future for myself but for all those living with Parkinson’s disease. I start with hope and fuel that hope with action.

Living in a mid-sized Midwestern town made my advocacy efforts somewhat difficult. My city did not have movement disorder specialists, research clinics or any conferences or symposiums. Then I heard about a program offered through the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF). The program is called Parkinson’s Advocates in Research or PAIR. The PAIR program works through patients to bring about better treatments at a faster pace. This is accomplished by ensuring that people with Parkinson’s and care partners are primary partners in research alongside scientists, industry and government. They are bringing together the people who live with Parkinson’s and the people who are developing new treatments.

Through in-person trainings and an online course, the PAIR program provides people touched by Parkinson’s with the knowledge and skills needed to pair up with scientists and healthcare professionals. By collaborating with research institutions, the PAIR program facilitates partnerships between Research Advocates and professionals at the frontlines of research.

The support PDF provides doesn’t end with the training. PDF staff works closely with advocates to identify advocacy opportunities, participate in ongoing education (webinars, conference calls), share resources, and network. Only people with Parkinson’s and care partners know what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s disease. It’s important that researchers hear what they have to say. For example, PDF Research Advocates can raise issues that are all too often overlooked, and help to identify and solve barriers to Parkinson’s research. Most importantly, the presence of Research Advocates reminds scientists of the urgency to find new treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s as soon as possible. With the training I received through PDF I was ready to begin my role as a research advocate.

To learn more about the PAIR program, visit the PDF website http://www.pdf.org/pair. With hope and action we CAN all make a difference!

Karen Smith
Team Member, PDF Pacers