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Why Parkinson’s Disease is so close to my heart…

Welcome, April, with your warmer weather, blue skies, budding trees, chirping birds, blooming flowers, and obscene amounts of pollen!

April is a special month for me; it’s the month where I get to remember my first best friend; my Grandpa.  His 101st birthday would be this month; it’s been an unbelievable 10 years since he passed away.  I miss him all the time, but he is always in my heart and in my treatment sessions.  He and my grandmother, Margaret are responsible for my deep love for the adult/geriatric age-group.  They taught me how to interact with older people in a fun, yet respectful way.

That bald baby is me!

They used to watch me, when I was very little, from the time I was born until I was around 4, everyday while my parents went to work.  I remember my Dad would attach my wagon to his 10-speed bike with bungee chords, and we would ride from our house to my Grandparent’s house (only in the nice weather of course) which was about a half a mile.  He would drop me off and head to his job (milking cows) and I would be with my Grandparents.

Most days, I remember venturing out with my Grandpa; he was a contractor & farmer; he built houses, dug wells, cut his own lumber, & raised cattle.  Sometimes, I would ride on the wheel well of the tractor and he would take me up into the forest, where he would cut down trees to use for lumber.  He would tell me to only play in a certain area, and I would go off collecting pine cones or creating an imaginary world in the middle of a dense forest.  Sometimes, I would go to cattle auctions with him, where I would play with the calves; I have no idea what he would do while nuzzled the baby cows.  Other days, I would stay home with Grandma and we would bake, or get ready for a rummage sale, or head to the local dairy for milk… sometimes we would get ice cream, too!  I can’t even begin to express how much BOTH of them mean to me.  I have so many happy memories with them.  I always felt wanted, loved, and appreciated when I was with them.

I’m not exactly sure when, but my Grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; I think I was a teenager or close to being a teenager, but I’m really not sure.  He had tremors, his feet shuffled when he walked (I LOVED hearing the sound of his slippers across the hardwood floor), he eventually started losing his voice, having trouble swallowing, and falling.  A lot of falling.

Watching him grow old and frail was very hard for me.  He went from a very strong and active man, driving a tractor and operating a sawmill, to a frail man scooting around in a wheelchair, barely able to talk above a whisper.  On my last visit with him, he begged me for a chocolate milk shake and some oreo cookies.  The speech pathologist at his nursing home had put him on a puree diet with honey thick liquids.  He was MISERABLE, to say the least. And, yes, I went and got him a milkshake from McDonalds and some oreo cakester cookies from a gas station.  He enjoyed every single bite he was able to take and I enjoyed the ability to give him something he wanted so badly.

I wanted to help him get better, for selfish reason’s of course, but I also wanted to understand WHY all these things were happening to him.  He passed away during my last semester of graduate school for speech pathology.  I remember trying so hard not to cry during graduation; I wanted him there so badly.

I wanted him there because he had been one of my major inspirations to finishing grad school.  Every single project I ever had to do for school was on Parkinson’s disease.  For my research class, I had to create a mock research study, come up with fake evidence, and use the methods we had learned in class to write a research paper based on our mock study.  I, true to form, picked a study involving Parkinson’s disease and a specialized treatment for voice.  I created the data, I wrote the paper, and I think I remember correctly, that I was the only person in the class to get an A on that paper.  My paper was so good, the professors asked to use it as an example for the upcoming classes.

Had it not been for my Grandpa, I don’t know that I would have excelled the way I did.  Because of him, I had a reason to apply the knowledge I had learned.

When I graduated, I felt like I had a deeper understanding of how I would have been able to help him.  And, of course, the more I practice speech language pathology, the more I learn, and I can’t help but think how much I would be able to help him, if he were still alive today.

All these memories bring me to this:  April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.

If there’s one disease I know more than an other; it’s Parkinson’s.  I know it because my Grandpa had it.  I know it because I researched it for every class I ever had to take. I know it because I have provided therapy to countless people with Parkinson’s disease.  I understand it, the process, and what I need to do to improve a person’s quality of life with the disease.  If you want to understand more, click here to go to the Parkinson’s Association of the Carolina’s web page.  Or, to learn about other Parkinson’s Disease related resources in the Carolinas, click here.

Now, I have the opportunity to enhance my skills even further, because I was selected by the Parkinson Voice Project, as a 2021 Speak Out! & Loud Crowd grant recipient. (watch the video to see Resurgence’s name come across the screen!) This month I will be attending the Speak Out! & Loud Crowd Training to receive certification in this specific treatment protocol; I will be 1 of only 2 Speak Out certified SLP’s in a 25 mile radius of Concord, North Carolina!  Keep your eyes open for Loud Crowd Groups coming soon; probably around June!

I can’t think of a better way to honor my Grandfather, than to help other people’s grandparents, who are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

There are multiple Parkinson’s Disease related webpages with resources.  I love this one, from the Parkinson Voice Project, that is a lecture series.  LOTS of excellent information!  There’s also Wellness Wednesdays put on by the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas, on the third Wednesday of every month, which is a group that talks about coping with stress; for that link, click here!  Another amazing LOCAL resource, is the Parkinson’s support group run by the lovely ladies at Cannon Pharmacy; Emily, Arin, and Amanda are incredible moderators!

He had this thing he used to say to me before every meal.  He would lean over to me, because my seat was always right next to him, and whisper “Our soup!”  I think it was his way of saying, “I love you.”  And, he would always have a huge grin when he said it.

The night after my Grandpa passed away, I told Jaime that he would come back to visit as an owl. It wasn’t long before owls started to turn up where we were. Now, every time I seen an owl, I feel like it’s my Grandpa watching over me. This is a picture of a barred owl that used to visit our back yard often, when we lived in Charlotte.

 

Well, Grandpa, this win is for you, in your birthday month, and your disease’s awareness month.

Our Soup,

Michelle

Michelle Hill MS CCC-SLP is a speech language pathologist and Owner/Founder/CEO of Resurgence Neuro Rehab.

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