Stories from the Front - The Parker's

A Different Approach to Life: One Family’s Young Onset Parkinson’s Journey

When Martin Parker reached out unsuccessfully to touch the ’s’ key on his computer keyboard he just assumed he was injured. He moved on with his life, hoping as anyone would that he would heal in time with full movement returning to his hand.

As time went on Martin’s symptoms increased. First his left hand lost dexterity where a tremor soon developed. Later his left foot began to curl involuntarily, reducing his ability to walk. When his speech started to slur, and he couldn’t perform some fine-motor tasks, Martin’s wife Meghan insisted it was time to see the doctor.

Martin, aged 30, a new father at the time, was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease on February 15th in 2012.

“To tell the truth I ignored the symptoms at first. When it got to the point that I couldn’t get my cellphone out of my pocket Meghan said it was time to see someone,” Martin recalled.

Martin, a security guard for Securitas Canada Automotive Division, in Oshawa, and Meghan, a Deaf Blind Intervenor with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, took the news as well as can be expected.

“I remember thinking ‘at least I’m not going to die.’ My family doctor, after countless MRIs, said ‘The good news is we didn’t find anything. The bad news is we didn’t find anything.’ It was a life changing event. I was just happy it wasn’t something terminal,” said Martin.

“Most people we knew were starting to catch on. I was pregnant when Martin’s symptoms started to progress more rapidly,” said Meghan.

“It took a while for diagnosis. Local Oshawa doctors weren’t able to help us. He went to a movement disorder specialist and we got a diagnosis,” she added.

There is no blood test or simple way to confirm Parkinson’s; it is diagnosed through clinical observations.

Since that time, and through increasing symptoms such as sleeplessness, balance issues and micro-handwriting, the Parkers have taken the necessary steps to maintain a high quality of life and manage their growing family’s needs.

Meghan took charge of related health and symptoms research online and finding support groups to participate in. She located the Peterborough group through the Parkinson Society Canada website and reached out to get involved.

Their current support group, based in Peterborough, meets every third Sunday of the month. Group members assist each other as much as possible while attending regularly scheduled seminars and workshops that help people with Parkinson’s, and their caregivers, manage their lives with the disease. The Parkers often attend support sessions together but occasionally Martin goes by himself, utilizing the group’s library and Parkinson’s resource to build on his Parkinson’s knowledge base.

“It’s like any relationship; you just want to talk. Martin is the one living it. He prefers to go alone and talk to others with Parkinson’s when he needs it. Many spouses go with their partners. It’s kind of common,” Meghan said.

Although the frequency of socializing has changed, the Parkers’ friends have remained steadfast and supportive throughout their life transitions.

“A lot of my friends treat me the same as before, which I like, and a lot of people deal with it humorously because that's my personality. I find making new friends easier because now I know that things you take for granted will not always be there. You have to seize opportunity when you can,” said Martin.

“We still have our very close friends and friendships haven't changed, but I have. Sometimes I prefer staying home because I have a difficult time relating to my peers. In our group there’s always talk about the future and plans, more children, moving, traveling etc. Our future is completely different in the sense that Martin will progress and we have to make smart decisions now so that we are prepared in 10-15 yrs. Sometimes it's just easier for me to stay home than to be reminded of that,” Meghan confessed.

At home Martin and Meghan have undergone some degree of role reversal in terms of household chores.

“I think it’s an even balance as with any marriage. Martin does a lot of the cooking while I go out and shovel the driveway. It’s one of those things where you kind of find a balance with time,” Meghan said.

“She always helps to pick me up (emotionally). I was satisfied just taking prescribed drugs and following the doctor’s recommendations. Meghan gave me the motivation to go to support groups and attend World Parkinson Congress in Montreal,” Martin added.

Martin also took the proper steps professionally to ensure his progressive symptoms didn’t create a security issue at work.

“I had to tell security at GM. I had to go to my boss. I felt that if I got into an emergency situation I might jeopardize people’s safety,” recounted Martin.

All-in-all, the Parkers are modifying their lives to get the most out of each day.

“We talk about what we want to do now and what can possibly wait till later. I think the one thing we've realized, is that our daughter is young and we won't get that back. So, what we do now is really for her,” Meghan said.

“We’ve changed our daily routine. There are no get up and go’s; no running out the door if I’m late. I’ve got to take meds and sit down and make sure everything is clicking. I work out at least three or four time a week doing both resistance and cardio training so I can keep my muscles strong and overall coordination high,” listed Martin.

“This is the one thing that I struggle with. I'm a planner. I pretty much had to throw my 'Type A' personality out the window once I really figured out how PD affected our family. Everything is so day to day now. A lot of it comes down to finances. Let's face it, long term disability doesn't provide you with much and when you're young and your children are young you have a lot to save for. But, then how do you enjoy life now? We are still figuring this all out,” added Meghan.

The Parkers believe that other families experiencing changes as a result of Young Onset Parkinson’s need to stay positive and make a plan to lead full, productive lives.

“Every family is different and everyone deals with Parkinson’s differently; to each their own. Do what you have to do and talk to one another. Just keep on keeping on,” Martin reinforced.

To find support programs and resources contact the regional office near you.