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His wife is his rock: Cornwall man has support in battle with Parkinson’s

Dan Steele, 50, of Cornwall leans on family and a support group to help cope with his Parkinson’s disease. He has been president of the P.E.I. Chapter of Parkinson Canada for seven years.  ©THE GUARDIAN
Dan Steele, 50, of Cornwall leans on family and a support group to help cope with his Parkinson’s disease. He has been president of the P.E.I. Chapter of Parkinson Canada for seven years. ©THE GUARDIAN - Jim Day

Dan Steele’s major health decline “started off pretty innocently,’’ he remembers.

He had a minor tremor in his left pinky finger. Not much bother really, but then symptoms progressed.

His left hand became weaker and weaker. Before long, the long-time computer programmer for the provincial government was unable to type with his left hand.

Tests were run and he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic neurological disease caused by a loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain.

He was 43 and his life would forever be changed.

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“My mind kind of went blank at that point,’’ he says.

The progression of Parkinson’s has been, he says, on the better end of the spectrum.

Still, the disease presents a daily challenge for the 50-year-old Cornwall resident.

Most mornings just getting out of bed is a physical chore.

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About Parkinson’s disease

- Parkinson’s is a chronic degenerative neurological disease caused by a loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain. Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.

- Most common symptoms are: tremor (shaking); slowness in movements, muscle stiffness and problems with balance.

- Other symptoms may also occur such as fatigue, difficulties with speech, writing, sleep disorders, loss of sense of smell, depression and cognitive changes.

- Parkinson’s will worsen over time; each person with Parkinson’s is unique and may experience different symptoms.

- Most people manage their symptoms through medication and lifestyle changes.

- Other interventions such as exercise programs and speech therapy can also help.

Source: Parkinson Canada

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“Then, once I’ve had my medications, and assuming I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I can almost be fully functional.’’

Days when medication is working well, he is doing quite well, but days when the medication is not doing the job he is “pretty much like a zombie.’’

He leans on plenty of solid support and his wife, Loretta, is a rock.

And the couple’s 11-year-old son Michael is there for his dad.

“He is a fantastic help - getting my pills, helping me get out of bed, getting my meals,’’ says Steele.

“He is becoming a more responsible individual. He is more empathetic with people with diseases like mine.’’

Following his jolting diagnosis, Steele was also quick to turn to people who truly know what he is going through both to offer, and to receive, support.

For the past seven years he has been president of the P.E.I. Chapter of Parkinson Canada.

He also regularly attends a monthly support group in Charlottetown that attracts a dozen to 30 participants. A second support group meets each month in Montague.

He says the groups are very supportive and participants share plenty of laughs.

“It is not a boohoo group,’’ he stresses.

“For me, it is almost like adopting a new family because these people become very important parts of your life and your support.’’

The P.E.I. Chapter of Parkinson Canada also provides music therapy classes in Summerside and Charlottetown as well as a boxing class and a movement class in Charlottetown.

Islanders with Parkinson’s disease interested in attending a support group or one of the classes can contact Dan at 902-892-7998 or Irene at 902-940-0086.

To mark April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month, the local chapter is holding its annual Porridge for Parkinson’s fundraiser to raise money to support services offered in the province for people with the disease.

The breakfast, which is by donation, is being held Saturday, April 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Jack Blanchard Hall at 7 Pond St. in Charlottetown.

Jim.Day@TheGuardian.pe.ca

Twitter - GuardianJimDay

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