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Parkinson's sufferers band together through group

4/18/2013

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

Rhonda Westerman was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in October 2005. She began going to physical therapy and doing her best to manage symptoms and keep a positive attitude, she said.

But one thing Westerman didn't have was the benefit of peer support and a sounding board for all of her questions. That's what she -- and many others with the disease -- are hoping to gain from a new Ellis County support group.

"I think it's going to be real valuable. It gives people ... a place to come where other people are having the same problems," Westerman said of the group. "I never had anyone to help me with questions or learn about things, or (the ability to) learn what other people are going through."

The High Plains Parkinson's Support Group now officially is under way following an initial meeting in February to determine if there was enough local interest to start such a group.

It turns out there was. Approximately 25 people have attended the two meetings since then, said Paula Desbien, who helped organize efforts to get the group started.

"It's wonderful," said Desbien, who has watched her husband's grandmother struggle with the disease. "It's nice to see that people are open and wanting to deal with the disease and be the best that they can be."

Besides social support, facilitators will bring in guest speakers and resources to address various topics with the ultimate goal of helping to improve quality of life, she said.

The group meets at noon the second Thursday of each month at Messiah Lutheran Church, 2000 Main. All are welcome and encouraged to bring a brown-bag lunch.

Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disorder that occurs when the brain does not make enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates movement.

Ellis resident Tom Webb officially was diagnosed with the disease in August but had begun showing symptoms a few years earlier. He and his wife had been traveling the country in an RV after retirement.

"One time we were walking and I couldn't keep up," Webb said. "It was really frustrating. At first I thought, 'I'm just getting old,' and could easily ignore it."

It eventually got to the point where Webb knew he needed to do more to manage his symptoms.

"Physical therapy is the magic bullet," he said. "It's what really has helped."

Bernie Roth knows first-hand how much difference education and exercise can make in combating Parkinson's symptoms. Diagnosed with the illness about a decade ago, he's been undergoing therapy for about a year and now can sit and stand on his own.

Roth, a Victoria resident, was at the group's April meeting with his son, Tom.

"It's such a mental, emotional diagnosis it seems like," said Tom Roth, who is helping with his father's care. "I think people, when they've got Parkinson's, just kind of immediately think their life is over. ... There's just barriers to be broken."

Bernie Roth intends to keep coming to the monthly support group meetings.

"I think it's good for Dad to see he's not the only person in Ellis County with Parkinson's," Tom Roth said.

Bernie Roth is pleased with his progress, but said he's still pushing for more.

"I want to play catch with my grandson," he said.