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Dennis's Story

Patient, Husband, Educator

...a diet of love and a lot of laughter and commitment to each other sustains the will to fight on.

On Saturday, April 30, 2016, I had another in a series of amazing, thoughtful, and surprising occurrences happen to my benefit at the Missoula airport. I was deplaning in a wheelchair because the flight time that day had made my legs so stiff I could barely walk. At the door of the plane, I was met with a wheelchair and a gate agent. I asked to immediately be taken to the bathroom. The gate agent took me up the gateway and realized on the way that she could not leave the gate door unattended and could not take me where I needed to go. My wife had been separated from me due to confusing signals in the general chaos of the plane’s arrival. She had my cane. I could not wait, and began to stumble toward the restroom without my cane. The gate agent was in a hopeless situation, given her assigned duties and the security issues.

Out of nowhere emerged Scott from among the departing passengers who recognized the situation we both were in, took the wheelchair, brought it to me and solved both of our problems. I had barely a chance to thank him before he had to join his departure queue.

This experience, and experiences similar in nature, have happened to me on many occasions over the course of my Parkinson’s journey. I have written them down in a book I call, With a Little Help from My Friends, which I am currently trying to publish. The purpose of the book is to show those who have Parkinson’s they can venture into the world, and there is a large number of thoughtful observant people who will step in when needed to assist in a predicament. Too many people with Parkinson’s do not venture out into the wonderful experience that comes with engaging in everyday life. When they look outside, the world seems busy, somewhat self-centered, and chaotic. Yet in that setting, there is inevitably someone who is ready to help, and they come forward. Scott was just the latest in my experience, and he will find his way into my book.

Before Parkinson’s put me on the journey it dictated some 16 years ago, I was like most people who hardly noticed the acts of discrete assistance that went on around me. I always helped when I could, I just never saw the whole picture. I still am astonished at the good that lives in the general public.

Though Parkinson’s is a degenerative condition, taking me out of the classroom as a University Professor, away from the sport I love, handball, and has made the activities of daily life very difficult, I’m inspired by the people who come into my life, and remain in my life, who are not afraid to challenge and support me. As my wife says, no matter what challenges are in front of me, I should “do something scary every once in a while just to test the boundaries of [my] life.” I listened to her, and my life has been full of laughter, a supportive family, and, surprisingly, an extended family of good Samaritans, as well as a bit of adventure. I have found that engagement with the world has remained a source of inspiration.

The airplane trip originated in Lugano, Switzerland, and was a visit to see my four grandchildren, my daughter and son-in-law. Such a trip may have seemed a bridge too far if Parkinson’s had dominated my experience, rather than the inspiring people who extend the boundaries of my life and support my commitment to live life to the fullest.

Dennis O’Donnell, Age 69, USA

Living with Parkinson’s

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