The observance of Parkinson's Awareness Month in April has come and gone, but the participants of the local Parkinson's Support Group continue their efforts to offer support, understanding and information with each other when they meet.
They get together at noon on the third Friday of the month at Eat 'n Park in Steubenville, and that will be the case this Friday as well.
The group started six years ago, its members grateful for the vision of the late Jo Ann Maydak, who got the support group organized at the encouragement of Bobbi Penman. Its first meeting was held April 21, 2006, in the board room of Trinity East, and Maydak recruited speakers of a varied background - from neurologists and nurses to pharmacists and attorneys - to address issues faced by those with Parkinson's disease, which is a progressive degenerative neurological disorder affecting more than 1.5 million Americans. Men and women alike are affected, and although the highest incidence is in those over 60 years old, an alarming number of cases under 50 is being documented yearly, according to information from the American Parkinson Disease Association Inc.
The cause or causes of PD remain unknown, and there is no cure. It is characterized by slowness in movement, walking difficulty, posture instability, rigidity or stiffness of arms, legs or neck, and tremors, mostly in the hands at rest.
Although they have no officers, their leader is David Von Hofen, director of programs and outreach at the National Parkinson Foundation, Western Pennsylvania, located in Pittsburgh, who has been with the group from the beginning. He brings handouts and help, offering what resources he has available.
After Maydak's death, the support group continued in her memory.
The group has about 28 members but there's always room for more as the group is available to those who have PD, their caregivers or anyone interested for that matter.
"If it weren't for Jo Ann, some of us might not have met each other," notes Shirley Myers, caregiver for her husband, Karl, who was diagnosed in 1987 and likes to echo the motto of actor Michael J. Fox, who also has PD - "I have Parkinson's. Parkinson's doesn't have me."
A positive attitude, according to support group members, is essential ammunition in the war against the disease that members Cheryl Irvin of Mingo and her husband George, diagnosed in 1988, adopt also. The support group has been a lifeline for them. "You feel very comfortable knowing there are others going through this, too," Cheryl said.
Josephine Grantonic and her husband George, diagnosed in 2006, appreciate the support group as well. "We're like family. Every one is so nice, and they give you a lot of support."
Diagnosed five years ago, Janet Lemasters said the common denominator among those attending is understanding what everyone is experiencing on different levels, physically, emotionally and otherwise. "We like more members to share so we can lift each other up," Lemasters said.
For information on the support group, call (740) 282-5645.