Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editor counter punches Parkinson’s

My wife and I left “The South” 19 years ago to arrange the marriage of a newspaper, TV station and online site in Tampa.

We are now happily moving north to return to “The South.”

The destination is Macon and the reason far different: to join a vibrant care community that will help us manage the uncertainties of my Parkinson’s disease.

Struby and I have a new home in Carlyle Place, the lovely and lively seniors’ community near Wesleyan College. What’s not to like about a place with world-class medical and exercise facilities and a tavern?

However strong my defenses, my unpredictable neurological condition, Parkinson’s, will inevitably progress. The question is how best to slow and bend the trajectory of progression in the least harmful direction.

My Parkinson’s diagnosis came in 2014, although I now trace symptoms back to 2006. The disease is often silent until up to 80 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain are killed. Dopamine is the chemical transmitter that permits neurons throughout the body to communicate.

PD is an ultimately unknowable condition of unclear origin or origins. Each case is unique to the person. Even the numbers are approximations. One-and-one half million cases in the U.S. Seven million worldwide. Fifty thousand new cases a year in the U.S. Second most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s.

PD is not a death sentence. It is possible to “live well” with it, as the Davis Phinney Foundation says. I am doing so now.

Many People With Parkinson’s (PwP or Parkies in my vernacular) are embracing vigorous exercise, improved diet, powerful mental tools and wide social networks to punch back at this cruel condition. An increasing number of studies document their improved health and well being.

“When people describe Parkinson’s disease, they often define it as a disease that is incurable and without treatment to slow its progression,” says Dr. Peter Schmidt, chief research and clinical officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation. “You can change how Parkinson’s affects you, but it takes hard work and dedication.”

The key is taking charge of the disease, Schmidt says, by aggressively seeking the most expert care available and engaging your brain through rigorous exercise and mental conditioning.

Dementia, however, remains a strong possibility at the end of the PD road. If that’s my fate, Struby has helping family in Macon and my brother and his family are 86 miles up the road in Atlanta.

Struby and I leave Tampa with wonderful memories of raising our two sons in Tampa Palms, Rotary service and involvement with Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

We look forward to an engaged, productive and fulfilling life in Macon. I hope to join the Central Georgia Parkinson’s community and contribute through my patient advocacy work with the Davis Phinney Foundation.

I am eager to connect with fellow ”Parkies” in Central Georgia. Call me at 813-787-3886 or email me at gthelen1@icloud.com. Contact me now, even before our mid-November arrival at Carlyle Place.

Gil Thelen is executive director of the Florida Society of News Editors. He is the retired president and publisher of The Tampa Tribune. He previously edited The State (Columbia, S.C.) and The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

Thelen, is married to Macon native Cynthia Jane Struby Thelen (known as Struby). Her mother was Jane Spearman Struby and her father was Bert Struby, long-time publisher of The Telegraph.