Caregiver, patient bring awareness to Parkinson's disease
by Marie Nesmith
Apr 28, 2013 | 2778 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parkinson's Awareness
Sylvia Baldwin talks about living with Parkinson’s as her husband, Michael, listens in her Cartersville home. Serving as a caregiver for the past 15 years, Michael Baldwin Sr. was inspired to help form the Bartow County Parkinson’s Support Group about six years ago. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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For Michael Baldwin Sr., his experience as a caregiver is fueling his desire to help others touched by Parkinson’s disease. About six years ago, the Cartersville resident co-founded the Bartow County Parkinson’s Support Group, which has assisted up to 20 people at its monthly meetings.

“The purpose of [the group] is to make people aware of Parkinson’s, and what to expect during the early stages and the later stages. Also, we have a lot of speakers from time to time,” Baldwin said, adding two neurologists recently have addressed the group. “... My wife has got Parkinson’s [so] I’m a caregiver. She’s had it for about 15 years. I want to know as much as I can on Parkinson’s and that way I’ll know what to expect.

“... It’s like cancer. It’s like autism. It’s like anything else. If one person in the family has got a disease, the whole family has got it.”

With her Parkinson’s reaching stage four, Baldwin’s wife, Sylvia, takes about 10 different medications a day to help lesson her symptoms. Even though her condition will not reverse in time, her well-being has improved since receiving Deep Brain Stimulation. During the treatment, a device sends electrical pulses to certain parts in the brain, hindering impulses that create tremors.

“[They] implanted a probe [in her brain] and then later on she had to go back and have the battery installed into her breast,” Baldwin said. “So she’s got two of them. If she hadn’t had them, she would have been bedridden 10 years ago. [It helps] with the shaking, normal activities and also [with reducing] medication.

“... My wife was one of the first 200 to get a DBS in the United States. The reason that they [came] up with the DBS was it was first started for people who have epilepsy [and experience] seizures. And one of the guys had Parkinson’s and he said, ‘Look, it helped my Parkinson’s, too.’ So they started doing them for Parkinson’s [patients]. [After she received it], it was a different way of life.”

Along with caregivers, the Bartow County Parkinson’s Support Group welcomes people living with Parkinson’s and anyone who wants to know more about the disease. Gathering on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., the offering convenes at Cartersville Medical Center’s classroom No. 3.

“You love her. You support her and you do what you can for her. That’s what [being a caregiver] is like,” Baldwin said. “[I would tell other caregivers], ‘Patience is a virtue.’ In any disease, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s autism or whatever, ‘Patience is a virtue.’

“Right now, [her prognosis] is just in limbo. I don’t know what to expect one day to another because every day is different. ... [She] is stage four now. Stage five will be bedridden. It’s not going to get any better. It’s just going to get worse and worse.”

With the nation currently observing Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Baldwin is pleased the disease also was highlighted locally with proclamations signed by Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor and Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, “Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time. Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease. The cause is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage its symptoms.

“Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Parkinson’s primarily affects neurons in ... an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally. The specific group of symptoms that an individual experiences varies from person to person. Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following: tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; bradykinesia or slowness of movement; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; [and] postural instability or impaired balance and coordination.”

Like Baldwin, Gene Camp also feels led to encourage those impacted by Parkinson’s. Diagnosed with the disease in 2006, the 62-year-old Taylorsville resident credits medication, an active nature and an optimistic frame of mind to reducing his Parkinson’s signs.

“I had noticed some problems prior to [being diagnosed] — tremors, hands shaking, voice problems,” Camp said. “It probably [went] on five or six years and then it just progressively got a little worse and a little worse. But it wasn’t something that was debilitating. It was something that I had worked through.

“The first doctor I went to spent about 15 minutes with me and diagnosed it. I wasn’t happy with that. So I finally got into Emory [and] Dr. Freeman ... spent about two hours with me and confirmed that I did have Parkinson’s. ... [I thought I] better get to work on my bucket list. It’s got to be downhill from here. So let’s get to work on that, but that [has] not [been] the case.”

To Camp’s delight, a dexterity test five years after he was diagnosed revealed he was performing better than his first evaluation.

“It was [wonderful] to have someone else [tell] me [because] I feel like I’m doing better,” said Camp, who has served as the superintendent for the Bartow County Water and Sewer Department since 1987. “But it’s still, it’s there and I recognize it and I work around it. But he asked me what kind of things I was doing and I told him, ‘Well, I ride motorcycles and do the same things I’ve always done, just sometimes it takes me a little longer.

“I can’t do tedious, little bitty things [with my hands] but I work on my lawn mowers and tractors and those kinds of things and still do a lot of the physical work that I used to do. I can still run a backhoe and dig ditches. ... I go fishing. I keep up with my grandson. He’s 3 1/2. He loves to — if I crank something up, he wants to get on it.”

While Camp does not belong to any support groups, he often reaches out to others touched by Parkinson’s, lending encouragement when the opportunity arises.

“The ones that have known me for years, know where I was then and where I am now,” Camp said. “I’m just so proud that I haven’t deteriorated. Since I got Parkinson’s and communicate with a lot of people, I’ve seen some of them really go down pretty quick. The disease seems accelerated under some conditions.”

Believing that having an optimistic attitude is key, Camp said he will never give up.

“A lot of people are worse off than I am,” he said. “I’m so thankful that I’m able to do what I can do. I’ll keep on going as long as I can.

“... There’s some really good groups available, counseling. I think it’s more or as important for the people that are [caring for others] — not the patient but their family and friends — to be aware of what [Parkinson’s] is and what it’s not. [There is] just a lot of information out there that they can gather. If your family supports you, and mine does, you’ve got a chance to make [your] quality of life much better.”

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, visit www.pdf.org. Further details on the Bartow County Parkinson’s Support Group can be obtained by calling Baldwin at 770-655-5288, any day before 9 p.m.