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Walker Feature: Laurie Symonds

In 2004, Laurie Symond’s sister Lynn was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 44. With the complete absence of a family history of this disease, they were shocked and mystified by this diagnosis.

Lynn was not yet retired when she got this news and was still a hairstylist by trade. Even with medication to treat her disease, the dyskinesia she experienced made her look “like she was hula hooping” as she cut hair. In 2012, Lynn received Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for her Parkinson’s and reduced her pharmaceutical load. Laurie speaks to the wonders of this treatment, saying that it, “transformed her body into the tool she needed in order to do her work and other things in life.” With DBS, the “hula hooping” motion subsided and Lynn could now perform her work at full capacity! While mood disorders did set in following this treatment, they were handled very well by a psychiatrist.

Through this journey, the Symonds family has learned, adapted and acquired insight about Parkinson’s that they are willing to share with others.

First and foremost, the family learned to put Lynn’s health as their number one priority. While they may not reach a unanimous agreement in many of their decisions, they remind themselves that they need to put these differences aside for the greater good.

They have gained insight into the importance of family and friends rallying behind their loved ones to fight Parkinson’s. Laurie feels that specialists, to no fault of their own, are simply too burdened to put their full time and attention into each case. She worries that patients, without family and friends advocating for them, may not have their voices heard. As such, “routine” treatment for a disease is used to guide interventions instead of using personalized approaches beneficial to the patient’s particular needs. Laurie speaks volumes to the idea that each patient needs a team that rallies behind them and advocates for their needs.

Next, it is important to be educated on Parkinson’s and not pass judgment. Laurie recalls scenarios in which people ask her, “What is Parkinson’s? You keep saying that word and it means nothing to me.” For a disease that more than 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed with, the lack of understanding is certainly a concern. It reminds us that even those who are aware of the disease often do not understand the variability in each patient and their journey with the disease. For instance, Lynn does not experience the typical shaking associated with Parkinson’s and that doesn’t make her diagnosis any less real.

Through joining Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario (PSSO), the Symonds Family has learned about the power of connections. Hearing the stories of others and sharing their own makes them realize that they are not alone with Parkinson’s. Laurie explains how the PSSO provides a “safe place” where patients don’t need to worry or be embarrassed by their symptoms. In the inclusion in events with PSSO, Laurie loves the Walk for Parkinson’s as it unifies the community with music, prizes and a fun day for a great cause! She remarks that she walks away from the event feeling empowered each year after seeing the strength of the patients and how the community comes together. She recalls that Lynn “always leaves the event with a smile”, and that their entire family is inspired by her strength and resilience.

With a final note on Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario, Laurie appreciates that they are not “an anonymous supergroup” – they are real people within your communities. She appreciates that these people are not behind layers of administration and that they are members who are delighted to help.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to fight this disease. With leaders like the Symonds family, our communities will be together and strong for a very long time.