Gary Ball was the president and CEO of a thriving Brantford company overseeing hundreds of employees when Parkinson’s disease changed his life.
Ball thought he’d had a heart attack in late 2008 when he lost use of the left side of his body.
But after tests showed his heart was healthy, it only took a neurologist a couple minutes to make a diagnosis.
“He said the good news is that you don’t have MS or cancer but you do have Parkinson’s. I didn’t know what it was. All I knew is that it was the Michael J. Fox shaky disease. I got smart in a hurry.”
Ball and his family were among a small group of participants at the Parkinson Canada Superwalk in Port Dover on Saturday.
More than 4,000 registered walkers raised $2.25 million across Canada last year.
Ball was leading Mitten Inc., makers of vinyl siding and other products, until 2012 when he was forced to leave the business because of his deteriorating health.
“With Parkinson’s the more stress you put on yourself, the worse it gets. I had been travelling all over the world and I couldn’t do that anymore,” he said.
“Everything hurts all the time. It takes twice the energy to do anything I used to do.”
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear.
The most common symptoms are tremors, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, and rigidity of the muscles. Also common are fatigue, soft speech, problems with handwriting, stooped posture, constipation, and sleep disturbances.
Ball, who now lives in Port Dover, takes Levodopa (also called L-dopa) to help ease his stiff, rigid body parts.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “Without it, I couldn’t walk.”
Cathy Boose was experiencing hand tremors and muscle weakness when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago.
The retired registered nurse who lives in Port Dover said she’s been able to control her symptoms with regular exercise and medication. Still, she says she has to fight through the fatigue “brain fog” brought on by the disease.
“I go along and try to have a good attitude,” she said at Saturday’s fundraiser.
Paul Scibetta, community development co-ordinator for Parkinson Canada in Southwestern Ontario, said money raised by the kid- and dog-friendly walks goes toward Parkinson’s research, programs and services, printed educational material, and providing doctor and resource referrals to those living with the disease.
Scibetta said one of the biggest obstacles facing people is the long wait time – up to 18 months – to see a specialist.
Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, prompting researchers to call it a pandemic. About 100,000 Canadians have it. Global prevalence of Parkinson’s is expected to double by 2040 from six million to 12 million.
Ball’s wife Mary Ellen, daughter Alyson Lindsay, and grandsons Jonas Lindsay, 12, and nine-year-old Holden Lindsay were at Saturday’s walk to offer support.
“I’ve seen first-hand what he goes through,” said Lindsay of her dad. “I watch him struggle every day. This is a man who had a business with 500 employees and was very hands on. He did everything for us. Now he sometimes can’t get out of bed, can’t put his shoes on. It’s a real eye-opener.”
Ball, who used to organize fundraising walks in Brantford, said he raises money and participates in the events to help others.
“I just don’t want anyone else to get it.”