“I had this overwhelming urge to call my Dad
and tell him I was thinking about him and that I loved him.”
My name is Kevin Burkart. My Dad’s name is Gary. This is a story of Parkinson's Disease.
It was 7:00am on a Saturday morning. July 31, 1999. I was a busy 28 year old professional living in the Twin Cities. I was late to meet my friends at the boat launch on the Mississippi River. We were putting in for a weekend of boating and camping on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. I hadn’t spoken to my Dad much that summer. Not as much as I would have liked. And for some reason, something was nagging at me that I needed to call him. So, schedule aside, I phoned him. His wife Monica answered. I told her I had to talk to Dad and tell him I loved him. She said okay, I’ll put him on right away. When he got on, I noticed she stayed on the phone. And I knew something wasn’t quite right. And indeed, he cried.
He told me the day before, Friday, he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson Disease and how did I know to call him and tell him I loved him? And thus began our journey with Parkinson Disease. His medications, side effects, frustrations, life style changes, depression; it all began to collide. Our first visit to the Struthers Parkinson Center in Golden Valley was on November 15, 2000 at 7:30am. Struthers is a National Center of Excellence for PD treatment. We met with Dr. Parashos whom we would come to see often at PD functions. Among numerous mobility and motor skill tests the Doctor asked Dad to write a sentence.
Dad wrote: “Parkinson’s sucks.” Brevity is his strong suit.
At dinner that night we discussed how mad he was when he was first diagnosed; on the cusp of a well-earned retirement and he has to deal with this. And we worked through it and continue to. Dad is doing great although his health continues to deteriorate. Shortly after his diagnosis we got involved in the Parkinson Association of Minnesota (PAM) and the National Parkinson Foundation. And Dad became active in a local PD support group. Both have been blessings. We attend conferences and seminars and stay current on PD developments. Heredity is an issue we discuss. The research goes both ways on this.
I served on the PAM board from 2005 – 2007. This year I’m focusing on this project for the benefit of PAM and the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF). I would appreciate your support as I combine two passions of mine: Skydiving and working to improve the lives and find a cure for those afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease. I have nearly 1000 skydives and I placed 7th at the US Nationals in 2006 as a member of Fast Forward, a 4-way Formation skydiving team that won the Open Division of the Northern Plains Skydiving League.
In closing, I’d like to add a humorous story about PD because in the end, you have to laugh at the hardships or they’ll kill you.
When on a snowmobiling trip together in Northern Michigan Dad and I became separated. I had stopped to assist some snowmobilers that needed help and Dad didn’t see me when he drove by. Because of the PD and the medications he became disoriented and lost. I couldn’t find him. I returned to our hotel and he wasn’t there. Shortly, I received a phone call. He was in the next town over and I could tell he wasn’t in good shape. He said “Hey tiger, why don’t you bring the trailer and pick me up?” Right away, Dad. When I got to the home of the first responder who was helping him I gave Dad a big hug and I could tell he was emotional and scared. We thanked the kind people who assisted him.
The first thing Dad said in the truck on the way back was, “I still want to go snowmobiling tomorrow.” I said okay but we needed to be more careful to stick together. The next thing he said was, “I have a confession to make. I’ve got four shots of Brandy in me. They thought I was cold because of the PD shaking and I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had PD. They just kept pouring them.”
Thank you for your support!