The new chairman of the local branch of a charity which supports people with Parkinson’s Disease and their carers, said his number one aim was to create awareness about the condition.
Waterside man, Les Hill, was recently appointed chair of the Foyle Branch of Parkinson’s UK. He takes over from Jack Glenn, who had been the leading light for several years.
Before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in April 2016, Les said he knew very little about the disease or the symptoms. “I had taken time off work to go to the dentist and as I was brushing my teeth my left arm just wouldn’t work. I tried again, thinking the arm was just tired, but it still wouldn’t work.”
Les contacted his GP and was advised to go straight to the hospital, fearing that he had had a stroke.
“I was there for hours and underwent numerous tests. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong but I was told I had the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy or Parkinson’s.
“This was a Friday evening and I was advised to go home and come back on the Monday morning to see another consultant. My head was all over the place and all I could think was why me?”
Les went home and started to research all three conditions, something he admits was the ‘worst possible thing I could do’. He then spent five days in Altnagelvin Hospital undergoing extensive tests.
“After I was discharged I got an appointment to see the neurologist and was advised to bring someone with me to the appointment. I was in a terrible way by the time I actually saw the consultant, thinking the worst.
“During that appointment I was told they had found something on my brain. The first thing that came into my head was I’ve got cancer; I’ve got a brain tumour and I was scared. When he told me I had Parkinson’s I said ‘I’ll take that because there are a lot of people worse off than me.’”
Les was just 46-years-old when he was diagnosed and was referred to a specialist in early onset Parkinson’s based in the City Hotel.
“My symptoms are controlled with medication. I can’t sleep, I just never feel tired and I don’t have the power I used to on the left side of my body.Parkinson’s affects my fine motor skills and my mobility. A walking stick helps me get around. When I was diagnosed I knew nothing about Parkinson’s, my first thought was I’ll have a tremor, but I don’t have that.”
In fact, Les believes the first symptom of his condition had been spotted by a work colleague and it was something he dismissed at the time.
“A fella at work noticed that my handwriting was getting very small. He mentioned it to me a few times and told me to get it checked out. Looking back now, it was definitely a sign. It took me a while to get my hand going and while my writing was neat it was like reading the fine print in a letter and I was very slow when writing.”
Following his diagnosis, Les got in touch with a friend who has Parkinson’s and he invited him to attend a meeting of the Foyle Branch of Parkinson’s UK.
“I was surprised by how many people I knew at that meeting and it made me realise Parkinson’s is common.
“The branch is like one happy family and attending the meetings lifts your head. You get to meet people who are going through the same thing and there is so much information available at each one.”
The group also go on regular trips and hold numerous fundraising events throughout the year.
Les eventually became a member of the committee and took responsibility for organising some of these events.
Les said he is honoured to take on the role of chairman and “I will do anything to help anyone with Parkinson’s day or night.’
He said that while Jack Glenn has stepped down, he hasn’t gone away and he will continue to seek his advice and assistance.
Les describes himself as a ‘Parkinson’s warrior’ and he aims to raise awareness of Parkinson’s in the Foyle area, to change attitudes and encourage more understanding of the symptoms and to help raise money to fund research into the disease.
He urged anyone who has been recently diagnosed or their carers to attend the local meetings.
The branch meets every third Wednesday of the month in St.Columb’s Park House. The next meeting will be held on November 7.