Editorial | Parkinson’s sufferers now have two Myrtle Beach-area support groups

04/15/2014 4:44 PM

04/15/2014 4:46 PM

After Joseph McGovern was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he “felt like he was the only person in the world with Parkinson’s other than Michael J. Fox,’’ Beverly McGovern recalled. “I said, let’s find a support group.’’

As a veteran teacher and school principal, she knew support groups can be helpful. Finding a convenient group, however, was easier said than done. So she started one, which meets in North Myrtle Beach. “We finally found one in Murrells Inlet,’’ but it met in the evening and Murrells Inlet can be a long ride from the McGovern’s home in Longs.

A dozen Parkinson’s patients and caregivers attended the first meeting at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish Hall in March 2013. Last month, the monthly meeting drew 48 people. “Caretakers are begging me to start a caregiver’s group,’’ Beverly McGovern says, but she feels she has her hands full.

Members’ input is sought on topics of discussion and the group has heard from a pharmacist, an audiologist and others on exercise and nutrition, to name a few topics. Exercise is a key for many Parkinson’s patients, although “each case is unique -- like a fingerprint. There are similarities of course, but no two are exactly alike,’’ McGovern says.

“My husband is doing so much better,’’ she says. “He had a terrible tremor in his right hand,’’ so severe that he could not shave himself. They learned about walking sticks from another PD patient at one of the meetings, purchased the sticks and exercise has brought so much improvement that the tremor is gone.

Jim Newton underscored the importance of sharing information. Newton and his wife Donna have reassumed leadership of the older support group, which dates to about 2000. The two groups are among 18 in South Carolina. “No one of us has Parkinson’s the same -- the smallest little thing can make the biggest difference in your life,’’ Newton says, who has had the disease for 22 years. For example, he found that proteins should be avoided with some medicines. “We’ve known for years, but it’s not written anywhere.’’ The Newtons were among PD patients and caregivers who attended a seminar two months ago at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

With all the frustrations and sometimes despair -- from tremors, soft voice, sleepiness, great fatigue -- the neurodegenerative disease also brings new gifts to some individuals. “We have a woman [Darlene Eichler of Myrtle Beach] who started writing children’s books and just had her 12th book published. Others are now writing poetry, painting or doing woodcarvings,’’ McGovern says.

“The best gift is a sense of humor. Laughter is a release for many and as a caregiver, I appreciate that the most.’’

A native of Indiana, McGovern served 25 years with the Sisters of Providence as a teacher and principal in Canada, Indiana, the District of Columbia and North Carolina. She has a master’s degree from Duke University. She took a leave to care for her mother in Indianapolis and did not return to the order. She was a principal of a parochial school in Indianapolis and taught first grade in a public school. She and Joseph met and married and moved here in 2000.

First reported as “shaking palsy’’ in 1817 by the English surgeon James Parkinson, Parkinson’s Disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative brain disease, after Alzheimer’s. PD is both genetic and environmental in nature, according to the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas in Charlotte, N.C. An estimated 10,046 South Carolinians have PD, 725 in Horry County and 187 in Georgetown County.

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