The Month of April is Parkinson's Disease Awareness month, and a longtime group that formed to help area Parkinson patients is this week's Community Gem. 

Dave and Patty Cooney have been married 48 years. For the past 16, they have been living with Parkinson's Disease.

Dave was diagnosed at age 55, his is gradual disease progression forced him to retire early.

"To see him have to retire at 60 because he was working almost 13 to 14 hours a day to get done what he used to accomplish in a faster time," said Patty. "That was hard." 

But the Erie County couple found support through Parkinson Partners of Northwestern Pa.

"We are 100 percent based in Erie with absolutely no national affiliation," said Lynne Gotham.

Lynne Gotham has been the executive director of the group since 2011. But her involvement started years before as her dad was battling the disease.

"Parkinson's is a neurological disorder that effects a certain part of the brain which cases a reduction in a vital chemical called dopamine," said Gotham. 

She now helps countless families across Northwest Pa., Western New York and into Northeast Ohio.

Carrying on a legacy started by 5 couples, all dealing with the disease, that met in a doctors office back in 1992.

"Took it upon themselves and asked a neurologist if he could offer assistance," said Gotham. "And they decided to have a presentation and over 200 people showed up." 

31 years later, the group offers community wellness programs thanks to a partnership with the Gannon University Physical and Occupational Therapy Department.

Encouraging exercise and movement. 

"That is the one thing we know that can help slow progression," said Gotham. 

The four main Parkinson's symptoms are:

  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity
  • Balance problems
  • Tremor

"I have to re-do all my scheduling for getting dressed, taking a shower," said Dave. "How long it takes me to do it and I add a little more time on each time I do it." 

Dave is able to share experiences with other patients

Separate support groups through Parkinson Partners, are also offered for spouses and caretakers

"Nobody totally understands unless you're going through it yourself too," said Patty. "So, I think that's what's so beneficial."

The family started the Dave Cooney Parkinson Awareness Walk. It takes place every other year. The next walk is scheduled for June of 2024.

"We used to say the rates for Parkinson's were going to double by 2040 and that has actually been adjusted," said Gotham. 

My dad is among those battling the disease nationwide. There is no cure for the disease but there are pharmaceutical options and surgical interventions.

"No two people are the same," said Patty. "But there's similarities." 

The support from this gem of a group operates on donations, grants, and fundraisers. During Parkinson's Disease Awareness month, there's local events planned to help raise money for area families dealing with the disease.