It’s not unusual to see John Surratt crossing Garland in his wheelchair to buy groceries at the Albertson’s in Casa Linda Plaza.

“I even run out of juice and have to get out and push it back home,” Surratt says, “and my particular one doesn’t have any steering or brakes on it, so it was an interesting experience going downhill.”

It’s a brave errand for a 94-year-old man, especially one who suffers from Parkinson’s. Surratt was first diagnosed about a decade ago, although he believes he began struggling with the disease at least 10 years before that. But Surratt remains spry despite its debilitating effects, and he credits this to weekly speech and physical therapy classes.

“I don’t miss this class if I can avoid it,” he says. “If I don’t do it, I can’t function. When we have a holiday and miss one, I’m a month catching up.”

The Dallas Area Parkinsonism Society offers the classes, and they’re free for anyone with Parkinson’s. The neighbors who attended a session at Skillman Church of Christ on a recent Monday agreed that the regular therapy is more important than any medication.

The therapist-led group exercises seem fairly simple — squeezing a kickball between their legs, dropping and catching it with their feet, bouncing it around the room to each other — but the activities require good reflexes and target obscure muscles. Surratt’s brother, 82-year-old Marshall, visited once and found it difficult to keep up.

“I was ready to quit long before the hour was up, and they kept going for another hour,” he says.

It’s such a good workout that when the Skillman Church session grew too large a few years ago, it was discovered that about two-thirds of the group didn’t even have Parkinson’s — they just wanted the exercise. Another group was formed for them, and the therapy sessions continued, focusing on balance, reaction and other functions inhibited by the disease. Throat tightening is another problem, causing people with Parkinson’s to have trouble speaking (Lionel Blomquist jokes that he’s a “waiter’s worst customer”), so speech therapy, including sing-alongs, is also offered.

“It’s a debilitating disease, and it steals your vigor and vitality, and this kind-of keeps you going,” says Blomquist, 74.

Perhaps most important is the moral support the sessions provide. At age 84, June Webb still lives on her own, but she’s beginning to forget where she hides things when trying to store them somewhere “safe,” plus the tremor in her right hand gives her trouble. But she finds the strength to continue when she looks into the eyes of others in the same predicament.

“I don’t ever feel glad or happier when someone is worse off than I am,” Webb says, “but when someone is dealing with this so courageously, it gives me courage.”

Parkinson’s therapy sessions

Provided by the Dallas Area Parkinsonism Society

Locations:

  • Skillman Church of Christ, 3014 Skillman; Mondays, 10 a.m.
  • Lakeside Baptist Church, 9150 Garland; Wednesdays, 10 a.m.

For information: 972-620-7600


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