Living with Parkinson’s disease: an interview with SAVVY client Paul Buchhorn

“I think the community should be aware of people with conditions like Parkinson's.”

Maguire & McInerney SAVVY Survivor Season 26 is more than a 7-day fitness festival. It’s about raising money for Parkinson’s disease research. 

This year we have teamed up with Illawarra North Parkinson’s NSW Support Group and University of Wollongong “Parkinson’s Molecular Insights of Parkinson’s Disease” research project to bring awareness to the local community of the issues facing people living with Parkinson’s disease. As of Wednesday 13 December 2023, SAVVY has raised close to $30,000.

To gain insight into what it’s like to live with Parkinson’s, Angela Saville, Head of Wellness at SAVVY, sat down with Paul Buchhorn who was diagnosed with the disease two years ago.  Paul has been working with SAVVY clinicians one-on-one and attending Parkinson’s-focused group classes (such as PD Movers) since June 2022 to manage his symptoms. He’s a regular face in the clinic, and his positive attitude is present at every session. 

Read the interview below, or watch it as a video on our Facebook page here.

Angela: So, Paul, how long have you been living with Parkinson’s disease?

Paul: Probably three years. I was diagnosed about two years ago, and I feel I had some of the symptoms before that. When I went to my GP, I said, ‘I feel like I’ve aged a decade in a year with my movement’ and he ended up correctly diagnosing Parkinson’s. Once I went through to a Neurologist, it was confirmed. But he picked it.

Angela: What was it like getting that diagnosis?

Paul: I didn’t know much about Parkinson’s at the time. I didn’t realise it’s 0.85% of people get Parkinson’s. That’s one in 115, or something like that. So that’s a very, very common affliction.

And what’s it like? I was fairly athletic beforehand and a competitive athletic, but I’ve had to give that away. And it’s more maintaining lifestyle now.

Angela: How has Parkinson’s disease impacted your life?

Paul: There’s probably 10 or 15 types of influences that Parkinson’s has. When you’ve got Parkinson’s, you might have condition one, three and five or two, six, eight. I haven’t got the shakes at the moment which I thought was what Parkinson’s was, but I have sleeplessness, slurring speech when I’m tired and bad balance. So, it’s frustrating for everyday life.

Angela: You mentioned you were competitively athletic previously. How has the disease changed that for you?

Paul: Well, I don’t do it again. I’m not able to do it. So I did indoor rowing. I had five world titles.

Angela: Wow.

Paul: And a couple of Australian records, all which have gone now. But I don’t do that anymore.

Angela: Is there a sense of frustration around that physically for you?

Paul: I think…me being 66…I think it’s not so much frustration, I’m happy to be alive because I’ve got a lot of friends that have either had accidents or bypasses, and heart conditions and other conditions – strokes. I’m lucky that I am where I am. So I am not frustrated…well I’m frustrated that I got Parkinson’s, but I accept it.

Angela: That’s a great attitude. What do you think is important for people to be aware of about Parkinson’s disease?

Paul: I think the conditions of Parkinson’s can be judged unfairly. If your balance is out and you’re slurring, it could be as if you’ve had too much alcohol. But basically with no alcohol at all, you’re displaying the same symptoms. So people may judge you. I think the community should be aware of people with conditions like Parkinson’s.

Angela: Absolutely. Well, Paul, from what I’ve seen with you every week coming into SAVVY and doing what you do, you’re an absolute inspiration, and I think we’re all really excited to try and make an impact on raising some funds for this disease.

Paul: That’s very much appreciated. On behalf of Parkinson’s, that would be fantastic, thank you.

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