MP WRITES: Such a cruel illness

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali

When I was growing up, the most famous man in the world was probably Muhammad Ali.

He was one of the greatest boxers, if not the greatest boxer of all time – a man of enormous integrity, charisma, bravery and principle who stood up against racial intolerance (like Rubin Hurricane Carter, a great boxer and fighter, not just in the ring, but against racism, who sadly died this week).

I think it is right that Ali was named Sportsman of the Century. He was truly great and remains a big sporting hero of mine.

Thankfully, Ali is still with us, but it is tragic that he is a pale shadow of his former self. He has suffered from Parkinson’s for the best part of 30 years, never shying away from his condition, but facing it with his customary bravery and fortitude.

The time when Ali lit the Olympic Torch for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, his hands shaking but with the determination of a former Olympic Gold medalist, never fails to move me to tears.

More and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. There is no cure.

There is no reason why somebody gets Parkinson’s – it is not a question of genetics or lifestyle.

You can’t really say, like you can with smoking and cancer, that there is a direct link and if you cut down on this or that, you can reduce your risk of getting it. It is, tragically, one of those things.

Before Easter, I went to listen to the concerns raised by members of the Hartlepool and District Branch of Parkinson’s UK, as part of Parkinson’s Awareness Week.

The branch is ably led by some fantastic and formidable women (it always strikes me that great social organisations – like families and businesses – are usually led by great and formidable women).

Joan Spears, branch chair and Judith Wilson, branch secretary (known as Jude which gave me the opportunity to mention Hey Jude by The Beatles a lot) and Sue Harris, branch treasurer, whom I have known for many years and would like to count as my friend, run the organisation with skill and dedication.

All three have been affected by Parkinson’s in their family.

It was incredibly informative to hear of different people’s experiences. One man found it difficult to hold a club without shaking while he was playing golf, which made him seek medical advice.

This gentleman told me how he was once assisting somebody into an ambulance, and the ambulance staff had said to him when they had seen him shaking: “You’re a bit drunk for this time of day, mate.”

One gentleman is still a university lecturer; he has been given support and assistance from his organisation and remains a valuable member of society.

Facing Parkinson’s can be a lonely experience for people and their families.

There can be a lack of understanding or complete lack of knowledge about Parkinson’s.

This is in spite of high profile people like Muhammad Ali and Pope John II being affected with it.

Branches of Parkinson’s UK such as the one in Hartlepool mean that people and their families don’t have to endure it on their own, but can talk about the matter and source practical help and support about where to seek assistance.

It was pleasing that the branch said that the various agencies in Hartlepool worked relatively well together to help people, but obviously more could be done.

Meetings of the branch are the third Tuesday of the month at 2pm, at Holy Trinity Church Hall in Seaton Carew.

More and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and Parkinson’s Awareness Week will hopefully succeed in making Hartledpudlians more aware of the situation and ensure help and support is available from like-minded people.