Marilyn Alcala suspected she suffered from Parkinson’s disease before she was formally diagnosed with it in May. That would have explained symptoms such as tremors and rigid muscles. But her physician’s confirmation still thrust her into a great unknown.
As her husband, Dan Alcala, said, “We are new to Parkinson’s disease, which we knew nothing of before.”
Today, the Alcalas feel more optimistic, thanks partly to a new Wichita program called Club Parkinson’s. There’s no known cure for the degenerative neurological disorder, but the program’s founders say certain activities — chiefly involving physical movement — can delay or help those affected manage its effects.
Currently, members meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Heskett Center on the campus of Wichita State University. There are 30- and 60-minutes sessions in Nordic walking, Tai chi, aquatics, motion, strength, agility and fall prevention, plus an “empowerment group” session in which members and their caregivers share experiences.
Organized as a nonprofit, Club Parkinson’s was started by Shana Gatschet and Connie Urbanek, who own a mobile therapy clinic called Parkinson’s Connect. Urbanek is a physical therapist assistant and Gatschet is an occupational therapist.
The pair started putting together Club Parkinson’s about a year ago, although Gatschet said they’ve been aware of a lack of help for Parkinson’s patients for years. She recalled in particular one man who’d been diagnosed with the disease and given medication but no other advice on how to manage it. “It was devastating,” she said.
The idea behind group sessions, she said, is that “when you have a community or group together, they work harder together, they motivate each other. You get more success in a group setting.”
Urbanek said they approached WSU about collaborating because as a new nonprofit, “There was no way we could have started with brick and mortar” otherwise.
Club Parkinson’s also provides WSU students from several departments with applied learning opportunities in majors ranging from exercise science and counseling to public health and engineering.
A membership costs $149 per month, plus $50 if a caregiver wants to join. That includes unlimited fitness classes, a monthly educational series, full access to the Heskett Center and a parking pass. A 50-percent discount is being offered through the end of the year. The organization also offers two free classes called WellRep InMotion which are held from 1-2 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday.
“We can help anybody at any stage,” Gatschet said. “If people are given the opportunity and education and tools, they will see progress. They will see benefits.”
Dan Alcala said the sessions helped his wife, a church music director, stop using a wheelchair and walker.
“She’s now walking alone without any help at all,” he said. “It’s really helped us look forward to enjoying our retirement.”
For more information about Club Parkinson’s, call 252-1877 or visit clubparkinsons.org.