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What I Learned from My Dad's Christmas Party

Dad with Kathy, Marge, and Connie

Last night, I attended my dad's Christmas party with his Parkinson's therapy group. Just a little background: my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 2 and a half years ago and moved to assisted living after a major decline in his independent functions about a year and a half ago. We were blessed to find a neurologist, Dr. Hale, in this small town that was very knowledgeable about Parkinson's Disease. He referred us to a therapist who specialized in Parkinson's patients. It took my dad a little while to agree, because he just wanted to go to therapists that he knew...but with time, he decided to try it out.

It didn't take us long to realize that Parkinson's therapy is MUCH different than normal outpatient physical therapy, and that this specialized therapist, Marge, was truly a gift from God. After a year and a half of therapy, my dad who was falling multiple times daily, couldn't drive any longer, forgot to eat, didn't take medications timely or correctly, and could barely pull himself up from a chair - is now functioning independently and is even driving again. Marge at Redmond Outpatient Therapy and the Renaissance Marquis assisted living have truly changed his life. This combination of people and services have increased his quality of life significantly, and given me more special memories with my dad.

Fast forward to last week. When dad asked me if I wanted to attend his Christmas party with him, of course I said yes! Then he told me the day of the event that it was scheduled from 6 to 9:30! WHAT? What on earth could we be doing for THAT long. I have so much to do...I don't even have my Christmas tree up yet and it's December the 12th! Even though the anxiety of all the things I could get done in an entire evening washed over me, I knew there was not a chance I was backing out. So my husband and I got ready, picked up my dad and headed to the event.

I saw so many stages of Parkinson's last night. From the younger gentleman who completed a motorcycle cross country trip of 13,000 miles only two years ago, to the man who walked by my dad and stared, with the Parkinson's expressionless "mask" face, who knew my dad, but his muscles didn't cooperate to even say hello.

But what happened at the Christmas party last night, gave me some valuable learning experiences that I couldn't help but share with you.

First Observation - The Leader: This therapy is offered through Redmond outpatient therapy. Last night, the CEO of Redmond, John Quinlivan, came to the event with his beautiful wife. That was a statement within itself. Out of ALL of the lines of care that this hospital offers, during the busiest time of the year, he took an entire evening (remember the 3.5 hours?!) to spend with Parkinson's patients.

He walked in, went to every table, patted us all on the back, shook hands, and thanked each and every person individually for coming. Then he spoke for a brief moment. He was real, he was authentic, he showed emotion. Throughout the party, he was there as if he was just a family member in attendance for a parent with Parkinson's.

At the end, we played a game which involved handing out 100 gifts to each person in attendance. The therapists who coordinated didn't request help, but he got up and handed out presents too. So did his wife. When the 3.5 hour party was over with (YES, it really lasted that long), he didn't rush out. He stayed and he spoke to patients and families for quite a bit longer.

My husband and I looked at each other multiple times throughout the evening, in awe of the servant leadership that the Mr. Quinlivan displayed. In awe of the authenticity he demonstrated, the realness that was present in his demeanor and interaction with others. It wasn't a dog and pony show for him. He didn't use it as an opportunity to "brag" on how great Redmond is for having this program. He was just there. Just like me.

When Marge spoke, she talked about her vision for this program and how thankful that she was that the administration took a risk with her and allowed her to start it. Even though there is really no other program of it's kind in our country...much less our little area of Northwest Georgia (which by the way has a VERY heavy population of PD patients at 1-2%). She saw a huge void in healthcare, made a case for it, and this leader supported her....and is clearly still supporting her to this day.

Second Observation - Perseverance: Charlie, a Parkinson's patient, used to travel with his family in a singing quartet. Last night, Charlie got on stage with his wife and one of his daughters and showed that Parkinson's had not taken away his beautiful tenor voice. (As a side note, Parkinson's does affect your voice, they begin talking really softly, but to them they think they are loud). I sat there with tears in my eyes just thinking about the heartbreak that Charlie must have gone through when his family could no longer travel and sing together. I don't know how long it has been since Charlie has been on a stage with his family, but I have to believe that last night meant the world to him. He could have blamed his disease and never offered to sing in front of people again. But he didn't. Charlie was just one of many beautiful displays of perseverance that I saw last night.

Third Observation - Influence: What motivates my dad these days is often hard to pinpoint. There are many social events that I would think he would love to be at, that he declines. Yet there are some things he is so determined to do, he wouldn't dare let anything stand in his way. For him to WANT to go to this party was a contradiction to other behaviors he has displayed lately. He is uncomfortable when he can't remember people's names, when he is in a strange location, and when he doesn't know how close he will be to a bathroom (as PD also affects urgency).

When we sat down, he said "The only reason I'm here is because of Marge and Connie." Throughout the night, I saw many demonstrations of the love these therapists have for their patients. I watched videos of their year in therapy that made me want to come be a part of it too! In one video, it was a Hawaiian themed day and there was a picture of my dad, wearing a floral Hawaiian shirt. I leaned over and asked him where he got his shirt from. He is not one to participate in "theme days", so it was extremely out of character to see him dressed up with leas around his neck. He said that when they told him it was Hawaiian day, he went to Good Will and bought him a shirt. Now this may seem like a small thing - it's nothing for us to zip by a store and pickup a shirt for a themed day. But for him...that's a big deal. It is in a location that he isn't familiar with, and a very high traffic area. So his intentional effort to go to Good Will and buy a themed shirt for therapy was huge. It showed how much he has become a part of this group.

Why? Because of influence. Someone chooses to follow a leader when they answer these questions subconsciously: Can you help me? Do you care about me? Can I trust you?

Marge, Connie, and the rest of the therapists at the Redmond Parkinson's therapy program exude the answers to these 3 questions as an irrevocable yes. YES - they have helped him - changed his life matter of fact. YES - they care about him SO much. YES - he trusts them with all that he has.

When you are causing people to take actions that are so outside of their comfort zone - THAT is influence at it's best.

Final Observation: Passion is Powerful - Marge started by sharing with us that when she came to Rome 35 years ago, Parkinson's patients just found her. She started with 3 patients, and this program is now impacting hundreds of patients in the local area, and she just recently traveled internationally to share her research and results. When dad started in the program, it was just her. Connie joined shortly thereafter to help with the workload. Now, they are up to 4 therapists specializing in care for ONLY PD patients. When the CEO spoke about the program, he said exactly what I had been processing in my head. These patients didn't just find her. Her passion and her purpose found her...chased her down and pursued her to where there is nothing more she would rather do than to impact and change lives of people with PD - and it shows with and through every word and action.

When we're living in our purpose and pursuing our passions, we come alive. Marge came alive through her passion chasing her down. She has now surrounded herself with 3 other therapists that clearly share this same passion. Their passion and joy is infectious.

I left last night full. I left realizing that sometimes it takes your dad accidentally scheduling 3.5 hours on your schedule to make you stop and observe. I left with several new examples of great leadership. I left not thinking about all of the things that I wish I could have done that evening, but rather thinking - once again - God put me in a place for a purpose last night. With a whole lot of other people I could learn from.

Read more about the Redmond Parkinson's Program here.

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