When Diane Durkee learned she had Parkinson’s disease, she and her husband, Sid, were determined to tackle the illness head on.
Diane now leads a Parkinson’s support group while Sid spends much of his time working as a volunteer for the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida, Inc.
That proactive approach has helped the Durkees deal with the debilitating illness, but when some patients and their families learn of the diagnosis they are not sure what to do, said Sid.
“A lot of people who learn they have it, there’s at first a type of ‘Why me?’ attitude,” he said. “But right now there’s so much being offered to ease their burden and offer support, if they only know about it.”
Sid will help spread the word on April 7 when he delivers tulip bouquets for PASFI’s annual Tulip Tuesday.
As part of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, PASFI delivers the flowers on the first Tuesday of every April.
“We use it as the kickoff to the month,” said Lisa Swirda, a PASFI board member who came up with the idea seven years ago.
“Tulips have been associated with Parkinson’s since 1817, and in all that time no one had come up with the idea, believe it or not.”
On the first Tulip Tuesday the organization sold and delivered 75 bouquets. In recent years that number has grown to 300. At least one other Parkinson’s group, in Colorado Springs, has adopted the day.
The Tulip bouquets are $20 and a PASFI volunteer will deliver it anywhere in Naples or Bonita Springs for an additional $5.
“It’s a fun part of our annual campaign,” said Kathy Auksel, a PASFI board member. “It brings a lot of smiles to people and lets them know we are here to help.”
Approximately 2,000 families in southern Lee and Collier counties have a member with Parkinson’s, she said.
Parkinson’s is a chronic, progressive neurological condition that can leave patients unable to control their movements. Symptoms include tremors, stiffness of limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, impaired balance and difficulty speaking.
The disease isn’t considered to be fatal but there is no known cure.
In the U.S., about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and approximately 1.5 million Americans currently have Parkinson’s, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.
Onset can be subtle and gradual, which makes awareness especially important, said Auksel.
“It has become a celebrity disease in a sense, because of Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox,” she said. “But those efforts focus on research while we are a grassroots organization that focuses on what family needs are.”
PASFI offers free programs in areas including respite care, education, speech therapy and exercise.
While Parkinson’s is often thought of as a disease that strikes the elderly, the number of patients under the age of 50 is growing rapidly, she said. Those patients have additional worries, such as remaining active with their children or losing their jobs.
“The disease is so overwhelming,” said Auksel. “But it’s a disease we don’t see around us as much because current medications can hide it until later stages.”
While Wednesday was the cutoff date for pre-ordered bouquets, more will be sold on Tuesday at All Flowers on Pine Ridge Road in Naples.
All Flowers provided PASFI tulips at a deep discount for the event.
Delivering the bright, vibrant flowers is a perfect way to raise awareness, said Durkee.
“Awareness definitely needs to be higher,” he said. “And the tulip is fitting because tulips arrive in the springtime and springtime has always been the sign of new hope.”