I’ve lived in the community for 40 years and I appreciate what they offer.

Michael Marshburn, Patient

Michael Marshburn had been feeling tremors in his right hand and leg for some time. When he explained the symptoms to his doctor, his doctor referred him to the Bronson Neuroscience Center.

Marshburn’s tests revealed a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, often starting with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand and eventually causing slowing or freezing of movement and thought process.

Of course, Marshburn was troubled by his diagnosis, but he was relieved to have an explanation for why he hadn’t been feeling like himself. He’d spent decades building a successful career as an architect, but a mysterious and increasing inability to concentrate eventually led him to retire earlier than planned. His diagnosis helped him understand why he’d been struggling.

Marshburn’s neurologist, Dennis Jewett, MD, along with physician assistant Karen Freshwater, PA-C, worked with the Parkinson’s Treatment Team which consists of physical, occupational and speech therapists at Bronson. This specialized team helped Marshburn manage his symptoms and improve his quality of life. Now he feels better than before he was diagnosed. “Until I came to Bronson, the disease had been hindering me,” says Marshburn. “We caught it early and what we’ve been able to do with medication has taken care of my normal complaints. My results have been excellent!”

In addition to medical treatments, the Bronson Neuroscience Center team provides valuable education and emotional support. They sponsor the Kalamazoo Area Parkinson’s Support Group. This group helps patients and caregivers learn more about the disease, offers tools for coping and connects them with other available resources.

Marshburn attends nearly every support group meeting. “Getting together with my peers allows me to hear other’s success stories and share whatever is on my mind,” he says. “The meetings are structured, but flexible. It helps to just be able to voice opinions, ask questions and share concerns.”

Freshwater is part of Marshburn’s treatment team and leads the support group. She understands the value for patients and caregivers to hear from others going through similar experiences so they don’t feel so alone with the disease. The group helps members better understand the unique complexities of the disease and realize that one treatment or experience does not fit all patients. “I now know not to look at someone who is in the advanced stages and say, ‘that’s me in two years,’ because I may never get to that.”

The group also provides the attention and education patients can’t always get during limited doctor’s visits. “Karen is wonderful, and she takes the time to listen and explain,” he says. “The more knowledge you have about the disease, the less stress you have and stress of all sorts intensifies the symptoms of Parkinson’s.”

The Kalamazoo Area Parkinson’s Support Group is free and open to all Parkinson’s patients and caregivers. Freshwater has also partnered with the Bronson Athletic Club to provide an exercise class, Delay the Disease, designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. Freshwater and other staff have seen incredible results not only in physical abilities, but the friendships that have formed within the classes. This has been a key element in improving the participants overall sense of wellbeing. Freshwater recalls one of her most rewarding moments when a member came up to her and said, “I thought I would never be able to do the things I love again, but now I think there is hope!”Marshburn shares that sense of hope and he doesn’t dwell on his disease. “There are days it’s easy to live with and think I don’t have it anymore. But when it’s hard, everyone at Bronson bends over backwards to answer my every concern. I’ve lived in the community for 40 years and I appreciate what they offer. Someday you’ll need it and you’ll know the difference.”