I am participating in the Moving Day Rochester, NY walk, benefiting
the National Parkinson Foundation Greater Rochester Chapter on September
The event will take place at Monroe Community College Brighton Campus and will be a fun-filled, family-friendly event for all ages and abilities. We will be able to enjoy a variety of movement activities yoga, dance, Pilates, Tai Chi, stretching and much more and celebrate the importance of movement in our lives.
In February 1998, my dad, John Gutowski, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. PD is a neurological disorder that involves the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements.
As a 15 year old, I had no idea what PD was or what to expect. I remember running to the encyclopedia to first check if it was terminal. It said "rarely causes death." I closed the encyclopedia, content with what I read. What I didn't know at the time was that many PD patients die from complications of the disease.
Things were pretty steady for the next 9-10 years. I fully believe that my father's downfall was in 2007 when my grandma (his mom) passed away and a few short months after, my grandpa (my mom's father). The emotional stress took a toll on him. The doctor's had to constantly play with his meds to get the right concoction, in order for my dad to function as normal as possible.
As time went on, the situation got worse-- my dad began to freeze and lose his balance frequently. He would stand up out of a chair and take 5-10 minutes just to start walking. He started suffering from hallucinations, due to the different medications he was on and could no longer be left alone for long periods of times. He could no longer eat without coughing and spitting up. He needed a walker.
This was not my dad. This was terrifying.
My dad was always such a self-sufficient, jack of all trades, kinda guy. Something wrong with the car? Dad would fix it. My mom wants a deck on the back of the house? Dad built it. My dad was a genius.
Watching what PD had made my dad become was gut wrenching. Watching what it did to my mom, his caretaker, was heartbreaking.
November 2013, I began to notice things were changing. My dad became withdrawn from family gatherings and would sit quietly in a chair. The times that he tried to engage in conversation, you could barely hear him because his speech became somewhat inaudible and quiet. He grew very nostalgic and would cry frequently. It just didn't feel right. This appeared to be the next step on the PD road.
On January 15, 2014 at 3:06 pm, I stood in my classroom ready to teach my extended day students. I quickly looked at my phone and noticed a voicemail from my Aunt Kim, who was vacationing in Florida. This was not typical and I instantly felt a knot in my stomach. I needed to listen to it-- She said that something had happened to my dad. He collapsed at physical therapy, he was taken away in an ambulance and things did not look good.
After finally tracking down which hospital they had taken him to, I rushed to the hospital to meet my mom and find out what had happened. My dad had suffered a massive heart attack. He was brain dead. The only thing keeping him alive was a ventilator. He was gone.
How was this happening?
Things started rushing through my head-- when was the last time I saw him? What did I say to him? Was I nice? Does he know that I love him? Did he know that I loved him?
My mom and I waited for my sisters to get into town before saying our final farewells to my dad and removing the ventilator.
At 1:16pm on January 16, my dad took his last breath. He was surrounded by his girls; each of us holding on to him, letting him know it was okay to go.
Not a single day has gone by since then that I have not thought about him and not a day will pass that I won't.
I walk for him. Please consider being a part of my team or sponsoring me, and I encourage you to get your friends, family and coworkers involved.
Why Get Involved
The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) continues to bring help and
hope to the estimated one million people in the United States, four to
six million worldwide, who are living with Parkinson’s disease. NPF is
the only organization with a singular focus on improving the quality of
care in Parkinson’s disease. NPF programs reach more than one million
people a year through its network of 39 chapters, 43 Centers of
Excellence and 900 support groups. Since 1982, NPF has funded more than
$180 million in care, research and support services.
Thank you for helping me reach my fundraising goal to support the vital work of the National Parkinson Foundation.