A Gift to Those With Parkinson's

By By Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson's Centre

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Elizabeth “Lizzie” Chambers was a vibrant woman loved by her husband, David. A woman with an engaging smile and a deeply caring man, Elizabeth and David were passionate about life and wellness. Together they reveled in the beauty of the BC Coast and in their time together.

Late in life, Elizabeth was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a slowly progressive disorder of the central nervous system, in which there is a loss of dopamine (a chemical that acts as a messenger between brain cells) in the brain. With the loss of dopamine, the brain is not able to make or send signals to control movement properly. Primary symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremor, slowness of movement, stiffness or rigidity of muscles, and balance changes. There may also be many other symptoms related to mood and cognition. For most, Parkinson’s is diagnosed later in life however, it can occur at a much younger age. In recent years the general public’s knowledge of Parkinson’s has increased greatly thanks to the star power of Michael J. Fox, the BC actor turned activist whose foundation is searching for the cure to this mystifying condition.

It was the diagnosis of Parkinson’s that brought Elizabeth and David to the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre. The Centre focuses its Parkinson’s work on helping people live quality lives with the disorder – teaching them to track and manage their symptoms and providing educational workshops and support groups. There they met with Maureen Matthew, the organization’s Parkinson’s Program Coordinator, who counseled them on strategies to help Elizabeth maintain her health as long as possible and connected the two of them with resources in the community. David would become Elizabeth’s care partner in addition to husband, beginning a journey with her that neither had expected to take. Despite the challenges posed by Parkinson’s, Elizabeth and David remained determined to live life to the fullest.

Research tells us that a key to maintaining health and well-being in people with Parkinson’s is through exercise. While exercise cannot cure Parkinson’s or bring back levels of dopamine, it can help to preserve the ability to use muscles effectively. Not only does exercise aid balance and strength, it reduces depression and anxiety and improves cognition. For most with Parkinson’s, the wide array of exercise programs and opportunities throughout Victoria – yoga, Tai Chi, water fit classes, dance – make it easy to find exercise programs that meet their needs. As Parkinson’s symptoms progress however, specialized classes may become more suitable, offering safety, camaraderie and a place where no one bats an eye at tremors or unusual body movements. In the latter years of her life, Elizabeth was a weekly participant in a specialized seated exercise class for people with Parkinson’s run by the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre. There she not only benefitted physically from the exercise, she also found a group of people with whom she shared laughter, stories of family and friends, and hope for the future.

When Elizabeth passed away it was a tremendous loss to all who knew her and, seeking a way to memorialize his wife, David approached the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre. As a result, in 2000 the Elizabeth Jean Chambers Memorial Endowment Fund was formed to support the exercise program that she so loved. A gift of $100,000 was invested and the proceeds used to permanently increase the staffing levels in the exercise program, supports that 10 years later continue to allow greater numbers of individuals with Parkinson’s to benefit from exercise. Setting up the Endowment Fund in Elizabeth’s name, David lamented that, “this is the one place we always felt people cared for Lizzie and understood her.”

Ten years later, the gift that Elizabeth and David gave to the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre is an enduring one that will help people living with Parkinson’s into the foreseeable future. This last year, the organization offered seated exercise classes twice per week throughout the year and with the support of the United Way began a new exercise program for individuals who are safely able to participate in standing exercises. Interest on endowment fund investments continues to fund exercise assistants and a transportation coordinator and in the exercise classes people with Parkinson’s are moving, sharing, laughing.... thanks to a couple determined to live well and give back.

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