Parkinson’s Disease

June 2, 2014 by  

Parkinson’s Disease, David, one of seven children, grew up in Finglas, north Dublin. “The people on our road had a great sense of community. I played a lot of sport, especially hurling and football,” he says.

After school, he went to work for the Open Golf Centre, near Dublin airport. Suddenly, a whole new world was opening up for him. But he didn’t fall into this scene by accident – his dad, who had a motorbike shop in Fairview, had been assembling golf clubs for years.

“I never actually saw one,” David says. “But I’d really love to get hold of one of his putters or wedges.”

At the club, David worked in the shop, helped organise competitions and got to play golf – a lot.

“They gave me free membership – I never thought I’d be a member of a golf club. Where I came from, it was difficult to get involved in the sport as it was expensive,” he says.

Just 18 months later, David’s handicap was down to three. He modestly ascribes this to “good coaching”, “terrific” people at the club and unlimited access to the facilities.

He says he will be eternally grateful to his dad for the interest he planted, and to his sister, Christine, who helped him get the job at the club.

Just before his 21st birthday, David turned professional and began a three-year course, as required by the Professional Golf Association (PGA). “You do golf and business studies, golf repairs, and so on. Basically, it teaches you how to run a golf shop,” David says.

He explains that being a club-based golf pro is a very different to being a player like Padraig Harrington. “The guys who go on tour just play golf, and get paid a bit better,” he explains.

However, around the time that he turned professional, a tremor in David’s hand caused him to see a consultant neurologist, who asked him questions, before doing some tests and declaring, “Unlikely as it might seem [in one so young], I think you have PD.”

David was then referred to a neurologist at the Mater Hospital. Since there is no specific test for PD, the only way to achieve a diagnosis is to eliminate other possible causes for the symptoms and, having done that, the consultant was able to confirm his colleague’s suspicions.

“PD is the second most common neuro-degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s,” David explains. “It’s a progressive disease, for which there is, currently, no cure.”

According to the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland, it is caused by a shortage of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, which, in turn, affects movement throughout the body. The first sign may be a tremor in a hand or a limb, but this only occurs in about 70 per cent of cases. Other symptoms may include slowing or loss of movement, and rigidity. Mood changes can also be involved.

David says that, while symptoms vary considerably from person to person, there are some effective treatments.

“The medication is all about tricking your body into thinking there’s enough dopamine – or about topping it up.

“The medication can give you side effects. In my case, I get hallucinations – I sometimes see and hear people who are not there, but I have learned to cope with that,” he says.

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