- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Patsy and David Dalton were married for 10 years before a third partner entered the relationship. Twenty years later, the couple is still going strong, even with David’s Parkinson’s disease.

This year marks two decades since David was diagnosed. It’s a milestone year for many things as he turns 65 and he and Patsy celebrate 30 years of marriage. Now, the couple is able to reflect on these milestones with people who understand what they’re going through in support groups the Daltons help organize.

At the time of David’s diagnosis, doctors didn’t know much about Parkinson’s compared with what they now understand, and David was told his rigid muscles and loss of dexterity might also be a brain tumor or an issue with his thyroid, rather than Parkinson’s.

“Um, we’ll take thyroid,” Patsy recalls telling the doctor jokingly. That same day, thyroid issues and a brain tumor were weeded out by a few tests.

David was only 44, meaning he had young-onset Parkinson’s. But he wasn’t having problems with tremors or shaking at all, so the couple didn’t understand the diagnosis at first.

“We went home and looked it up in the dictionary, and it said ‘progressive nervous disorder,’” David said. “The word ‘progressive’ seemed to be in much larger print than ‘nervous disorder,’ even though they were all the same size. It just jumped out at you.”

It wasn’t very long after diagnosis that the couple attended a Parkinson’s support group in Columbia that was, at the time, organized by Boone Hospital Center. It was a chance to connect with other patients and caretakers for informational and social purposes. That interaction is, to this day, a reason that members of the Lake of the Ozarks and the Columbia support groups the Daltons now organize stick around.

David was able to continue working as a certified public accountant for about one year after his diagnosis before he had to call it quits. He had developed a tremor in his right knee that was, at times, enough to bang against the bottom of his desk incessantly while he was working. It complicated his work on tax returns or other documents with his clients.

After leaving the accounting world, David worked for a few years as the chief financial officer for a construction company - a high-stress job that also took its toll.

“Stress is a big enemy for Parkinson’s,” Patsy said, explaining how the muscles in her husband’s hands would often tighten up almost into a fist from stress brought on by work.

Three short years later, David had to stop working. At 51 he took disability even though he loved accounting and his jobs.

“Parkinson’s is a different disease for every person,” Patsy said. “It’s extremely individual. You can’t say any one person is going to progress in a certain way. We know people who have had Parkinson’s for 30 years and they’re still playing golf, and we know people who have had Parkinson’s for two years and they’re gone now.”

Patsy and David consider themselves lucky. Though David was diagnosed early, he has gotten by very well the past two decades, especially since he had deep-brain-stimulation surgery - a relatively common procedure for people with Parkinson’s - in 2004 that enhanced his quality of life. The surgery involves the insertion of electrodes into one or two parts of the brain, powered by an electrical stimulator that’s implanted in the chest.

Many of the couple’s friends through the support group have mulled having the surgery. It’s one of many things the Daltons like to speak about when possible, using their experiences as their credibility.

Parkinson’s is often associated with tremors or dyskinesia, the involuntary movement of the arms, leg or whole body. Actor Michael J. Fox has put a public face on the dyskinesia Parkinson’s causes, but the reach of the disease goes deeper. David, for example, shows signs of Parkinson’s affecting his speech. It has been that way for more than a decade now, he says - his voice is softer, his rate of speaking is different and he has lost much of his ability to show emotion and give inflection in his voice and his face because of a Parkinson’s characteristic called masking.

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