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PDF in the News

Activist Joins National Parkinsonís Foundation Council

Eric Hellinger was busy with work, family and volunteering three years ago when he started to feel a weakness in his right side. As he continued with his normal routines and busy schedule, he noticed that his thumb started to shake when he relaxed it.

Hellinger went to see a general practitioner, hoping that whatever was causing the problems was an easy fix. His doctor referred him to a neurologist for further testing, and he was then sent to a movement disorder specialist. During that time, he kept running over worst case scenarios and diagnoses in the back of his mind, he said.

The movement disorder specialist did several tests on Hellinger, eliminating possible problems until only one possibility was left: young onset Parkinson’s Disease. He was only 39 years old when he faced the diagnosis.

Despite having considered Parkinson’s as the culprit, Hellinger and his wife, Rebecca, were shocked when they heard the news. Rebecca coped with the diagnosis for several days before she was able to tell friends and family.

Hellinger, a Cedar Park resident and senior learning and development specialist for the Lower Colorado River Authority, has also worked for multinational and Fortune 500 companies. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Midwestern State University and a master’s from the University of Phoenix.

In his spare time, he is a deacon and active member of the Cedar Park Church of Christ. He enjoys volunteering with the Vista Ridge Ranger Band, National Night Out, Austin Area Young Onset Group and the Scott and White Early Onset Group. He spends time with his wife, son Andrew and daughter Erica, and does dexterity exercises like origami and sushi rolling.

In short, Hellinger leads a life that is anything but dull, and the news threatened to put a dent in his active lifestyle. But even as things seemed to look bleak, Eric refused to let the disease bring him down.

“Far worse things could be happening, and I remind myself that PD is only a small portion of who I am to prevent the disease from dragging my attitude down,” he said.

Hellinger says his family, friends and church congregation have been tremendously supportive in helping him acclimate. He also says that his faith has been important in helping him deal with the disease.

“First and foremost, my faith in God supports me,” Hellinger said. “My friends, family and congregation have been exceptional.”

After being diagnosed, Hellinger started a medication treatment and a new role as a Parkinson’s Disease activist. He sought out additional help from online support groups at first, and then started attending live meetings.

During his search, he came across the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, which helped him through “the learning curve on how to deal with this illness,” he said, and connected him with other Parkinson’s sufferers around the United States.

“PDF has helped me make connections with like-spirited others who want to challenge the Parkinson’s community to improve the lives and futures of people touched by Parkinson’s,” Hellinger said.
As he learned more about the foundation, he became more interested in becoming involved in Parkinson’s Disease advocacy and decided to apply for a position on PDF’s People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council. Hellinger, along with 13 other individuals from 11 different states, were accepted to the council.

The PPAC recruits caregivers or people suffering from Parkinson’s to advise the foundation on priorities for research and programs and identify needs within the Parkinson’s community. Each member serves in a three-year rotation, but can stay on the council longer if elected. Hellinger hopes to stay as long as possible.

In the time that he spends with PDF, he plans to make the Parkinson’s community more collaborative and provide more resources for those dealing young onset Parkinson’s, particularly teens whose parents have just been diagnosed. He is also interested in using whatever connections he establishes to help and champion Austin-area Parkinson’s groups.

“PDF is a strong organization and PPAC is an impressive group of diverse people at different stages of PD,” Hellinger said. “I want to better understand, and to influence, the research efforts that are in place and on the horizon.”

The PDF estimates that more than 1 million people in the United States are currently dealing with Parkinson’s Disease. Although there is currently no “cure,” Hellinger will continue to work with the foundation toward a better future for sufferers. And in the meantime, he’s not letting his own diagnosis stand in the way.

“I’d be lying if I said that I don’t move slower and have more difficulty with certain things. I have, however, found ways to keep doing all the things I love to do. Even more, the illness has me committed to doing everything I can while I can,” Hellinger said. “I want to make a difference. I see opportunities for the Parkinson’s community to be more collaborative and for more resources to be developed for patients and caregivers of early, young onset cases. PDF and PPAC offer those opportunities.”

Source Date: Aug 03 2011
Source Publication: Cedar Park Citizen | Korri Kezar
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