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Lonnie Ali Campaigns to Unite Carers

When Lonnie Ali married American boxer Muhammad Ali 21 years ago, she knew he had Parkinson's disease but neither of them really knew what to expect from the illness.

Ali, 65, who was three times World Heavyweight Champion, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1983 and now can barely speak but as his health has deteriorated he has devoted himself to humanitarian work.

Along the way the couple has learned about the degenerative disease suffered by 1.5 million Americans and campaigned to raise awareness about Parkinson's.

This month Lonnie Ali launched a nationwide campaign, Fight for More, to bring caregivers looking after Parkinson's patients together.

"When we got married we weren't thinking and worrying about what Parkinson's will bring tomorrow but dealt with it on a daily basis but it does affect more than those with the disease," said Ali, who is the retired boxer's fourth wife.

"I really didn't have a support group per se outside my immediate family 25 years ago and there was not a lot you could do. This is the first time there has been an attempt to connect Parkinson's Disease caregivers."

The campaign's Web site, www.fightformore.com, includes resources, community connections and treatment information. A caregiver tip sheet, developed with Ali which includes tips based on her experiences caring for her husband.

Ali said her main advice to caregivers was to make time for themselves and focus on the things that were possible.

"Muhammad and I never dwell on the negative, only the positive and what we can do, not what we can't do," she said.

"You want to keep up with the activities you had prior to contracting this illness, the patient as well. Give yourself those few hours away so you can come back with a positive attitude, refreshed and renewed."

Ali, who has known her husband since she was six years old, said she had become a full-time caregiver along the way although it was hard to pinpoint when this happened. "But when you get to a point when you need other people to come in and relieve you it is very important that you do that," she said.

"Muhammad is a big man so I have had someone in the last year-and-half just to help me, to run errands, or stay with him when I am gone. Maybe he won't be traveling as much but he will stay active."

Source Date: Apr 30 2007
Source Publication: Reuters