Parkinson's Disease struck Wally at the ripe old age of 42. He noticed a dragging on his right side and stiffness in his right hand. After various tests, he spent a jolly Thanksgiving weekend in 1987 awaiting the results; it could have been a spinal infection (curable) Parkinson's Disease (what's that?) or a brain tumor (probably fatal.) While not the worst case scenario, Parkinson's Disease was a country Wally was not especially excited to immigrate to. Parkinson's is different for everyone, and Wally has the "frozen" kind, rather than the type with tremors. "It's like being nailed to the floor, only less fun," says Wally.
Symptoms came on gradually, and Wally was able to continue with his art, hobbies and family for many years, until the disease forced an early retirement. In 1999, Marcy, president and art director of Pawprints Greeting Cards and Wally's then-wife, closed Pawprints and Sparhawk Books and licensed the greeting cards to Recycled Papers. Moving to California to be near their grandsons, Marcy took care of Wally full time, negotiating the daunting medical system, managing a complex combination of medications and diet, and the ever-increasing symptoms and complications.
In 2001, Wally underwent a nine hour surgery at UCLA to implant a Medtronic deep-brain-stimulation device. The results were nothing short of miraculous. "It was as though dad left for twenty years and then just came back one day," says Wally's daughter, Loren. "The boys knew him as that quiet, frozen guy in the chair. After the surgery, suddenly he was cracking jokes and crashing around the back yard with them. I had almost forgotten how funny he is. Now he's Cyborg Grampa- he even has an "off switch." It's amazing to have him back."
Now 75, Wally attributes his longevity with Parkinson's to his devoted caretakers Marcy and Rita, and to regular exercise. He recently had a hip replacement and his DBS batteries changed, and is back to walking several miles a day, sometimes backwards, and using a rowing machine. Physical therapy keeps his voice working and his sense of humor keeps the people around him coming back for more.
For more information about Parkinson's Disease, please look here. If you are a caretaker, please know that you are not alone, and that there is support and assistance for you. To help find a cure, please support the Fox Foundation.