Gary acquires diagnosis that gets him sent home from Peace Corps

If you’re someone I communicate with regularly via email, or we’re Facebook friends, then you probably already know what I’m about to divulge here. But if you’re one of those who have been following my Peace Corps adventure in South Africa only by reading my blog, this is probably the first time you will have read that I am back in Oregon, unexpectedly, a year earlier than planned.

This is because about three weeks ago I acquired a new medical diagnosis: Parkinson’s Disease, a nervous system disorder made well-known a few years ago by actor Michael J. Fox, who now devotes a lot of time and energy advocating for a cure or better treatments.

Here’s a definition I found on the Internet:

“Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that belongs to the group of conditions called motor system disorders. PD cannot yet be cured and sufferers get worse over time as the normal bodily functions, including breathing, balance, movement, and heart function worsen.

“Parkinson’s disease most often occurs after the age of 50 and is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly. The disease is caused by the slow deterioration of the nerve cells in the brain, which create dopamine. Dopamine is a natural substance found in the brain that helps control muscle movement throughout the body.

“Other neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

About 4 million people in the U.S. experience Parkinson’s, about 1% of the population. Twenty percent of the time it seems to be hereditary, according to one of the doctors I saw.

Sounds pretty serious. There are medications and other treatments available, I’ve learned, that slow or otherwise positively address the tremors that are often one of the first symptoms. These are readily available in the U.S. But in a remote Zulu village in rural South Africa? Not so much. I’ve been back from South Africa for about a week now – and still am officially a Peace Corps volunteer – but I’m on “medevac status,” meaning I have been evacuated to the U.S. because of a medical problem and Peace Corps has up to 45 days to make a decision about my fate, the two choices essentially being “medical separation” or return to my post in Africa. Today (April 8th) I had my second meeting with a neurologist, here in Eugene, paid for by PC, and his diagnosis was the same.

Regardless what happens, I have spent an incredible 14 months living and volunteering in South Africa and am honored to have had the opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream of serving in Peace Corps. I’ve met countless people – PC staff, fellow volunteers, black and white South Africans – who have treated me wonderfully and taught me much about their cultures. Many treated me as if I was family.

Currently I am staying with my daughter’s family in Cottage Grove, a small city about 20 miles south of Eugene, while I follow the Peace Corps medical program’s process of determining what happens next. The outcome seems clear, given the second opinion of today, but I suppose it will take a few days to become official. Meantime, I will be looking for more permanent digs.

About GaryC

I'm a retired mental health worker, a returned Peace Corps volunteer (South Africa, 2012-2013), and a writer. I live in Eugene, Oregon with the world's best dog, Carly. My card describes me also as "Jack-of-few-Trades, Master of Some", non-profit supporter, friend, grandpa and world traveler.
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6 Responses to Gary acquires diagnosis that gets him sent home from Peace Corps

  1. Judy Nedry says:

    Hi Gary,

    I’ve been thinking about you, wondering what you’ve been up to since you returned, so it is good to hear that you’re with family. All the best. Judy

    • GaryC says:

      Thanks, Judy — I’m busy with many bureaucratic things necessary when one leaves Peace Corps, but also with seeking a new place to live, joining a Parkinson’s support group (with a member who shakes hands with new people by saying, “Just hold out your hand, I’ll shake for both of us!) Have also started writing a book about my PC experience and have written 750 words of the initial chapter. And will be off in a few days to spend some time with my mother up in Vancouver. Thanks for asking!

  2. Tara Salusso says:

    Sorry to hear of this interruption to your adventure. My Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than a decade ago. So much info out there. The Fox Foundation also has trials that you might qualify to participate in. If you contact them, they will conduct an interview and see if any of the trials are a good fit for you. Then you can decide if it is an option you want to pursue. Early diagnosis and treatment make a huge difference. Nice to hear that you are in beautiful Cottage Grove for the spring. Sending good thoughts your way.

  3. Kevin Hayden says:

    Tried calling this weekend.

    I wish you could have done the whole tour yet I’m still impressed by how much you did and how much you shared of that different culture.

    I wish you great fortunes with all your next steps forward. Hugs to you and all.

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