In 1997 my father, Ivan Escott, Jr. was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a lucky coincidence that this was the year that the Parkinson Association of South Florida (PASFI) was founded. I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting with the founding members of PASFI before they were incorporated so knew about their mission. A few weeks after that, my dad received his PD diagnosis. How fortunate we were to know there was a place where he could be involved, receive education and support. He eventually became a board member and served there for several years.
Dad had served as a pilot in the Army Airforce in WWII and had flown for Pan American Airlines for 37 years. He had a brilliant mind and was accustomed to “being in charge”. The loss of control over his body, and eventually his mind, was very painful to live through. But he was also a courageous man and coped with these challenges with dignity and a lot of laughter.
Dad continued to lead an active life for15 years – playing golf, traveling to Pan Am Airline’s reunions and a very busy social life (he was a very desirable gentleman as he was widowed, handsome and had a great sense of humor!)
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a movement disorder that affects up to 1 million people in the US and doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases each year. Symptoms may include facial rigidity (masking), difficulty speaking, depression and anxiety.
By 2002 Dad’s symptoms had worsened. My husband and I lived with him until his death in 2007. We had so many laughs, as well as tears, during those five years and the memories of Ivan are still vivid.
One of our favorite stories occurred one night while we were watching television. Several years earlier I had been a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire (unfortunately did not become a millionaire!). By this time the re-runs were on nightly television. This particular evening the show closed with Regis announcing the guests for the next night’ show, including me. My dad looked at me and said, “I hope you do better this time.”
Dad was an incredibly good sport. As his disease progressed we took him to a wonderful senior daycare that had many activities. At first, he balked, saying he didn’t want to be around a bunch of “old people”. But eventually, he got used to the routine. One morning as he headed towards the garage my husband asked, “Ivan, where are you going?” He said, “I don’t know but I have to be somewhere.”
In the last few years of his life, he developed Lewy Bodies, a type of dementia that worsens over time.
Researchers have noted that many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, including the presence of Lewy Bodies. These are clumps of specific substances within brain cells and are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of Lewy Bodies include fluctuations in alertness, visual hallucinations, slowness of movements, trouble walking, and rigidity.
Despite the progression of his disease, Dad always kept his great sense of humor and appreciated his family and friends.
Dad loved to fly.Besides his love for our mother, it was the greatest thing in his life.
I was honored to be with him during his dying process. One day I asked him what he was his proudest achievement. Of course, I had hoped he would reply, “My wonderful daughter.” But instead, he said, “Flying in WWII and bombing the hell out of those Nazis!”
During his last moments, I whispered in his ear, “Dad, you’re flying with the angels now and Mom is up there waiting for you.”
Parkinson’s disease can be a terrible thing for the individual with PD and their families. Of course, I did not like to see my father suffer, but the privilege of becoming close to him and giving back just a little to a man who gave me so much was a blessing that I am eternally grateful for.