Hayling musician determined to fight Parkinson's will appear on stage at Island concert
When Mark Green was told he had Parkinson’s disease in his late 40s, it came as a devastating blow.A talented musician and college lecturer, he had mistakenly believed the problems with his arm were tendon issues.
But, determined not to be beaten, he has shunned traditional treatment and is battling the disease head-on with diet, exercise and cognitive skills training.
It all began on what should have been a dream getaway.
The now-52-year-old was on honeymoon with his beloved wife Carolyn.
As he swam in the cooling waters of the hotel pool his left arm would not work properly.
‘And, like most guys, I made an excuse for it and carried on my life’, says the motor vehicle lecturer from Hayling Island.
It was another five years of his mobility becoming more challenging, before he found out what was really wrong.
An MRI scan confirmed he had Parkinson’s.
‘It was a huge shock. I thought that was something that made old people shake,’ says Mark, who does not have that symptom of the disease.
‘I could not believe I had it. I woke up the next day, distraught. I could not go into work.
‘But after that day I was determined to understand it – and fight it.’
Mark was only in his late 40s when he was diagnosed.
He went through a very dark time and could not even bring himself to pick up his guitar.
Before that he had regularly played gigs performing songs from musicians such as Paul Weller and Marvin Gaye.
He says: ‘People don’t realise how horrible this disease is.
‘Parkinson’s leaves people unable to get dressed by themselves, get out of bed or drive. I don’t feel emotions the way I used to.
‘I no longer get that wave of love I always used to for my wife – although I love her. And that absolutely breaks my heart.’
After a brief trial, Mark has eschewed Parkinson’s medication because he believes it is ineffective.
‘It is the same now as it was 50 years ago. It only treats some of the motor symptoms. It doesn’t treat the depression or anxiety.’
Instead he follows a physical rehabilitation programme called PD Warriors in Fontwell, West Sussex.
It is for people recently diagnosed or in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and combines physical exercise with challenges to your cognitive and motor skills.
‘Some things I struggle with, such as my balance,’ Mark says. ‘But everything that doesn’t work as it should, I combat it.
‘For example, we walk an assault course while counting down from 97, in threes.
‘We might be doing some exercise and naming as many famous footballers as we can. It works your brain as well as your body.’
Following what Mark calls ‘a horrible period’ he is feeling much more positive after starting PD Warriors –which is paid for privately.
‘Our physio, Vicky Knight, is amazing’, he says.
‘I started PD Warriors in July and when I was assessed recently I had made improvements in every area.
‘It is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
‘Before I tried different exercises and vitamins but you never know if you’re going in the right direction.
‘But these results are very encouraging. The harder I work, the better I will be – up to a point.’
Mark believes firmly in the power of the mind. ‘We can train our brain to function in different ways, you can make other connections. It’s not easy, we have to work hard at it.
‘But I have seen people give up with this disease and it just takes over.
‘Two and a half years ago I did not think I would be working now. I didn’t know what was ahead for me.
‘Some people advance quickly. But I’m doing okay.’
Mark says people do not realise that Parkinson’s can affect young people too.
He cites the example of Back to the Future star Michael J Fox who was diagnosed at just 29 years old.
‘There are a lot of younger people out there with the disease but all the support is geared towards older people,’ he says. ‘And they can be very negative.
‘I have set up a support group with colleagues from PD Warrior. It started because I rush there and rush back and I don’t get a chance to talk to the people going through the same hell as I am.
‘We are all positive and young – though there is one guy in his 80s.
‘And we all have a brilliant attitude. People go through really dark times but we are there for each other.
‘I’m not a doctor, I can’t say deal with it without medication. All Parkinson’s cases are different. We share some similarities but we’re different.’
Having a positive attitude helps. ‘I’m still teaching and anyone who teaches knows what a challenging profession it is,’ says Mark.
‘When I’m having a challenging day my Parkinson’s feels worse. On a positive day I feel better.’
Mark feels not enough is being done to find a cure for the disease.
‘Pharmaceutical companies are a business and their business is to treat people, not to cure them,’ says Mark.
‘The treatment people are given now enhances the lives of some, but at some point they become ineffective. It’s a slow process.
I don’t think there is enough of a push to find a treatment for it, let alone a cure.
‘Every Parkinson’s patient likes to think there is a cure around the corner but we are not moving forwards quickly enough.’
Mark admits that at the beginning he did not think he would ever be able to pick up his guitar and play again, let along still be working. But he is starting to strum out some tunes, though he knows he won’t play as well as he used to.
’In the meantime I can still sing and when I do I raise money for various Parkinson’s’ charities.
He does not have the strain of the disease that makes the body shake, and he is pleased about that.
But Parkinson’s goes in stages and he knows there will be more issues to come.
He and his wife Carolyn are facing it together.
Mark says: ‘It has been hard for her. She has to watch me struggle, but I struggle more emotionally than physically.
‘She’s just been an angel and has supported me and will do in the future, whatever happens.
‘I feel really guilty that she has to go through it.
‘There is a lot of pressure but we’re dealing with it together.’
Mark will be performing with the Band of the Hampshire Constabulary at a concert at Hayling Island Community Centre on Saturday, November 23, at 7.30pm.
The concert, which is organised by Mark’s good friend Gill Elton, is raising funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust.
Tickets are £10 and available from the community centre on (023) 9246 7545. Alternatively, call Gill on (023) 9246 1942.