Life with Parkinson’s . . . Fiona Staunton

The mother-of-four first experienced symptoms when she was 46

Fiona (front row, centre), her husband John (back row, centre) and children Eoin, Gearóid and Aoife and Niamh: “I hope I’ll stay well enough to take an active part in my children’s lives.”

Fiona (front row, centre), her husband John (back row, centre) and children Eoin, Gearóid and Aoife and Niamh: “I hope I’ll stay well enough to take an active part in my children’s lives.”

 

Fiona Staunton must be one of the busiest women in Ennis.

There is her job as home-care coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Society. She gives training in dementia care to nurses, families and carers. There is her family – she’s married and has two sons and two daughters. Then there are her other activities – she is a scout leader and qualified swim coach, teaching water safety every summer. She also does yoga.

And Staunton has Parkinson’s disease – the disorder which leads to progressive deterioration of motor function caused by the degeneration of certain nerve cells in the brain.

“I was diagnosed two years ago in March, 2016, two weeks before my youngest made his Confirmation,” she says. “I would have loved him to have been older. The hardest thing was telling my children.”

Staunton will be 53 on World Parkinson’s Day – April 11th April. Her eldest is now 26, her daughters are 24 and 20, and the youngest is now 14.

“I probably had symptoms from when I was 46,” she says. However, she didn’t have any tremor, the symptom most often associated with Parkinson’s Disease. “I thought it was the clutch in the car, but it was a lack of power in my left foot. Then, on holidays in Croatia, I lost power in one of my hands while I was kayaking.”

Fatigue

Fatigue was her biggest symptom and she hadn’t slept properly for six months before she was diagnosed. She’d also lost her sense of smell and found she wasn’t able to plait her daughter’s hair.

“I’m lucky because I know how the health system works,” she says, “But a lot of people don’t have the confidence to ask. I also had private insurance.”

To confirm her diagnosis, Staunton asked her doctor to send her for a DaT scan, which measures the level of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of this chemical. Staunton also contacted a Parkinson’s nurse specialist herself to get an appointment and she asked her specialist to refer her to a physio, and occupational and speech therapists.

“It should be basic that everyone should have access to these specialities. My speech therapist, for example, has been fantastic and pro-active.”

So what of the future? “I work hard because I don’t want people’s perception of me to change. I hope I’ll stay well enough to take an active part in my children’s lives.”

– Each week The Irish Times will run a “Life with Parkinson’s” piece with an Irish person. Parkinson’s Awareness Week is from April 9th-15th. The Parkinson’s Association Freephone Helpline is: 1800 359 359 or go to parkinsons.ie.