CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The news of actor Robin Williams’ death hit close to home for WCHS-TV senior reporter Bob Aaron.
During a Friday-evening news segment on the death of Williams, who recently had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Aaron went public with his own Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Aaron, a 32-year veteran of WCHS, has no plans to quit working. But he said he wanted the diagnosis out in the open.
“It kind of feels good getting it off my chest,” he said Friday. “It’s not hanging over me.”
Aaron also said he wanted others diagnosed with Parkinson’s to know it doesn’t have to mean no longer finding meaning in life.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder linked to the loss of dopamine-producing cells. Treatments are available to help manage symptoms, but the disease cannot be cured.
The main symptoms are shaking, or tremor; slowness of movement; rigidity of the arms, legs or trunk; and trouble with balance and falls, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.
Aaron was experiencing several symptoms before he made a doctor’s appointment.
His wife, Kanawha County Magistrate Kim Aaron, was the one to finally persuade him to go.
“My wife sort of saved my life,” he said. “She noticed things about me I just attributed to getting older. I was walking slope-shouldered, tilted forward. I was shuffling my feet. I lost my sense of smell. I have what you could call ‘senior moments’ when I paused … and my balance isn’t quite what it used to be. I got some shakes … I didn’t really notice it, but she certainly did.”
Researchers have not identified a cause for Parkinson’s. It is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms gradually get worse. The disease itself isn’t fatal, but complications from Parkinson’s are the 14th top cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is also commonly associated with depression.
Those diagnosed with the disease can find support through the Charleston Parkinson’s Support Group.
George Manahan, CEO of The Manahan Group public relations agency, founded the organization. With depression associated with Parkinson’s, Manahan wants those diagnosed with the disease, like himself, to have hope as well.
“A positive attitude is the most important thing,” Manahan said. “You want to have the attitude that I’m going to lick this thing. I’m going to beat it back. If you have that attitude, then you’re halfway home.”
Between 75 and 100 people, including those with the disease, family members and caregivers, are members of the support group. They meet at 6 p.m. on the third Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association office at 1601 Second Ave.
Manahan said to find other support groups in the state or to find support online, search for the Facebook group West Virginia Parkinson’s Support Network.
“It gives you the opportunity to talk to someone who has dealt with these issues — in a work environment, in a family environment, or in the community,” Manahan said. “You’re able to really talk at a deeper level. It does exactly what it says. It gives you support. It gives you someone to call in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep. Believe you me, there are a lot of nights when people with Parkinson’s can’t get to sleep.”
Manahan commended Aaron for his announcement.
“I think Bob Aaron is brave to come out publicly and say he has Parkinson’s,” Manahan said. “It’s not easy. It took me two years to do that. He will help a lot of people just by making it public and letting people know there are other people out there struggling as well.”
Aaron said while “nobody is going to be happy when they get that kind of news,” he is trying to focus on the aspects of his life that bring him joy.
“Really, for me, my antidepressants are my family and animals,” he said. “I have a couple cats, a dog and a mule. And my work is really important to me. I think it helps keep my mind challenged and sharp, and gives me some kind of purpose in life. I want to keep doing that as long as I can.”
Reach Erin Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5163 or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.