08/28/05 — Parkinson's awareness walk set for Sept. 17

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Parkinson's awareness walk set for Sept. 17

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 28, 2005 2:02 AM

Pat Darden found out in her early 40's that she had Parkinson's Disease. She waged war against the debilitating illness for 23 years, until it claimed her life this past February. She was 65.

Family and friends provided much support, said her daughter, Dana Darden Lewis, a teacher at Norwayne Middle School.

Among those friends was Winston Davis, who along with his wife, Bertha, shared a passion for finding a cure for Parkinson's. Davis had more than a passing interest, though, since he was also struggling with the disease. The 80-year-old Fremont man's battle ended on Jan. 6, 2004.

As a way to memorialize the parents that brought two families together, as well as helping cope with the loss, Ms. Lewis embarked on a mission to raise awareness and hopefully move closer to finding a cure for Parkinson's.

In March, she began planning the Pat Darden Memorial Walk for Parkinson's, scheduled for Sept. 17 on the track field at Charles B. Aycock High School. She also held a fundraiser at Norwayne, raising more than $1,400 within a week through a coin drive and sale of Parkinson's powerband bracelets.

The Davis' daughter, Terry Davis Barnes, a kindergarten teacher at Fremont STARS Elementary School, readily joined in when she found out about the effort, as did Jean Thorne, who had previously worked with Pat Darden at BB&T Bank.

The two teachers had discovered the common circumstances that would ultimately lead to a shared goal when Ms. Barnes' son Rob Wooten was a student in Ms. Lewis' class.

"We became close," Ms. Barnes said. "We did a lot of things together and had common interests with both having parents with Parkinson's."

While some say the cause of the disease is genetic, others environmental, the important thing is to work toward finding its cure, Ms. Lewis said.

"If we can find a cure for this thing, we can make a difference," she said. "I just want to raise money and send it in for research."

Organizing the walk has been her way of helping heal the loss of her beloved mother, she said. It is a disease that spills over and affects everyone who has it, she notes.

"I just sat there and watched it rob Mama's quality of life," she said. "We put her in the hospital January 30. Parkinson's was not the main cause of death but complications from it contributed."

Ms. Barnes' said her father also suffered for many years, unable to do things for himself. The last seven years of his life were particularly difficult, she said.

"Mom (Bertha Davis of Fremont) was the major caretaker," she said. So the fundraising effort is a tribute to Mrs. Davis as well as husband Winston.

"The feeling is like you're sort of taking up where he left off," Ms. Barnes said. "He dreamed of finding a cure for Parkinson's; I can keep that dream alive."

Organizers are encouraging pre-registration for the walk to get an advance head count. Those registering by Sept. 1 will receive a free t-shirt.

The registration fee is $10 per person, with teams encouraged to take part. Elementary students can walk free when accompanying a paying adult.

There will also be a chance to sign up on the evening before the walk, when an information booth will be set up during Aycock's football game Friday night, Sept. 16. The final registration time is 9 a.m. on the day of the event.

Opening ceremonies will be held at 10 a.m., followed by the walk, which will be held rain or shine. The first lap will feature members of the three families who organized the event, Ms. Lewis said.

Proceeds will be forwarded to the Parkinson's Unity Walk, a non-profit organization that gives 100 percent of its donations to research efforts.

There will also be several events going on throughout the day, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"We will have entertainment, including performances by 'Prayz' and 'Beloved,' arts and crafts, churches having bake sales, and concessions available," Ms. Lewis said.

The distance walkers go doesn't matter as much as the steps being taken toward curtailing a deadly disease, Ms. Lewis said.

"The main objective is raising money for research," she said. "We're just determined to try to make a difference."

For more information, contact "Cure Parkinson's Committee" members Ms. Lewis at 738-0928, Ms. Barnes at 242-6386, or Ms. Thorne, 242-5724.