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Parkinson's disease: 'It's like a boxing fight with Mike Tyson, you don't stay down'

By Elaine McGee
BBC Radio Foyle

image captionBoth men said the power of positivity is helping them fight back

It is often said that laughter is the best medicine, and if true, it is certainly working wonders for two young men from Londonderry.

Michael Stewart and Kieran Whoriskey are both living with early onset Parkinson's disease.

Michael, a father-of-two, was 39-years-old when he was told. Kieran was diagnosed at just 26.

They knew one another from their school days but it was Parkinson's that would, later in life, bring them together.

'Dirty Secret'

Both men are now 40 and have decided to speak out because they want others to know they are not alone.

Kieran describes the disease as "like a twelve-round boxing fight with Mike Tyson. You don't stay down".

"I was like a shadow of my former self because I was a confident fellow and it just strips it day by day," he added.

"Even simple things like queuing at the shop, I couldn't even do that - because you get paranoid people behind you seeing you shaking.

"The only person I could relate to was Michael J Fox."

He said when he finally admitted his condition the "support I got was amazing, the weight lifted from my shoulders".

image captionMany people with the disease feel the symptoms are not socially acceptable

Michael explained that it took a number of years for him to get a diagnosis.

"I was 34 and I just lost my daughter in 2010, she was still-born," he said.

"A few weeks after that a small tremor started in my thumb.

"The first thing I thought of, because I'm only married 10 years and I've a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, is 'what happens to them?'"

Michael's children do not know he has Parkinson's, but said he will tell them when the time is right.

"You meet people on the street and they say 'well what's wrong with him? 'Is he on drugs, is he drunk?' and you say 'no I've got Parkinson's disease' and they say 'what age are you'?

"I sort of hide my symptoms from my kids, when they're older and they can understand it, I'll tell them what's wrong," he said.

Last month, it was revealed that more than a third of people in the UK with Parkinson's disease feel the need to hide their symptoms or lie about having the condition.

It followed a survey carried out by the charity, Parkinson's UK. The disease affects 127,000 people in the UK or about one in 500 people.

The main symptoms are a tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMichael J Fox, diagnosed in his late 20s, said symptoms can be toughest in the morning

Kieran said: "I go to bed with it and I wake up with it. The medication contains it, but when it wears off that's when you really feel it.

"I'll wake up at four and my body is just waking me up like an alarm clock that you don't want.

"I've been in many relationships but I always end them because you feel like a burden. You don't want them looking after you."

'Faith keeps me going'

Despite these setbacks, both men said they draw strength from one other and a shared sense of humour.

"We're good buddies, we get a good laugh from each other. If you're down you ring each other," Michael said.

"In my own way I always pray to my daughter, Faith, and I ask her to get me through the day. Faith keeps me going.

For Kieran, it is the power of positivity that keeps him going.

"They say laughter is the best medicine and I believe that," he said.

Related Topics

  • Londonderry-Derry
  • NI Health

More on this story

  • Parkinson's disease: 'Many patients hide symptoms'