For 58-year-old Paul Kelly, every day is a gift.
“I don't sweat the small stuff anymore,” said Kelly, the president of the South Palm Beach County Chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation in Boca Raton. “I look at the overall picture and I'm more at ease with my surroundings and myself.”
That's how living with Parkinson's disease has changed him. “I have Parkinson’s but Parkinson’s doesn't have me.”
Doctors diagnosed Paul with Parkinson's 12 years ago, when he was a firefighter/paramedic for the city of Tamarac.
“This is not an easy disease to live with, it's a very hard disease to live with,” Paul explained.
He says there's a misconception about Parkinson’s, the progressive neurological disorder that former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno battled for 21 years.
She died Monday from complications of the disease.
“We're mourning the loss of Janet Reno,” said Paul. “Just because you have Parkinson’s doesn't mean it's a life ending disease. You could still live out a long life.”
Every day Paul does exercises to combat his symptoms: pushups and sit-ups for stiffness, punching to steady his tremors.
“The symptoms would be a lot stronger and they would last a lot longer,” said Paul. “I wouldn't be able to move around as freely as I do today.”
At the organization's South Florida headquarters, they offer free classes for people with Parkinson’s, including a speech class to counter their soft voice and help with swallowing difficulties to prevent pneumonia.
“The real unsung heroes are the ones that struggle and have to fight with this disease every single day,” said Ed Gray, the owner of Florida Movement Therapy. “They have to get up, put their boots on every single morning and work at this disease every day.”
People with Parkinson’s can live with the disease for 20 to 40 years.
Paul says if you have the disease, there are three things you should do: workout regularly, eat healthy and live life to the fullest.