Parkinson's Awareness Month isn't until April, but south Charlotte resident Everett Wohlbruck has a message he'd like to convey now: There is assistance available, and individuals don't have to go through their struggle alone.
Wohlbruck, 76 and retired from a career in real estate, says he discovered he had Parkinson's disease about 11 years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, 75, have between eight and 10 friends with Parkinson's, people they know separate from their involvement with the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas.
"I just heard of another friend yesterday who had been diagnosed with it," Nancy Wohlbruck said recently.
Everett Wohlbruck describes it as an unpredictable disease with different variations. "No two people with Parkinson's have the same symptoms simultaneously," he said.
There are many dealing with Parkinson's who could benefit from the local association's support groups, programs and resources, said Wohlbruck, a former board member. "It's sad, because this is a torturous disease in that you never know what's coming next," he said.
Parkinson's involves a chemical imbalance in the brain. Although the exact cause of the progressive disease hasn't been pinpointed, Nancy says, research is focusing on a possible genetic link in conjunction with environmental exposure to toxins.
"Everett's mother had a form of Parkinson's. So that's why we were aware of the symptoms," she said.
Wohlbruck emphasizes the benefits of speech therapy - the disease can affect the vocal cords - and exercise. He passes along advice on coping whenever opportunities arise.
Such an opportunity arose once during a chance encounter at the beach. Wohlbruck met a woman whose father had Parkinson's and was in a wheelchair. He kept in touch with the family for a time, offering encouragement.
When asked the biggest challenge he's faced from Parkinson's, Wohlbruck said it was the loss of his driving ability.
Since his diagnosis, Wohlbruck's pace has slowed, but he's remained active in causes he cares about. Several years ago, he and other graduates were instrumental in starting an alumni association for Myers Park High School, from which he graduated in 1953.
Wohlbruck, who friends and neighbors affectionately call "Big E," is a beach music fan and collector of quotations - if you visit, you'll likely be asked to add your own to a guestbook.
He befriends wildlife as readily as he does people. There used to be a rabbit that fed in the yard in the evenings and eventually learned to take slices of apple from his hands. It would even wait at the door.
"You don't tame wild animals," he said. "You make friends with them."
The Wohlbrucks have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
Daughter Linda Hurlbert currently serves on the board of directors of the Parkinson Association of the Carolinas.