HEALTHY YOU

Dealing with the hand Parkinson's has dealt

Former Franklin Middle School vocal teacher John Ryal practices with the Chorale Midwest chamber choir at Immaculate Conception Church in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Ryal, a Parkinson’s disease survivor for the past 5 years, sings in 2 separate choirs including Chorale Midwest. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
Former Franklin Middle School vocal teacher John Ryal practices with the Chorale Midwest chamber choir at Immaculate Conception Church in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Ryal, a Parkinson’s disease survivor for the past 5 years, sings in 2 separate choirs including Chorale Midwest. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
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John Ryal, a former teacher at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years ago.

Ryal, 70, and his wife of 47 years, Linda, make an effort to stay upbeat despite his diagnosis.

Tremors, or shaking, are a common symptom of Parkinson’s, but a number of other symptoms like freezing, which causes Ryal to stop in place involuntarily, present a daily challenge.

“The other day, I walked out of an elevator a few steps before realizing that John wasn’t behind me,” Linda Ryal said.

“I took an extra ride,” he said. “We had a good laugh about that. You have to keep your sense of humor.”

Ryal also suffers from bradykinesia, which is a tendency to move slowly.

“It takes me about an hour-and-a-half to get dressed in the morning, ”he said.

Even though this routine task has become challenging, his wife, as his primary caregiver, encourages him to complete it on his own.

“I’ll try to let him do that for as long as he is able,” she said.

Before being diagnosed, Ryal taught vocal music at Franklin for 35 years.

“We had talented kids and great, involved parents,” he said. “Once I started teaching there, I never left.”

When asked why he chose vocal music, he said simply, “Because I could sing.”

Linda Ryal also taught music at Cleveland Elementary for 22 years.

Ryal still participates in two choirs — Chorale Midwest and its smaller Chamber Singers group. He knows that his voice has been affected by Parkinson’s but participating in the choirs has been a form of therapy.

“The people in the choirs have been great to me,” he said.

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Ryal also attends exercise classes, symposiums and other programs offered by the Cedar Rapids Metro Parkinson’s Association.

Exercise is one of the primary treatments for Parkinson’s patients, and the couple are grateful the classes are free, thanks to donations and fundraising events. Even so, when Ryal was first diagnosed, he was hesitant to participate.

“I didn’t want to see what I would progress to. I didn’t want to be around all those ‘Parkies,’ ” he said.

Over time, he’s had a change of heart and now regularly attends classes, including boxing and chair yoga. “It keeps you going, and it gives you a chance to socialize.”

Linda Ryal attends a support group for caregivers at the center, which proved helpful after a tough year. Ryal struggled with health issues unrelated to Parkinson’s as well as some complications of his Parkinson’s, including falling and breaking some bones.

“You can’t see the falls coming,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to have a good day and when you’re going to have a bad day.”

The exact cause of Parkinson’s is not known, but it is thought genetics and environmental triggers may play a role.

With this in mind, the couple decided to have Ryal’s DNA tested to see if he carries the Parkinson’s genetic mutation to better understand how he got the disease and because they have two children and four grandchildren who could have inherited the gene. The test determined that Ryal does not have the genetic marker, and he doesn’t know of any ancestors or relatives who had the disease.

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Even though he doesn’t know why he developed the disease, Ryal stays positive about his future.

“You have to try to be cheerful,” he said. “You’ve been dealt this hand, and you might as well play it.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.