Parkinson’s New Zealand co-founder Andrew Dunn, of Oamaru, has been named one of this year’s Top 100 Kiwibank Local Hero medallists.
Mr Dunn, together with the late Ron Greenwood, founded Parkinson’s New Zealand and for the past 30 years it has been providing members with nurse visits, community education services, support groups, a library of information and advocacy.
When he heard the news of his Local Hero award, he was “overwhelmed, surprised and humbled”, and said he was glad the award would bring awareness to the cause.
Helping others runs in Mr Dunn’s family.
His father and grandfather were ministers, instilling an interest in social justice and community.
According to the Parkinson’s New Zealand website, about one in 500 people have the condition, and the average age of diagnosis is 59.
Mr Dunn said there was a range of reactions when people were diagnosed with the neurological disorder, from those who were flustered to those with an “it is what it is” mentality.
His father, whose diagnosis with Parkinson’s inspired him to co-found the much-needed support system, had the latter attitude.
“He paced himself well, cancelling the day if he had to, and made small adjustments. Stress only exacerbates it.”
Parkinson’s got worse with age, and the key was to stay positive, he said.
“What triggered me to start the support group was when my father had retired from his role as a Presbyterian minister, because his symptoms became too distracting.
“I loved my father. He meant the world to me. His GP didn’t even know anything about Parkinson’s, and I thought ‘why isn’t there anything to help you?’.”
So he dedicated 30 years of his life to meeting that need, all while juggling work as a primary teacher in Wellington, South Canterbury and Otepopo.
“For most people, children are your legacy, good or bad. My legacy is the work I have done and seeing the organisation grow to what it is today.”
He had not stopped his work since the passing of his father in 2008, he merely altered it to being “the support system for those who support others”.
Helping people to have a better quality of life and feel better with the condition they had was his biggest satisfaction.
“I don’t think about it. I just get on and do it,” he said.