Move with Purpose

Carolyn and James Wideman were meant to be a team.

“My mother was a teacher in McCormick, South Carolina, and we lived 35 miles away. Every Monday we’d go to McCormick and stay all week with James’ family. We grew up together.”

The two graduated and Carolyn worked in retail, insurance and finally became a teacher. James joined the army and travelled the world. He served 30 years, and today is one of a handful of retired black colonels.

James’ first wife passed in 1997, and he returned to the Carolinas and became a teaching assistant. The two reconnected. James explains that they never really lost touch. “My sister invited Carolyn and her mom to visit whenever I was stateside. Carolyn knew my wife, and I knew her first husband.” Carolyn smiles. “Our mothers stayed in touch too – I think they both knew we’d end up together.” They married in 2001.

In 2017, James was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “Looking back, there were symptoms for a few years before that. My arm would freeze while stuffing folders at school. I tried marching and I’d get stuck. I became slower.” Carolyn also recalls slow changes over a long period. “He was always athletic, and his movements became less smooth. We learned it’s important to pay attention even to subtle changes as they are happening.” They found Dr. Iyer.

James was initially surprised by the diagnosis. “I should have suspected Parkinson’s. My grandfather, mother and aunt all had tremors and movement issues but they were never diagnosed.”

Carolyn and James haven’t let Parkinson’s stop them. Instead, it’s given them new purpose and they appreciate living every day to the fullest. They share four essentials with others living with PD:

  1. A support team. James looks at Carolyn. “First, tell close family and friends about your diagnosis. Let them cheer you on. Carolyn makes me move, she reminds me to take my vitamins and medications, she makes me get up when I sit too long. And if I resist, there’s a healthy dose of harassment.” Carolyn laughs, “I help when he needs it, but I won’t take away anything he’s capable of doing. He can get his own snacks!”
  2. Eat a healthy diet. James nods his head. “It’s hard to get Americans to improve their health habits, but it’s so important. When I see someone who just looks unhealthy, that’s my reminder about why I stick with it.”
  3. Exercise! James and Carolyn agree this is critical. “We were taught to use it or lose it,” Carolyn explains, “and our generation lives by that. We walk together five miles, three times a week. It’s good for us both.”
  4. Stay busy. “Volunteer work keeps us focused on something beyond our own needs. Connecting with other communities and making an impact is good medicine!” Carolyn shares. The Widemans deliver meals for Nourish Up, maintain a community garden, and volunteer with Bags of Hope. “We see people younger than we are who are housebound. That could be me if I sit down and do nothing,” James observes.

For the Widemans, it boils down to attitude. “I have Parkinson’s, but it’s not a controlling factor in my life. I can make decisions now that will impact my condition years from now. If you can do it, why not?”

James and Carolyn volunteering with Nourish Up! (formerly called Friendship Trays/Meals on Wheels)
James and Carolyn volunteering with Nourish Up! (formerly called Friendship Trays/Meals on Wheels)
James in the garden
James in the garden
James and Carolyn volunteering with Bags of Hope
James and Carolyn volunteering with Bags of Hope

A Note from Dr. Iyer

James and Carolyn indeed make a great team.  They've developed and maintain a wonderful routine of exercise, healthy eating habits, volunteer work and good sleep habits that keep both of them in great physical, emotional and cognitive health.  It’s no surprise to me that visit after visit there has been no noticeable progression in James’ condition.  My hope is that other PD patients and their families will hear the Widemans’ message - perhaps more than they've heard their healthcare providers.  As I counsel patients every day, “a rolling stone gathers no moss.”