A “shocked” Ebony Dart has been named the 2021 Maitland Parkinson’s Community Hero.
The award, presented to the local occupational therapist by the Maitland Parkinson’s Support Group (PSG) on Monday, allowed everyone to commemorate April as World Parkinson’s Awareness Month, too.
The program was coordinated across the state by Parkinson’s NSW, which invited its more than 90 PSGs to nominate their community heroes – individuals or organisations that have made contributions to improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s, a progressive, degenerative condition of the central nervous system.
Unfortunately, its causes are unknown – and a cure has not yet been found.
Ms Dart runs the PD Warrior exercise classes at Mitchells Integrated Therapy at Maitland.
“I’m very very grateful,” she said.
“It’s not something that you would expect to receive for coming to work on a Monday morning and getting to engage with such a wonderful group of people.
“It is just something I enjoy doing, as well as getting the word out about Parkinson’s.
“It’s not a topic that’s come to light, particularly in this area, until the past 12 months or two years.
“So, I’m definitely shocked that coming to so something that I love can draw this sort of attention.”
Ms Dart said it was an easy decision for her to become an occupational therapist.
“I knew, from an early age, I wanted to do a job where I helped other people,” she added.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with adults.
“My company just presented me with an opportunity to go down and undertake the training to do the PD Warrior program.
“Obviously, I jumped at the chance – and haven’t looked back.
“It’s a fantastic initiative, along with all the people who are involved.
“And, it is so rewarding.
“I hope to continue doing it for a long time.”
Maitland PSG president Dr Helen Tolhurst said Ms Dart was a worthy winner.
“Ebony shows a personal interest in each of the class members,” the Maitland Citizen of the Year told the Newcastle Weekly.
“She is aware of their social and economic situations and spends time – over and above – in classes assisting them with their occupational therapy and social needs.
“For example, one class member had problems with her aged care provider and Ebony spent considerable time with her and her family working out how to resolve these issues.
“This work is unpaid.
“She also writes unpaid progress reports for PD Warrior clients when they are due to see their neurologists.”
Dr Tolhurst explained Parkinson’s was more prevalent than many common cancers – including prostate, breast, colorectal and lung – in Australians over the age of 50.
“Yet despite cancers being declared a National Health Priority Area (NHPA) for federal and state governments, Parkinson’s is not,” she said.
“Diagnosis of Parkinson’s can take years; and people can live with it for decades.
“That makes supporting wellbeing and independence priorities for people living with this misunderstood disease.”
During April, members of Parkinson’s Support Groups are out in force, rallying support, hosting barbecues, morning teas and events, and providing information and education opportunities.
Currently, Parkinson’s NSW has four Parkinson’s Specialist Nurses working in regional NSW.
With more than 65,000 people in the state living with Parkinson’s and the increasing number of others being diagnosed, plus long waitlists to access medical help, the need for specialist nurses to support people in regional communities is becoming greater.
The organisation’s goal is to have another five nurses placed in NSW by 2022.
For further information about Parkinson’s NSW, local Parkinson’s Support Groups and how to donate, make a free call to the Parkinson’s NSW InfoLine on 1800 644 189.