Everyone could use a travel companion, especially when you’re venturing out of your normal stomping grounds. For people with Parkinson’s traveling abroad to World Parkinson Congress (WPC) in Montreal, for example, managing Parkinson’s symptoms compounded by possible language barriers makes relationships and conversations that much more challenging.
Parkinson Society Canada (PSC) and the World Parkinson Coalition wanted to help conference attendees feel more comfortable while in Montreal. This led to a pilot project and the new Buddies program was born. The Buddies Program paired Canadians together with international participants based on personal information they provided to organizers, such as language, gender, and age of diagnosis.
Laurine Fillo, from Alberta, didn’t waste any time signing up after registering for WPC.
“It sounded like a great idea. Being from Alberta we were sure other Albertans we knew would be there. I thought signing up would be beneficial to my buddy,” said Laurine, partnered with Sharon Daborn, WPC Ambassador for Australia.
Although Laurine and Sharon didn’t interact as much as they would have liked, due in large part to Sharon’s duties as a WPC Ambassador, they both feel the experience was a valuable one.
“We went to the Buddies Reception together which was a really good experience. It was good to see the face and voice of someone you’ve been getting to know. From there on I was flat out (busy),” said Sharon.
Other buddy pairs had an easy time connecting prior to, and during, WPC. Laurie Nobbs, from British Columbia, Canada was paired with Kip Smith from the United States. The two started cultivating a relationship in January 2013 via email.
“We exchanged emails once every week or two. In January I got an email from (the program coordinator) with contact details for Laurie and that was it. We talked pretty often. We attended the buddies reception and a few sessions together. It was a lot of fun,” said Kip.
“We started communicating quite a while before congress; about eight months before. In that time we developed an easy going relationship. We had a lot in common and we shared a lot of info,” added Laurie.
“When we got to the buddies reception we saw that the event was beautifully organized. Some people met for the first time and exchanged pictures. Two fellas embraced each other when they finally met. These were complete strangers prior to the Congress. There was a really energetic feeling in the room. When we met Kip face to face we felt emotional, like meeting an old friend,” added Linda Thiessen, Laurie Nobbs’ wife and caregiver.
Prior to WPC, Kip and Laurie tried to meet face to face when the Smith family travelled through B.C. en route to Alaska. The timing didn’t end up working out but the Smiths will make another attempt to visit next summer when they repeat their trip up North.
“Next summer we’ll try again,” Kip reassured.
Bill Sloan, WPC volunteer and administrator for the Buddies Program, was instrumental in making the pilot program a success by matching 206 WPC attendees into 103 buddy pairs. He also spearheaded the Buddies Reception, held just prior to the opening ceremonies for WPC, to help buddies meet face to face, most for the first time.
Being a person with Young Onset Parkinson’s himself, Bill Sloan was an ideal choice to make matches that complimented each other well. With Bill’s diligence and hard work the Buddies program turned out to be a meaningful addition to the Congress format.
“It was a success, and we could make it even more successful. We learned things to make improvements for next time,” added Bill.
Other buddies also felt the program was worthwhile and the benefits will live beyond the Congress.
“It’s nice to have somebody to talk to who understands what you’re going through and maybe give you some info on how they deal with their own Parkinson’s. Kip has had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery and I’m interested in it for myself. He shared a lot of info with me,” added Laurie.
“I can take a break from it because I don’t have Parkinson’s but Laurie can’t. Having a buddy who understands what he’s going through helps him. It’s interesting to see that each person with Parkinson’s is unique while also having commonalities,” said Laurie’s wife Linda.
The relationships formed at WPC won’t stop simply because Congress is over. Some of the participating buddies plan to keep their conversations going by way of email, texting and online chats. The Buddies Program didn’t just bring people together for a few short days, it helped create lifelong friendships that will carry on for years to come.
“The best part for me was to actually feel comfortable coming into a new country. I’m not a great international traveler. I felt good knowing there was someone there that I could talk to,” said Sharon.
With this level of success and positive experiences, let’s hope the program lives on for old friends and new buddies at the 4th WPC in Portland, Oregon in 2016.
For more information on the Buddies Program click here to view the WPC poster presented in Montreal.