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I Love Life: Surviving Parkinson’s Disease

 Larry Smith spent most of his life in law enforcement.   But, that came to an abrupt end after he was diagnosed with having Parkinson’s disease. 

“I was a police officer in Hamden, Connecticut for 26 years.  I retired as a captain—3rd in command of the department with a lot of responsibilities.  But, the Parkinson’s was affecting my performance.  So, I retired on my 50th birthday.”

 At first, Larry admits the diagnosis was really tough to handle. 

“It was a blow!  I just thought there was a little something wrong with me.  I couldn’t move my right hand very well.  Hearing it was Parkinson’s disease was devastating.”

 At the same time, Parkinson’s disease reshaped Larry’s attitude about life. 

“It certainly made my appreciate every day.  It also made me aware of other people’s illnesses.  I had young children at the time and really needed to carry on as I had done before in spite of the fact I had difficult medications.  I tried as hard as I could to maintain a normal life.”

 But, wasn’t that difficult? 

“It’s not easy.  But, there are ways to fight the disease through medications, exercise and a good attitude.    If you think you feel bad, you feel bad.  If you don’t move, you’re going to feel worse.  Movement has been a very important part of my life.”

 Once diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Larry left his Connecticut home and moved to South Dakota to become a full time baker. 

“It’s been a hobby of mine for years.  Switching from law enforcement to baking was interesting.  People would tell me ‘ you’re a cop.  How can you bake?’  There’s really no difference.  The baking part came out of necessity and a desire to keep my hands moving.  The change was pretty natural.  I didn’t know how to bake commercially.  But, I’m an old dog and I can be taught new tricks.”

 Larry’s baking business really picked up steam when it was featured in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. 

“I took it as a light hearted thing. I wasn’t aware of the magazine’s power.  I am in awe of Oprah and the people who put the magazine together.  When the article came out, we got calls from Australia and all over the United States.  People crowded into our store and stripped us of all the baked goods as fast as we could make it.

Aside from his new found success as a South Dakota baker, Larry says life has given him the most powerful weapon against a devastating disease. 

“Attitude, attitude, attitude is everything.  Faced with a progressive disease, you need to get care of your body.  That’s why I exercise and constantly talk.  If people want to hear about the disease, I’ll tell them about it.  It’s not a time to be tight lipped and grim.  Parkinson’s or any other disease is part of one’s self and should be treated as such.”

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