Heather Birchall Co-Founder, Living Better with Parkinson’s

About Heather:

Heather Birchall is a Person with Parkinson’s. Heather was an educator in the public elementary system in our community. Prior to her diagnosis with Parkinson’s she was the Principal at Cameron Street Public School in Collingwood. She has a long term connection with squash and The Centre. Heather learned how to play in Toronto before moving here in 1988. Once in Collingwood, she began to play with friend Gail Scott (Squash director of Queen’s, Barton’s, Tag Fitness and The Centre). 

More than a year ago, Heather volunteered to become a Co-Founder with Jim Karn of the “Living Better with Parkinson’s” program at The Centre. As Co-Chair of the Collingwood Parkinson’s support group, she stepped up to help recruit 15 participants and matching volunteers in The Centre’s innovative SAFEx One pilot exercise program, the first run in a community outside of a clinical setting. Now she continues to lead “Living Better” into its next stage of helping Persons with Parkinson’s to improve their and their families’ quality of life. 

When I first met Heather, she had mastered, with one of our personal trainers, the difficult to learn “bird dog” exercise. When I was working with the same trainer, he used Heather’s video to break through my inability to master this same exercise!” – Larry Hall, Centre Owner and “Living Better” Facilitator

Kind words from a close friend:

“I have known Heather for quite a number of years now. She is one of the nicest people that I have met since moving to the area 30 years ago. We did play a lot of squash together over the years. But she did not learn it from me. She was a seasoned player before we got together. Her qualities of kindness, determination, positive outlook, and an all round fun attitude make her perfect for the role she has taken on.” – Gail Scott

Heather’s story

Heather’s story is best told by herself as she reaches out to a prominent local doctor to join the “Living Better” team. 

“Dear Doctor …

I am writing to you about a community project I have been involved in for just over a year. I am approaching you in the hope that this project might interest you as a doctor and member of the local hospital’s Community Connections Committee.

The project I want to share with you is Living Better With Parkinson’s South Georgian Bay. As a person with Parkinson’s, diagnosed in the midst of a busy, active life, it is close to my heart — especially the living better part. The shock of this diagnosis was overwhelming at first. I decided to ignore it for the most part and kept on running, walking, and cycling with my husband, singing in my choir, skiing with my grandson — all the things that give my life joy and meaning. I still do many of those things, with accommodations, as often and energetically as I can. Because what has come to bring satisfaction and hope, and some sense of control in my life with PD, is keeping active and socially involved — as much and as often as possible. That and remembering to express gratitude every day for what I can do, as opposed to regretting what I cannot.

Being able to maintain some semblance of my active and involved life before PD is for me the definition of quality of life — or living “better.” Regular exercise has been proven to reduce the symptoms of PD and improve quality of life. I am sure each of the 1200+ people with Parkinson’s living in South Georgian Bay have the same desire as I do: to live better with Parkinson’s. The sooner people with Parkinson’s get diagnosed, the sooner they can start fighting its debilitating symptoms (including anxiety, depression and apathy) through regular PD-focused exercise and activities.

We need increased knowledge about Parkinson’s earliest signs and symptoms among the medical professionals who meet and care for people with Parkinson’s — doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists. We also need leadership from the medical community. And that is where you come in, Doctor. Will you be our medical champion?”

Our Doctor responded, encouraging our Community based Parkinson’s initiative and agreed to introduce “Living Better” to the recently announced (November 18, 2020) South Georgian Bay Ontario Health Team with its focus on “seniors with complex health conditions”.

I will “invite you to the next SGBOHT Community Engagement meeting” … to ensure the “Parkinson’s voice will be included in our regional health system planning.”

Learn more about Living Better