2015 is not a year Dennis Henke would ever want to do again. In May, after a year of noticing tremors and diminished facial expressions, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). His doctor also ordered an MRI. The scan found a brain tumor. Dennis had surgery to remove the tumor. He spent four weeks at other hospitals before finishing his recovery at Waverly Health Center. Hailing from Waterloo, his wife and children chose WHC because of the broad range of services offered.
“After surgery, my whole left side was paralyzed. I had to learn to walk again,” stated Dennis. “The people at WHC were great, but my real drive came from my six grandchildren. They filled my room with hand-drawn pictures and words of encouragement like ‘Work Hard Grandpa!’”
Dennis was discharged and continued to work hard at home. Even through his hard work, he would still get upset with himself. “I noticed my voice getting softer and I got frustrated when people asked me to repeat myself.”
In August, his son heard about a presentation at WHC on the value of speech and voice treatment for people with PD. The two attended and soon afterward Dennis started the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) with Mary Ochoa, MS, CCC-SLP, WHC speech therapist. He had 16 sessions with Mary over 1 month. “The treatment really helped me. I learned how to speak louder and practiced my voice inflection. Mary did a good job telling me what we were doing and why we were doing it.”
Mary commented, “Softer speech is a common characteristic of Parkinson’s disease and can negatively impact how much or how effectively a person speaks. Dennis was an ideal patient for LSVT. He was motivated to improve and followed through with all the homework assigned. By getting therapy when he first noticed changes in his voice and communication, he will be able to maintain his communication as long as possible and hopefully minimize any decline in communication in the years to come.”
Dennis keeps setting and reaching goals he has made for himself. After his surgery, he was only able to walk two blocks, but is now walking two miles a day. He and his wife also practice tai chi and he goes to many support groups. At WHC, he belongs to the Parkinson’s Support Group and the Parkinson’s Singing Group. “I’m still learning how to live with Parkinson’s. When people think about PD, a lot of times they just think about tremors, but it’s so much more than that. I get upset when I run out of breath before ending my sentence. The signing group really helps with that. We learn to breathe with our diaphragm.”
Kara Rewerts, MT-BC, WHC neurologic music therapist, leads the Parkinson’s singing group and noticed a real difference in Dennis after his LSVT. “Not only was he louder in his speech, but he was more confident,” said Kara. “In the group we work on ways to use music and singing to maintain vocal health despite the progressive effects of PD. Dennis is still an active member and continues to be a great role model for the group.”
One year post-surgery and diagnosis, Dennis is enjoying spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He and his wife just returned from a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills and are looking forward to an east-coast cruise.