Northern Irish broadcaster and journalist, Claire McCollum, has joined as an ambassador for Parkinson’s UK.
Best known for presenting Songs of Praise, Claire has joined Parkinson’s UK to help promote the work we do and encourage others to get involved. Claire’s dad, Sam, lived with Parkinson’s for over 12 years, and sadly died in March 2021.
Supporting Parkinson's UK
Claire has been a supporter of Parkinson’s UK since 2018, when she and her family raised £4,000 by taking part in Walk for Parkinson’s. Claire said:
"We first took part in Walk for Parkinson’s in 2018, along with dad. So we have such fond memories of the walk.
"For the last 2 years, mum and I completed it together and they were emotional days. But it was so good to do it in dad’s memory and to see the rest of the wonderful walkers there too.
"Supporting Parkinson’s UK is so important to me as they are a charity that is doing so much to help people living with Parkinson’s."
Coping with Dad's diagnosis
Claire said that before her dad was diagnosed, the family knew there was "something not quite right":
"He was shuffling his feet a lot and a few people noticed he wasn’t quite himself. But all I knew of Parkinson’s at that stage was the tremor, and that Mohammed Ali and Michael J. Fox had the condition.
"Having lived through dad's journey with Parkinson’s, we learned that everyone experiences the disease differently. We know that the tremor doesn't affect everyone, and dad never had a tremor."
Claire was in her 30s when her dad was diagnosed.
"While it came as a shock, it was also good to know what dad was going through and therefore take the right steps to get help.
"It was very sad to discover that dad wasn't going to get better and the disease would progress. However, things moved slowly at the start so I guess that gave us time to begin to get our heads around it all."
Claire said initially her dad’s fine motor skills, thought processes and coordination were affected and as the disease progressed there were many more changes.
A lot to be thankful for
"Towards the later stages, dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's dementia and vascular dementia. His mobility deteriorated so much he also needed a wheelchair to get about. Adaptations had to be made to the family home.
"We’re so grateful for the wonderful care dad received from the Parkinson’s specialists, his doctors, nurses and staff at his GP practice and the carers who came into the home 4 times a day.
"I really feel for those who don’t have the same experience as us, or who just don’t know who to turn to. It can be very overwhelming. It is so important to ask for help and get the right support."
Claire said her dad never seemed to dwell on his condition too much.
"He made the most of the situation and always looked for a silver lining. However, there were also times when dad was very aware just how compromised his situation was and that was very tough on him and for us to watch.
"We are so thankful for the little things, which clearly are the big things in the end. He loved the company of his family and never lost his wonderful sense of humour or his love of good food. The thing that made him smile most were visits from his grandchildren.
"Dad was just a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday when he died. On what would have been his 80th, we had cake and sang happy birthday with all our family over Zoom. It might sound strange but it was perfect for us and I have no doubt dad would have been chuffed."
Claire's role with Parkinson's UK
Claire’s ambassador role will see her championing this year’s Walk For Parkinson’s, as it returns to Belfast on Sunday 24 September 2023. She said:
"Taking part in Walk for Parkinson’s moves us closer to the day we find a cure for the condition. I would really encourage people to take part as the support will help power the research breakthroughs that are so urgently needed."
Walk for Parkinson's Belfast
Feeling inspired to get involved? We'd love you to join us this September for Walk for Parkinson's as it returns to the beautiful Barnett Demesne in Belfast.