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Parkinson’s battle eased by Pepperell community support

Parkinson’s battle eased by Pepperell community support

PEPPERELL — Sean McGinty gets up most mornings and does his thing.

His day starts at church. Then he might go to work as a substitute teacher or chip away at a book of short stories.

He connects with a network of friends that extends across the country. He does his part for the community, serving on the Finance Committee. If the weather’s good, he might be out on his bicycle.

At least, these are the things he can do on a good day. The days that his cocktail of drugs give him.

McGinty, 63, has Parkinson’s disease — Parkinson’s plus, the form that will in all probability lead to Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

The smiling Irishman, born in California but holding dual citizenship, has those bad days, the days when his physical symptoms flare up.

“Days that I display a lot of symptoms, I don’t go out. I don’t go out,” he said.

McGinty’s friends know to just accept the days when depression, another aspect of the disease, gets the better of him.

Those friends are also the people that allow him to function. When McGinty had not emailed a friend in another state, that friend called another of McGinty’s friends who lives locally to check on him.

The disease crept up on him. Once an enthusiastic ball player, by 2010 he was relegated to right field on his team at Groton-Dunstable.

Then he fell fielding a ball. “I couldn’t even get up,” he said. His embarrassment was just the beginning of a long haul that has included a broken pelvis and broken ribs. He goes down hard: He is not a big, heavy man and does not have weak bones, but they break.

Neurologists, tests and drugs with names that only a select few can pronounce are now part of his life. The next shoe is always ready to drop. The “plus” diagnosis came after he noticed a forgetfulness that went beyond normal absent-mindedness.

“I’m new to this plus stuff. It scares the bejeezus out me,” he said.

Like every dad, McGinty worries about his 12-year-old daughter. She was there once when he fell. “I didn’t want to freak her out,” he said.

Pepperell is his caretaker.

Like 27 percent of the population, as identified by the U.S. Census in 2013, McGinty lives alone. His daughter lives in Groton with her mother.

“I’ve never lived in a place like Pepperell,” the San Bernardino native said. In the New England town, he found a community.

When he moved to town, everything was in alignment. Despite his urban upbringing, he is used to living in a small community. He grew up with four older sisters and trained to become a Jesuit priest. He left before ordination.

Tracy Ezzio, owner of Pepperell Family Pharmacy, is the reason he moved to town. “She has the unique capacity. Some part of her identifies with every person that walks through that door,” he said.

Since the move he has felt right at home. If no one sees him in 24 hours, he can expect a knock on his door. “It’s that kind of network that I’m so thankful for,” he said.

As long as the medications continue to work, he can do it. They have a shelf-life though. They may be good for five years, or 20, but will, someday, no longer work, he said.

In the meantime, McGinty has a goal. He wants to finish his short stories and publish them.

“The world can come and go,” he said. With Parkinson’s, “you’re whistling past the graveside.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.