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Central California Life Magazine

Fresno's Husband & Wife Team Find Strength, Inspiration After Parkinson's Diagnosis

May 11, 2017 01:55PM ● By Melanie Heisinger
Dwight and Julie Harder have taken an inspiring route when it comes to their health. Both have been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a central nervous system disorder that affects movement and causes tremors. 

Instead of shying away and retreating, both Dwight and Julie have found a way to turn around they way they view their circumstances and make it positive. They've taken things into their own hands and made it their mission to give support to others experiencing the same thing.

It all began when they joined a support group several years back. Seeing how others were also struggling to understand the disease and how to deal with it, they were inspired to help others. They currently host classes and support groups at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens.

Dwight graduated from the University California of Fresno and during his lifetime worked for Ford Motor Company, Duncan Ceramics and Carris Reels. The last 20 years of his career was spent as General Manager of Carris Reels, an employee owned company, at their West coast operations location in Madera, CA. This was a very rewarding position and one he enjoyed very much. Dwight medically retired in 2013. 

Julie attended Fresno City College and majored in medical administration. She worked for a number of physicians in the Fresno area and loved it. 

Dwight and Julie meet at Northwest Church and married two years later. Pastor Dan Faussett requested they take compatibility tests prior to saying their vows. They were happy to find out that he had never seen test results where two people were so well matched for each other!  

Focus on their overall health started to become a larger part of their life when Dwight was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis in 1984, then Parkinson's in 2002. In 2007 Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2010 Parkinson's. 

Symptoms for Parkinson's varies person to person. Dwight's Parkinson's symptoms include tremors and a weakness on his left side. Julie's symptoms include stooped posture and a stiff gate, and sleep disturbances. Fortunately, both are doing very well while managing their day-to-day Parkinson's symptoms.

This is largely due to their positivity and eagerness to continue to see the joy in life. 

Early in Dwight's diagnosis, according to Julie, "The Lord lead them to Allen & Annie Gunther. At that time Allen and Annie were members of the Parkinson's Support Group in Fresno."

It was there that they found their inspiration.
They spent the entire afternoon gathering information from them. After meeting and talking with the Gunther's, they realized they had a lot of good years ahead of them. Learning more about the disease helped them quickly realize that Parkinson's is not a death sentence. With proper treatment, people can live normal and productive lives for many years. 

Because they both have the degenerative disease Parkinson's, they try to look for the good in every thing, every day. They don't spend time and energy thinking about what they don't have, instead, they focus on what they do have.

"We've actually found the diagnoses to be a wonderful motivators to live well and appreciate life to its fullest!" Julie told us. 

"In 2015 the Lord led us (a story all in itself) to The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens in Fresno," they said. "It's a wonderful retirement community! Thanks to the awesome staff and certainly the wonderful residents, we believe this is an incredible place to Thrive and Age Successfully."

In addition, once settled in, they felt they were being "lead by the Heavenly Father" to use their illnesses as their ministry to help others. This was reaffirmed at a Terraces bible study. They were asked to give their personal testimonies and from there their wonderful journey began.  

During the past two years, they have shared their story with many and are incredibly excited about it. The article “For Better, For Worse” in the Fresno Bee's Senior Section in early April opened even more doors enabling them to share and hopefully encourage many more people.

They love spending time with their absolutely wonderful family and their precious, precious grandchildren who provide so much love and support. "Time spent with them just enriches our lives so! They are truly the icing on the cake," the Harders told us. 

They also have an adorable sweet, loving five pound Yorkie named Bella. She provides so much affection and devotion and is also an integral part of their lives.   

They love to travel, with Bella of course. They have been very fortunate to have traveled in the US, and to Canada, Latin America and Europe. However, their favorite mode of travel is going on road trips.

Who says Parkinson's needs to slow you down? 

They are also involved in the Greater Parkinson's Support Group in Fresno, as well as started a neurological support group at The Terraces. Creating a safe environment where all those afflicted with any form of a neurological disease can talk openly about the challenges they face is their ultimate goal. This group will be facilitated by a health care professional.  

The Harders had some advice for those dealing with similar experiences, "If you or a loved one is diagnosed with a major illness or a incurable disease, seek out help from family and friends. In addition, support groups are a must for those facing the unknown. Always remember, you do not have to face this alone!

"Remember at the heart of the matter:

give up!!"
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Happy Reading,

Karen Maroot