Barbara McGinnis of Egg Harbor Township has the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but is still waiting for a concrete diagnosis.

She came to Body in Balance Physical Therapy and Fitness Center in Linwood on Saturday for the exercise, and for information from the Parkinson's Support Group that meets there.

"I'm just checking it out to make sure it's not all strange people," she said with a smile. A newcomer to the disease, she wants all the information she can get about doctors, exercise, nutrition and medications.

"Six months ago I woke up and couldn't do things," she said. "I never thought I had (Parkinson's.) I always had so much energy."

Those sitting around her nodded their heads. They've all been through the testing, the waiting, the getting the diagnosis and not quite believing it.

Norm Cohen, of Linwood, and Ginni Laird, of Port Republic, have been living with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease for more than a decade. Anthony Gettle was diagnosed in the late 1990s.

"I'd been looking for a group for years," Gettle's wife, Wendy said. "I saw this and I got so excited."

Eleanor Hagan, owner of Body in Balance said the support group almost started itself. About a year or so ago she was trained in a specialized exercise program for Parkinson's patients developed at Duke University.

""I started with two people, then there were eight, then 12," Hagan said. "One of them asked if I'd consider hosting a support group, and now they meet on Saturday after the class."

Sometimes the group has guest speakers, and sometimes they just talk or ask each other questions.

"We'll trade information about the medications and treatment we're getting," said Francine Andrews, of Northfield. "I love the people. This has been the best thing."

A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, most people equate Parkinson's with uncontrollable shaking.

But early symptoms include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty walking. Cognitive and behavioral problems may develop with dementia in the advanced stages. Some patients develop sleep or emotional problems.

"People just picture someone shaking," said Pat Matthews, of Egg Harbor Township. "They don't really know what it is."

Most, but not all cases occur after age 50.

Andrews was 24 when she was diagnosed. Her sister also had it and died at 45. She considered it a major milestone when she passed that birthday.

"You just deal with it," she said. "It's part of you."

The support group also has meetings for caregivers, some of whom attend support group meetings since their spouses no longer drive. Myrna Aiscowitz, of Ventnor, came with her husband, Julian. She said she had approached another rehab facility about starting a group, but it never happened.

She said having the group to talk to makes it easier to care for her husband.

"You don't feel like you're battling it alone," she said, as those around her nodded in agreement. "It's not going to get better, but you can hold it back. There are so many medicines, but I think he has been doing good after four years."

"You just feel so foolish that you can't do things," said McGinnis, who admits to having trouble getting up out of a chair.

"I have to really think about walking," said Andrews.

Carmen Sammartino of Ocean City said he's been coming since the group started and it has helped him both mentally and physically with the exercise program.

"You meet people who are in the same boat as you are," she said.

Sheila Hedelt, of Linwood, said it took her awhile to get up the nerve to come. Now she's sorry she waited so long. Laird said everyone in the group is positive and encouraging, and she's learned new information.

Matthews said some people do stay home, at least at first, because people do stare at the uncontrollable shaking. The members encouraged others to come for the education and the camaraderie.

"I always leave here with a smile," Matthews said.

Contact Diane D'Amico:


Move For A Cure

April 28 at Body in Balance, 314 Central Ave., Linwood. A day of empowerment to support the National Parkinson's Foundation and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Pre-registration for the challenges is $25 and includes a T-shirt and water bottle. Day of the event registration is $30. Awards will be provided to the top three runners and bikers.

For more information, go to;. To register online go to

8:30 a.m.: 13-Mile Bike Ride over the Ocean City Bridge from Body in Balance in Linwood

9 a.m.: 5k Run/1 Mile Walk

10 a.m.: Yoga workshops on the hour by Laurie Greene of Yoga Nine

Health and Wellness Fair: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot.