Fighter(s) of the Month: Dick and Diane Swetonic

Fighter(s) of the Month: Dick and Diane Swetonic

If you've met Mr. Dick Swetonic, you will certainly remember his impeccable taste in gleaming leather shoes and smart sweaters. You will also recall his equally wonderful taste when meeting new people. Friendly and comfortable with any type of crowd, Dick and his wife, Diane, don't seem to have a spare moment, between all the groups, charities, events, and family gatherings they attend. For this family, Parkinson's has never been a thing to stop them.DianeDickNewsletterPhoto

Dick was first diagnosed with Parkinson's twenty-three years ago, when he went in for a check-up. He confessed to his doctor that “Something was wrong.” The doctor, noticing Dick's lack of facial expression told him his mask-like face was a tell-tale symptom of Parkinson's. Although the diagnosis was upsetting to the family, they kept their positive attitude and maintained their busy life and successful careers.

Diane was an Ob/Gyn nurse, which was a blessing to the family in more ways than one. Her vigilance as a health professional was indispensable throughout her husband's experiences with Parkinson's and later on through his ordeals with debilitating cervical disc problems, making it necessary to undergo several surgeries to correct his back issues. Two of those surgeries were back-to-back, with only about two days between them. And then there was another. “The last surgery affected his nerves so badly that he had to go through physical rehabilitation to regain full physical functionality,” says Diane.

Meanwhile, as a health professional, Diane was keenly aware of the importance of Parkinson's medications being taken on time, as was Dick, so when the couple noticed that the hospital staff weren't administering Dick's Parkinson's medications according to the schedule that he needed to follow, Diane made it her mission to maintain his prescription schedule, in spite of any difficulties they faced, including the hospital not having the needed dosages on time.

These days, Dick is employing the help of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to combat his Parkinson's symptoms. He underwent the surgery on both sides of his brain, felt to be the best option because the alternative of even more medications would presumably increase his dyskinesias. He notes that the DBS surgery did help to alleviate his rigidity and dyskinesias while improving his dexterity and on-off fluctuations. Because of the way Dick's Parkinson's affects his brain, he has never experienced tremors but has to remain on medication to keep on top of his other symptoms, which include speech difficulty.

Never short on words or a keen thought to express, Dick is also a passionate performer and especially proud of his participation in several area singing groups. “I sing with the Silver Foxes at the Venice Theater, the Off-Key Chorale through Neuro Challenge, the 'Doo Pointes' group (a Doo-Wop group), and in the choir at Epiphany Cathedral,” Dick says fondly. “He also has enjoyed singing barbershop,” notes Diane, which Dick confirms by giving a beautiful demonstration. He doesn't want his singing voice to be affected by Parkinson's and so maintaining it through singing has served him well.

You might say that Dick has always had a special relationship with his voice and it helped him to establish himself as one of the top salesmen for the Hart Schaffner & Marx company (HS&M), a Chicago based apparel company featuring ready-to-wear suits for all kinds of body shapes. Throughout forty years of employment with the company, Dick traveled all over the world not only selling quality lines to department stores, catalog companies, and other stores, but also giving motivational sales talks.

As the first non-college graduate to be accepted into the HS&M sales training program, Dick was also known for his impeccable dress sense. “One time I walked into a store and the clerk was on the phone. He said that he had to go because 'The fashion guy was here.' He looked at me in amazement and said, 'Don't you know it's 103 degrees outside?'” This was in Miami, one of the major cities that the Swetonics lived in and it was indeed hot, but Dick was a dedicated salesman, very proud of his product.

Before Dick's amazing career path began taking the family through many major cities, the Swetonics married in 1969 and moved to Chicago from their hometown of Pittsburgh. From there, Dick was assigned by HS&M to work in Rochester, NY, right before the birth of their first child. They were then sent to Miami, then Atlanta, and finally New York City (they actually lived in Connecticut), where Dick retired as Vice President of Sales. Dick's former employer enjoys pride of place as President Obama's favorite suit maker. Mitt Romney has also been known to wear HS&M and Dick knows that his company also dressed General Colin Powell and Vince Dooley (Head Football Coach, University of Georgia). His company also made the orange jackets famously worn by the Orange Bowl Committee.

The Swetonics now live in Venice, where they are enjoying their active retirement, though the couple often travels across the country to spend time with their two children--a son and a daughter--and their grandchildren, who range in ages from three to fifteen.

They enjoy many of the activities provided by the Neuro Challenge Foundation, which they first became involved with through attending symposia. They later met Judi Bell, the executive director. Through Judi, they got to know about the people and activities available with the Neuro Challenge Foundation . It has worked out very well for the Swetonics because “I'm a people person,” as Dick states. “I have to be around people.” This is likely part of the reason the Swetonics have always dealt head-on with Dick's Parkinson's and never felt a need to hide Dick's diagnosis. “My friends and co-workers have been very supportive. I've never had to hide.” They have become active members of the Neuro Challenge community and their presence has added to the supportive Neuro Challenge community.

Learn more about our Neuro Challenge Fighters and other stories at www.parkinsonsneurochallenge.org.

 Photo courtesy of The Venice Theater

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Angela Abu Eita