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Parkinson proves to be life-changing for Allegheny Township man

| Monday, April 4, 2011

In the early 1990s, Tom Haley started noticing a tremor in his wife's hand.

The problem didn't initially have anyone overly concerned, though eventually it got bad enough that Shirley Haley decided she needed to see a doctor.

As Tom Haley tells it, his wife walked out of the doctor's office having been diagnosed as having a "familial tremor" -- an inherited trait that causes involuntary movements.

Over the next couple years, Shirley Haley's tremors worsened. And, she developed balance and other problems that had Tom Haley worried.

In 1994, the Haleys found themselves at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. After visiting with a doctor there, they learned Shirley's problem was much more serious.

"She was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease," Tom Haley said. The symptoms of Parkinson's, a degenerative disease of the brain that affects the nerve cells involved in movement, include unsteady balance.

The diagnosis proved to be life-changing for the Haleys. Tom, a nuclear engineer for Westinghouse who also served for more than 50 years in the Navy and Navy Reserve as a hospital corpsman, committed himself to learning everything he could about the disease in an effort to make his wife's life easier.

"I became deeply involved with Parkinson's after my wife's diagnosis," he said.

That involvement continues today. Haley is the coordinator for the Parkinson's support group that meets at HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital in Indiana Township. The group is sponsored by the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and the American Parkinson Disease Association.

David Von Hofen, an official with the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, said the HealthSouth support group was "floundering" before Haley got involved.

"He does a ton for that group and for all the folks involved," Von Hofen said.

Haley said his medical career in the Navy gave him access to doctors and medical seminars he otherwise wouldn't have had. He started attending seminars regularly and auditing classes.

The Haleys, who were living in Maryland at the time of the diagnosis, moved back to the Alle-Kiski Valley in 1995. In the 1960s and part of the '70s, they lived in the Alle-Kiski Valley -- in Plum and later in Lower Burrell -- while Tom worked for NUMEC and Westinghouse.

Upon their return, Tom and Shirley settled in Allegheny Township.

"He puts in a lot of time with this," said Shirley Haley, 75. "He knows a whole lot about the disease. I trust anything he tells me."

Haley said her husband's care and concern gives her peace of mind.

Tom Haley said his goal through his research and involvement with the HealthSouth support group is to "continue to provide Shirley with the best care possible so she never has to leave home."

Haley's civic involvement doesn't end with his Parkinson's volunteering.

He helped Allegheny Township create its comprehensive plan.

He's been involved as a volunteer with the cleanup at the Parks nuclear waste dump, and, as a prostate cancer survivor, he works with men who have been diagnosed with the illness.

Tom Haley

Age: 76

Hometown: Washington Township

Occupation: Retired nuclear engineer

Family: Wife, Shirley; daughters Sheryl Haley of Lower Burrell and Karen Reynolds of Glassport, sons Tom Haley of Murrysville Joe Haley of Princeton, N.J.; six grandchildren

Favorite thing about the Valley: Living in a semi-rural environment with lifelong friends and family with access to cultural and educational opportunities.

Additional Information:

To find out more

To learn more about Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, including how to volunteer or donate, visit here .

The foundation can be reached by phone at 412-365-2086 or by mail at Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, 6507 Wilkins Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

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