East County couple embraces diagnosis through self-made support group.
When River Club’s Brad Schrameck was 45 years old, he worked 12-hour days, running three departments and overseeing 20 employees for an auto service company in upstate New York.
Then, he had to learn to start over.
And over again.
At work, he found it hard to talk on the phone, answer the door or do simple tasks on the computer. His wife, Lynn, noticed his left arm did not swing freely. He no longer slept at night. He seemed depressed.
Something was wrong.
“They couldn’t figure out what I had,” said Brad, who was diagnosed in 2005 with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder that worsens over time and can cause tremors of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, slowness, stiffness of joints and body and balance problems. “At first, they thought it was sleep disorder because I couldn’t sleep well and then they thought it might be depression.”
Brad had to take short-term medical leave prior to being diagnosed. He quit his job about four months later.
“I got old very quickly,” Brad Schrameck, 56, said. “I used to work a lot, get lots of interaction and do high-level strategic planning — I went from that to doing nothing all day.”
To help her husband, Lynn Schrameck would bring Brad to her business meetings so he’d have social stimulation. She shuttled him to doctor appointments.
“Our philosophy is very different than it was before [Brad] was diagnosed,” Lynn Schrameck said. “We adopted a very positive outlook on life. Every time we are faced with a challenge, we deal with it, find a solution and start over.
“When this happened, we realized we needed to re-create our lives, find things that Brad could do,” she said. “That is why I created the Parkinson Cafe.”
Parkinson Cafe — a social, cultural and intellectual interaction resource for people with Parkinson’s disease and their families — is returning to East County for a third time, with the first cafe of the season scheduled for Oct. 5.
After Brad’s diagnosis, the Schramecks connected with a local Parkinson’s group in New York, which helped them learn more about the disease. However, the couple did not enjoy the “negativity” and “venting” taking place at most of these support groups.
“In 2009, I started looking for a program that met Brad’s needs and I couldn’t find anything, so I started my own,” Lynn said.
The cafe revolves around positivity and stimulation. Every month, the four-hour event is something new. There are speakers in the morning and afternoon.
Actors, actresses, art therapists, neurologists and singers have attended in the past.
“We make the events fun,” Lynn Schrameck said. “The feeling in the room during Parkinson Cafe is magical. Even if you have to force yourself to come, you leave thinking you had a great day because of all the energy that people bring to the room.”
Adjusting to a life with Parkinson’s disease was challenging for Brad Schrameck, and the Parkinson Cafe has helped him see his life in a better light.
At most cafes, Brad even plays the piano — a skill he began learning at age 3 — and sings for attendees during lunchtime.
“I love going to them,” Brad Schrameck said of the cafes. “They keep my mind going. I like singing and playing the piano. I enjoy the presenters. I look at it as a place to socialize and interact with people.”
Lakewood Ranch’s Marilyn and Marvin Abrams have been attending the Parkinson Cafe in Bradenton for the past three years.
Marvin Abrams, 83, has had Parkinson’s disease for 20 years.
“With this disease, everyone gets down every once in awhile, it’s a good way to get a lift,” Marilyn Abrams said. “When we go to Parkinson Cafe, it is positive from the minute you walk in through the moment you leave.”
Lynn Schrameck said that remaining positive is crucial when you or a loved one has Parkinson’s disease because life with Parkinson’s is difficult at times.
Parkinson Cafe lets people know they are not alone.
Lynn Schrameck said that it’s common for people with Parkinson’s disease to become depressed. The cafe is meant to help attendees look “at the brighter side of life.”
“We really focus on keeping our communication positive and creating a sense of productive energy,” Lynn Schrameck said. “People can live well with Parkinson’s disease, and a lot of it has to do with your attitude.”