On June 3, 2022, my “Manager,” and I hosted a retired British Army Officer, Colonel Guy Deacon, at home.
Having been diagnosed, with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in 2012, he retired from the British Army in 2019.
As I watched him come out slowly from the vehicle that brought him and walk gingerly with me with his hands shaking, I heard myself say in Twi, “yare3 yi y3 yare bone paa!” meaning “this disease, Parkinson’s, is a very bad disease!”
Parkinson’s has been described as a “debilitating neurodegenerative disease” which affects the part of the brain that controls movement.
Other functions Parkinson’s affects include mood, memory, cognition and sleep.
As the evening wore on and we chatted about his mission in Ghana,
I could only admire him and say to myself, “where there is a will, there is a way.” Again, this saying took me down memory lane to Sir Professor Roger Bannister.
Before I settle on Col Deacon, who is Roger Bannister?
Sir Roger Bannister
In athletics in the 1940s, the conventional thinking was that it was physiologically impossible for man to run the one-mile-flat race in less than four minutes. However, on May 6, 1954, a 25-year-old British junior medical doctor Roger Bannister ran the mile in three minutes, 59.4 seconds, the first human being to run the one-mile race in under four minutes.
As a medical student, he was undeterred by the belief that it was physiologically impossible to run a sub-four-minute mile. For him, “where there is a will, there is a way!”
Later, in his long medical practice, he specialised in Neurology, becoming a consultant in the field. Ironically, Dr Bannister died of Parkinson’s at 88.
Col Guy Deacon
In 1985, I trained at the Royal Armour Corps Centre, Bovington, Dorset, England. One of my mates on the Recce Troop Leaders Course was then Lt Guy Deacon.
A calm six-footer, he had a very imposing presence. We have not met since 1985. My mental picture of him, therefore, was that of a handsome, swaggering young Armour Recce officer I trained with in England 37 years ago.
I, therefore, felt sad at seeing the effect of Parkinson’s on him as we walked slowly to the hall.
Following his retirement in 2019, Col Deacon decided to embark on a worldwide programme driving from England to South Africa to bring awareness of Parkinson’s disease in light of the paucity of knowledge of the disease.
London to Freetown
Starting his odyssey from England on November 10, 2019, he went through France, Spain, Portugal and crossed from Gibraltar to Morocco. On February 3, he entered Senegal from Mauritania after 86 days of travelling. On Day 115 of his travel on March 3, 2022, Col Deacon entered Guinea through The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
In April 2020, after 145 days of travelling, with COVID-19 ravaging the world, Col Deacon abandoned his odyssey and flew back to England.
Freetown to Cape Town
He resumed his travels in April 2022. On May 11, 2022 (World Parkinson’s Day), Col Deacon embarked on Phase 2 of his project to drive from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Cape Town, South Africa, a distance of about 9,558 km.
Driving alone in his VW caravan bus, starting from Sierra Leone, he planned to drive through Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroun, DR Congo, Angola, Namibia and end in Cape Town, South Africa.
He plans to meet with people with Parkinson’s, neurologists and health leaders in each country and visit Parkinson’s projects.
In Accra, as part of his “Freetown to Cape-Town,” campaign, he met the founder of the Anidaso Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (APDF), a Specialist Neurologist at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH), Kumasi, Dr Vida Obese. (Credit Jamila Akweley Okertchiri).
On June 1, 2022, in partnership with APDF, Col Deacon and the foundation launched a three-day awareness campaign in Accra on Parkinson’s Disease aired on GTV.
It was an interesting evening as we tried catching up on almost four decades of history. We had a video call with another mate, Col Richard Charrington (Rtd), and his wife. Richard was my student-sponsor in Bovington.
In the military, when we travel outside our country on courses, we are given two sponsors. The first is a college student on the course to help us settle in the new environment.
The second is a member of staff who supervises the student-sponsor. Richard and I got on exceedingly well and have become life-long friends.
When I expressed my concerns about him travelling alone in his current condition, Col Deacon assured me that though difficult, it was still manageable. Where there is a will, there is a way!
However, though determined to continue his journey alone as he had done from Sierra Leone to Ghana, he took my advice of getting a local driver to assist him through the remaining countries.
In his play “As you Like It,” Shakespeare states: “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”
Simply put, every adversity/misfortune has a silver lining even in the worst of situations! It takes a positive attitude to bring out the good in a bad situation.
Difficult as living with Parkinson’s is for Col Deacon, he has converted the adversity of his situation into a positive one by going from London-Freetown, and Phase 2 “From Freetown to Cape- Town” on an international medical mission of bringing awareness to Parkinson’s Disease!
To our fit and able-bodied Ghanaian youth, take inspiration from Col Deacon and the many Ghanaian “oldies” who stoically struggle through life daily with ailments including Parkinson’s and do something with/for yourselves!
In life, nothing good comes easily! Remember, “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
Leadership, lead! Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!