William "Bill" Merkel of Kerrville is a busy man who refuses to allow Parkinson’s disease to keep him from his appointed rounds.
Merkel is an 85-year-old former U.S. Navy Seabee who was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II and also held post in Korea as a U.S. Air Force officer in 1953. Today he is a Christian Associated Ministries volunteer, serves on the board of the Volunteer Services Council of the Kerrville State Hospital and is active in the Military Officers Association. He is also on the Session, the governing body of First Presbyterian Church of Kerrville.
After back surgery in 2004, Merkel started experiencing symptoms of neuropathy which can include weakness, numbness, tingling and pain. "It hurt so much that I couldn’t walk half a block without a walker," he said.
Initially Merkel saw a Kerrville neurologist who prescribed medications and therapy. "He was super, and through him, I met a physical therapist who specialized in what they call the McKenzie method of treatment." When that therapist left for another job, Merkel switched to Physical Therapist Curt Rickert, also a diplomat of the McKenzie method of mechanical diagnosis and therapy. Shortly after, Rickert moved to the Hill Country Memorial Rehab Clinic in Fredericksburg and Merkel followed. "I told my doctor about it, and he said if I wanted to follow Curt, he would fix it up," Merkel said.
Merkel was familiar with Hill Country Memorial’s rehabilitation department. About a year before he started seeing Rickert in Fredericksburg, Merkel was attending voice therapy sessions with Candace Ibbotson, M.S., CCC; a speech language pathologist. Ibbotson moved to Fredericksburg in 2007 from Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi where she was lead therapist of a 24-bed, hospital-based nursing facility.
"She is terrific," Merkel said. "She’s an amazing therapist in the way she works with people." Diagnosed with Parkinson’s after he and Jeanine, his wife of 49 years, moved to Kerrville four years ago, Merkel said the disease has affected his voice. "So Candace helped me learn the right techniques to eat, to swallow, to speak, to enunciate," he said, adding that she excels at motivation.
"I want to read in church, and Candace is convinced that I should do that," he said. "So that is my motivation right now. She has taken such good care of me. I love her. She’s very easy to talk to, and I like to tease her, because she’s a graduate of A&M, and I’m from Number One. So we give each other a hard time," he said, a wide smile spreading across his face.
Merkel, who retired in 2000 from a globe-trotting career in the foundry business, said he has recently graduated from voice therapy with Ms. Ibbotson but is continuing his McKenzie exercises with Rickert.
"I don’t have a lot of the things that can be attributed to Parkinson’s," he said. "I seldom have shakes or have the gait problems, and I think that’s because I do a lot of walking. I can’t quit walking. As much as I would like to sometimes, I can’t. That’s my major exercise. When I have real bad pain in my back or my right leg, that’s where I go, back to Curt. The McKenzie process is amazing."
Merkel said the HCM Rehab Clinic makes it easy for him. "Between Curt and Margie (Margie St. Jacques, Rehab Clinic clerk and receptionist), they schedule me on an as-needed basis, rather than making me sign up for a regimented schedule," he said.
From a painful half-block trek with a walker, Merkel has progressed to a daily mile-and-a-half through his Kerrville neighborhood. And there’s no walker in sight.
For more information on speech therapy or the McKenzie method of physical therapy, call the HCM Rehab Clinic at 830-997-1357.