Inspirational brother named everyday hero

For fifteen years now, Detlev Friedriszik (65) from the congregation of Kamp-Lintfort, Germany has lived with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Although it is an incurable disease that tangibly affects everyday life, it has not prevented the retired Priest from giving new courage to other people who live with Parkinson's.

Everyday Hero—this is the name of the award given each month by the Hilde Ulrich Foundation for Parkinson’s Research—the first private institution in Germany to promote research into non-drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease. The award goes to affected individuals who “achieve great things and serve as role models for an active life with Parkinson's disease” in the way they deal with the illness. In March 2021, our brother Detlev Friedriszik was named such an “Everyday hero”.

“Hero?! That’s rather an odd term, I think. Heroes are usually always dead, aren’t they?” says the 65-year-old with a smile. “I do not see myself as a hero. I am only trying to live with my illness, help other affected people to make their way through life with Parkinson’s, and inform the public about Parkinson’s disease in order to take the dread out of it.” Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological illness, creeps up gradually. In those affected by the disease, the interaction between the brain and the muscles is impaired due to a lack of dopamine, which is a messenger substance produced in the midbrain and involved in the transmission of impulses from one nerve cell to another.

Living life under new circumstances

Detlev Friedriszik was about 50 when his life was changed by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. As a sales director and IT manager of a large corporation, as well as a Priest and youth leader of the Kamp-Lintfort-West congregation, he was always incredibly hungry for action, always alert, and always on the go. At some point, his tiredness, sudden outbreaks of sweating, and agonising back pain bothered him so much that he went to see his doctor. “You have Parkinson’s,” he was told. “I simply sat there and did not want to believe my ears. The diagnosis came as a shock to me,” he recalls.

The important thing for Detlev Friedriszik is and remains his refusal to withdraw from life, but rather to live his life to the fullest even under these new circumstances. This requires an open approach to the disease. Brother Friedriszik encourages others living with the disease to do the same. He has been working as a volunteer to promote awareness and inform people about Parkinson’s for a number of years now. His commitment has already been awarded a number of honorary prizes. “The best ideas usually come to me at night,” Detlev confides. He takes advantage of the drug-induced insomnia that is now normal in his life as a Parkinson’s patient.

Staying in motion

Many of his project ideas are born from his everyday experiences of life with the disease. For example, Detlev Friedriszik has made the personal experience that, in addition to medication, exercise is also good for him. While in search of a small, handy, portable piece of sports equipment that can be used anywhere, he became aware of an invention by an Austrian tennis instructor who himself suffers from Parkinson's disease, namely Smovey Rings. “The handles of these rings are manipulated somewhat like dumbbells. In the ring itself there are steel balls that move back and forth during swinging exercises and trigger vibrations of 60 Hertz. These reach into the motor centre of the brain, which in turn activates the muscles, the lymphatic system, and blood circulation,” he explains.

He goes on to describe his first experience with the Swing Rings as follows: “It was astonishing to observe how the bodily rigidity caused by Parkinson's was released by the swinging movements and to feel that I was able to move almost freely again.” This approach has been tried out, and its effects confirmed, by a large number of affected individuals. And Detlev Friedriszik is committed to sharing this exercise offer with others. In so doing, he has not limited himself to people with Parkinson’s. In the meantime, 21 schools and 28 day-care centres on the Lower Rhine have also begun working with Smovey Rings and are now sharing the fun of movement with many children thanks to a volunteer project known as “More movement for our children on the Lower Rhine”, orchestrated by Detlev Friedriszik and his wife Marianne. The former travel agent re-educated herself to become an exercise trainer. “This way I can also support my husband in his commitment,” she says.

A great response on the radio and the Internet

Quite understandably, our brother’s award as “everyday hero” of the month of March brought with it a wave of press reports about him and his commitment. “One radio programme in particular broke all the records,” relates Detlev Friedriszik with great enthusiasm. He goes on to recount a special experience: “I was just preparing a post on our Facebook page to promote the radio show.” Shortly before, however, a report about 'the everyday hero' appeared on the website of our Lower Rhine Church district. “It was then that I remembered the words of our Chief Apostle, when he recently stated that we should fly our flag more often on social media. Without a second thought I integrated the link to our district's website into the post. Once the consent of all the parties involved had been received, the notice was published that way.”

When the brother responsible for the Church website told him that the number of site visitors had risen from 30,000 to 55,000 in a very short time, even Detlev Friedriszik was overwhelmed. “That’s how vineyard work is done in the modern world,” he reflects. “In the past, we would go from door to door to contact individual families and invite them to the divine services. Today a single post can ensure that thousands of people come into contact with our Church through a link. And in response to the COVID pandemic we have even been able to offer a wide range of online divine services,” says the retired Priest enthusiastically. He goes on to express his gratitude: “I am thankful to the dear God that even after fifteen years of Parkinson’s disease, I can still make something like this happen, and that the Holy Spirit always awakens the right thoughts within me at the right time.”

Making every day count

The month of March has now passed, and more months will follow. Perhaps not all of them will be as heroic, but Detlev Friedriszik continues to make his way forward with Parkinson’s disease. He experiences good and bad days, but he relies on the help of God, shares his experiences in ongoing exchange with other affected individuals, and continues to encourage them. “Brooding over the disease and forgetting to live as a result? That’s nothing but a waste of time! Make use of every day!” That is Brother Friedriszik’s motto. It remains his firm conviction, and he certainly leads by example!

This article was originally published in the German magazine “Unsere Familie”, edition 13/2021.

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