Daughter raises awareness of Parkinson’s through her father’s battle

NEW MILFORD — Even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 18 years ago, Bill Streaman ran marathons and triathlons on top of his walks and laps in downtown New Milford.

“He was called the poster child because he didn’t show symptoms for a long time,” said his daughter, Olivia Streaman.

But in recent years his situation has changed and now he needs more support.

So the New Milford community stepped up to raise money to match him with a service dog. After her daughter posted on the New Milford, CT Facebook group on Oct. 26, community members donated nearly half of the $24,500 needed to match her with a service dog that would be trained to meet her special needs and provide companionship.

Diagnosis and therapy

For more than 20 years, Bill Streaman, 63, was a resident of New Milford. While she moved into Americans with Disabilities Act-eligible housing in Brookfield, her daughter still visits New Milford daily, she said.

Bill Streaman was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2004. She said Bill went to his primary care doctor, who referred him to a neurologist as a precaution, after he felt a twitch in the little finger of his left hand.

Danbury resident Olivia Streaman, 23, said her father was 5 years old when he was diagnosed, so he didn’t understand what it meant at the time. He remained active in the years following his diagnosis.

But in 2011, Bill Streaman was thrown from a height of 60 feet in a head-on collision with a car while on his bicycle. He underwent several surgeries, including two brain surgeries due to an accident and Parkinson’s disease.

Olivia Streaman said that since the operation, her father has not had tremors, which is a big sign of the disease. However, she said the progression of the disease affected her speech and balance, and she had drooling.

Bill Streaman said, “My coming out is really hard for me.”

Now that she has become her father’s primary care support, Olivia Streaman said she learned about the disease, went to doctors with her father and found support and services for him. His father attends physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy at least three times a week and is enrolled in Lee Silverman Voice Treatment, or LSVT, a program designed specifically for Parkinson’s patients.

“He’s still a very social boy, but he’s definitely lost his confidence,” his daughter said.

‘I don’t feel alone’

Olivia Streaman said her father has become more of an introvert and a homebody over the past seven years. This inspired them to look for a service dog.

In May last year, Olivia Streaman said she joined the Parkinson’s group Shakers Anonymous with her father, describing the experience as “life-changing”.

“It was very revealing to me,” he said. “Once my feelings are validated, I no longer feel alone.”

At one of the first Shakers Anonymous meetings, Olivia Streaman said she asked if anyone knew about a service dog program for her father because the closest she could find was in Maine. The leader of the group gave her a website where they could find a service dog program based on their location and needs. The Streamans’ search led them to Educating Assistance Dogs, a 501©(3) nonprofit organization that trains service dogs and matches them with people with disabilities.

Olivia Streaman said she and her father went to the organization’s facility in Torrington this spring for an interview, which turned out to be an evaluation by her father to see if he could breed a dog for the nonprofit’s needs. He said he loved the facility and how personal everything was, from the tours of the facility to meeting co-founder Lou Pickard.

“It’s just been an incredible experience so far, and it’s so cool that it’s local,” Olivia Streaman said.

The Streamans had their final interview with the nonprofit on October 2, during which time Bill Streaman was accepted into the program. Olivia Streaman said that while she has yet to be matched with a dog, she has met some of the dogs her father has just finished training. Moving forward, she said the sooner they can raise funds to breed a dog to meet her father’s needs, the sooner they will be able to adapt as the organization is in a constant cycle of breeding service dogs.

Olivia Streaman said: “If we reach our target by the middle of next year, the earliest we will have a dog is 2024 as the places for 2023 are already booked.”

Despite her initial concerns about being “sensitive,” she decided to apply to New Milford Facebook.

“It was hard for both of us to share his struggles,” Olivia Streaman said, “but at the end of the day, we were talking about the big picture and what would benefit him the most.”

She added that by spreading the word about her father’s illness, they can become advocates for service dogs and the amazing work they do to help people in their daily lives.

Since Olivia Streaman posted the news that her dad was accepted into the service dog program, she and her dad have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received. She said she has received messages on Facebook from others sharing stories about their loved ones being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and has actually drawn several people to the same support group she attended with her father.

As of Friday afternoon, more than $12,500 had been raised for Streamans.

Considering how awareness of Parkinson’s disease has changed over the years, as well as her awareness efforts, Olivia Streaman said, “Every day I’m still learning more and more people have this disease…I’m so glad I have some resources and can do it. help others with these resources.”

For more information on donating, visit www.ecad1.org/bill_streaman. Checks can be made out to “ECAD” with “Bill Streaman” in the subject line. ECAD’s mailing address is PO Box 831, Torrington, CT 06790.

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