Embracing Life with Parkinson’s: The Inspiring Journey of the Thelens at Carlyle Place

Thanks to an “unwelcome neighbor” Gil and Struby Thelen found themselves in Macon. After Gil was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2014, the couple had to rewrite their retirement future. While this disorder would have slowed most people, it did quite the opposite for the dynamic and resilient duo.

Together, Gil and Struby shifted their lives to face the disease head on. Now staunch advocates for PD awareness, education and care, the Thelens’ chapter at Carlyle Place is an inspirational page-turner—and it’s just getting started. Its basis in “Home Grown” answers has captured attention in national Parkinson’s circles.

Makin’ Their Way to Macon

In 2014, Gil received news that would ultimately change the course of his life. At the time, he and Struby lived and worked in Tampa. After the diagnosis—and because they’re both journalists—they dove right into research concerning Gil’s condition and what “was likely to happen.”

“We decided that living at a 5,000-square-foot house was not the place to be heading down the Parkinson’s road,” Gil says. “So we started looking in 2015/2016 for possible places to live to accommodate our unwelcome neighbor in my brain.”

The Thelens began their search in areas where they previously lived, enjoyed and could experience all four seasons. They also wanted to view those exact places through a more objective lens—where the highest quality of care took center stage.

Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, Struby knew Carlyle Place was worth consideration.

“We looked at the extremes, the worst-case analysis. What’s suitable for us to move into now, and what is their skilled nursing facility like?” Struby says. “And I did have friends who had parents that lived or were living in skilled nursing here at Carlyle Place and raved about it.”

Gil adds, “[Medical care] was the key. Pretty soon, it became apparent that the most logical place was Carlyle Place.”

It also helped that the person assisting the Thelens at the time stayed in touch a year after their initial visit.

“We were still undecided at the time because we had a kid in college in Tampa, and we didn’t plan on moving until he graduated. However, she still reached out to us after she spotted a cottage she thought we might like,” Struby says. “So we drove up on a Tuesday, and by that Friday, we signed papers because she was absolutely right. She knew exactly what we were looking for.”

Building a Community Within a Community

While there’s plenty to love about Carlyle Place, the Thelens say one of their favorite things about the community is the friends they’ve made. Struby also notes that she’s “wholeheartedly into pickleball.”

“I was talking to one friend here just the other day and she and I were saying, you know, you usually establish strong, longtime friendships when your kids are little,” Struby explains. “But we were older parents; we had kids when I was in my late 40s, so it never felt like we got to establish that kind of connection. However, we sure have with the folks here.”

In addition to those connections, Gil and Struby continue to do a lot of PD work, whether through Gil’s foundation Me Over PD, their national newsletter Pro-Activities with 1,700 subscribers (and counting!) and the occasional speaking engagement.

“We work seven days a week on the foundation,” she says. It’s through their tireless work at Me Over PD that the Thelens have managed to bring the Parkinson’s community right here at Carlyle Place.

“We’ve been able to provide education and information services, a weekly exercise program that gathers three times a week, and a program that provides top-end Parkinson’s care, which doesn’t exist currently in the 23 counties of middle Georgia,” Gil says matter of factly.

Struby explains, “The foundation has also been able to bring in a movement disorder specialist from Atlanta to come to Macon so those with Parkinson’s don’t have to travel to access such a resource.”

Additionally, the Thelens host study groups twice yearly for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“That’s where we’ve gotten the most participation from Carlyle residents, where people learn what they’ll likely face with the condition,” Struby explains.

Gil notes, “This is a model, I am told, of how a local Parkinson’s community comes together. People aren’t passively waiting for information to come down to get better. People are actively engaged in exercise and fellowship all the time. So, it’s indigenous. It’s homegrown stuff that starts small, and before we know it, we’ve had almost 100 people go through the study groups in our house.”

And their book, Counter Punch: Duking It Out With Parkinson’s, is central to all of it.

The Book

Simply put, the Thelens’ book Counter Punch: Duking It Out With Parkinson’s is meant to be a thoughtful yet humorous guide on how to take action against the disease.

The book, which initially started as a blog, is where Gil describes what it’s like to tackle his condition head-on. In two chapters, Struby reveals the devastating impact PD and its drugs have had on their marriage.

“He had an idea for doing it, and he had his Parkinson’s blog for many years, and so that was the core,” she says. “We expanded from that and were getting it published when we moved to Carlyle Place in fall 2017. The move delayed us a bit because there was a period we couldn’t work on it, but we got it published in 2019.”

It’s the Little Things That Matter

Once they settled at Carlyle Place, it was clear to the Thelens they were in the right place.

“One thing that has surprised me is how quickly they tend to things around here,” Struby says with a smile. “I mean, from little things like changing light bulbs to taking your trash out to the street, there are just a lot of little things like that that I hadn’t expected when we moved here.”

Gil adds, “In a sense, Carlyle Place’s services permit Struby and I to do our external Parkinson’s work. They are a huge assister of our ‘do-good’ works. They’re our partner and willing to support us in many ways with the foundation.”

Whether you’re seeking care, a community of support or forging a new path, come see why Gil and Struby Thelen chose Carlyle Place for their retirement. Schedule your visit by calling 478-405-4500 to experience life in Macon.

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