It is almost five years since Blackpool Football Club’s youth team coach Gary Parkinson – a former Preston North End defender – suffered a devastating stroke that left him paralysed from the neck down. His son, Luke, reports on the progress his father is making – and on the continuing fund-raising efforts to help make Gary’s life easier.
While Blackpool Football Club has been going in the wrong direction this season, one former employee has been making good progress on his road to recovery.
My dad, former player and youth team coach Gary Parkinson, was struck down with illness almost five years ago – the same year Blackpool were promoted to the Premier League.
But despite the Seasiders’ drop in fortunes ‘Parky’ has been fighting back from a brain stem stroke, which left him with locked-in syndrome and his life on the line.
The condition left dad completely paralysed apart from eye movements, and he still requires 24-hour care and a wheelchair.
After two years in various hospitals and rehabilitation centres, he is now back at home in Bolton and fighting stronger than ever.
As dad is unable to speak, he uses his eyes to work through the alphabet with his family, identifying which letter and word to use by blinking.
“It has been great to get back home and be part of family life once again,” he said.
“My house has been adapted for my needs, and a lift has been installed so I can get up and down to bed.
“Without the support of all the fans at my former clubs, this would not have been possible. So a big thanks to all of you that have donate and raised vital funds for the Gary Parkinson Trust, which was set up to aid my rehabilitation. “The condition continues to make every day a real battle and, of course, the bad days come along as often as the good ones. There is still a long way to go on my road to recovery, but the little steps that I am making, are all going in the right direction.
“I am now visiting the hydrotherapy pool once a week, which allows my physio to work muscles that would be impossible to manipulate on dry ground.
“The sessions are hard work, but it helps me to link back to my playing days and the banter that was flying around the training ground, although it is a little toned down these days.
“I continue to speak to my family and friends through the alphabet system we have devised, and that allows me to still have my point of view, as well as what horse I want on in the next race at Cheltenham!
“I have also enjoyed some great days out at the football over the last 12 months and it has been great to get back amongst the atmosphere of a match-day.
“I must say a big thank you to Middlesbrough and Burnley, who have invited to me to games on a regular basis since returning home.”
Dad, who is now 47, initially suffered with his sight after the stroke, but has made improvements, which means he is re-trialling a machine which can help him switch off the telly in the blink of an eye.
The Tobii machine, which is one similar to that used by Professor Stephen Hawking, is helping dad to get back a measure of his own independence.
Costing well over £10,000, fund-raising is taking place throughout the summer to help cover the costs of this invaluable tool.
One of the events takes place next month, with a group of dad’s friends and supporters taking on the gruelling coast-to-coast cycle challenge.
The riders will be in the saddle for over 170 miles across three days, with the first pedal being pushed at Morecambe on Saturday, May 2.
After that, one of the biggest events of the year in terms of raising money for dad takes place – the 2015 Gary Parkinson Trust Football Festival.
The prestigious Gary Parkinson Trophy is up for grabs, not just for the adults, but also the next generation of footballers.
The adult five-a-side tournament, won by a team of Seasiders in 2011, teams up with a brand new junior tournament in association with Daisy Hill JFC, creating the Gary Parkinson Trust Football Festival.
The tournament is open to Under-10 and Under-11 teams from around the country, on Saturday, May 30, with entry priced at £50 a team.
The adult tournament takes place 24 hours later, and that will cost £100 to enter a team.
The Football Festival will take place in the Sports Dome at St Joseph’s RC High School in Bolton, which means there will be no waterlogged pitches.
The tournament will contain a group stage before the all-important knockout rounds.
For the latest updates on Gary, as well as more information on how to donate or to join in with any of the upcoming events, visit www.garyparky.co.uk