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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woman starts new Parkinson’s walk in Deer Park to help her sister

Maureen Dobson, right, stands on her porch with her sister, Michelle Brauner and brother-in-law Rod Brauner on Thursday. Dobson is organizing a fundraising walk to support Parkinson’s research in support of Michelle, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about eight years ago.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Maureen Dobson was looking for a fundraising walk that would benefit the Parkinson’s Foundation so she could raise money to benefit her sister, Michelle Brauner, who has the disease.

When she couldn’t find one, she decided to create her own.

Dobson recruited her enthusiastic niece and nephew to help, and reached out to the mayor of Deer Park to get his approval. She asked Deer Park Elementary if she could use their parking lot as the beginning and end of the walk, then reached out to the Parkinson’s Foundation, which provides programs and services to assist those with Parkinson’s as well as helping support research into the disease. She asked the local Yoke’s supermarket to donate water for walkers, then asked local restaurants to contribute gift cards to be used as raffle prizes.

Everything fell into place, and the 1.5-mile walk is now scheduled for Sept. 17. It will begin and end at Deer Park Elementary School, 1500 E. D Street. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the walk will start at 10 a.m.

“It’s not a long walk,” Dobson said. “I’m hoping people with Parkinson’s can come and participate.”

Several years ago, Brauner’s left thumb had started to tremor, but she didn’t think much of it. “I had gone to the doctor for some other reason and he caught it,” she said.

After several tests to confirm it, Brauner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It’s a degenerative neurological disorder that has physical and mental effects.

“It was a shock,” she said.

Brauner had to quit her job as a teacher’s aide in Kettle Falls as her disease progressed. She sometimes mumbles, and her handwriting has gotten smaller. She has problems with her stamina and balance, which has caused her to fall several times and begin using a cane. She takes a full suite of medications to help manage the symptoms, but there is no way to stop the disease.

“It’s very slow progressing,” Brauner said. “There is no cure. You just get used to it. It becomes routine.”

She also has begun having memory issues.

“I can’t drive anymore, either, now,” Brauner said. “Getting dressed is getting harder to do. It hasn’t been easy, but it could be worse.”

Brauner has always led an active life. She was a nurse’s aide before she joined the U.S. Army to be a medic when she was 30, far older than the usual new recruit. She served for five years.

“They called me grandma,” she said. “I wanted adventure and travel. I’ll never regret it, ever.”

She and her husband, Rod, moved to Spokane after her diagnosis to be closer to family, hospitals and doctors. Everyone tries to help out as much as possible, Dobson said.

“We go to their son’s house every Tuesday for dinner, so that’s one meal they don’t have to worry about,” she said.

Dobson said she also tries to give her brother-in-law breaks so he can go golfing.

“He’s the full-time caregiver. Shelley’s at the point right now where she shouldn’t be by herself for long,” Dobson said, using Brauner’s nickname.

Brauner’s husband jokes that while caring for his wife is a full-time job, it doesn’t pay well. Part of taking care of her has meant removing all the rugs in the house to eliminate tripping hazards and making sure everything is picked up off the floor.

It’s difficult, but he tries to take it one day at a time, he said.

“I try to help her out as much as possible,” he said.

Dobson said she hopes to make the walk an annual event to benefit people like her sister. There’s no cost to participate, but people can make a donation during registration the morning of the event or online at

Each participant will receive a raffle ticket to enter into the prize drawing of their choice.

Dobson said she’s been putting up posters around Deer Park to help spread the word.

“I just have no idea how many people will show up,” she said.