Local woman leads support group

BY DORA GROTE | APRIL 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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Judi Gust dedicates her life to keeping the Eastern Iowa Parkinson's Disease Support Group enthusiastic and active, with a passion for nursing and helping others.

"What is so neat about this group is that everyone participates," said Gust, the leader of the group. "It really makes things easy for me, because they'll make suggestions of what type of speaker they would like and different discussion topics."

The 73-year-old began coordinating the support group in 2005.

Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressing neurological disease resulting in the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.

Group member Caryl Lyons attends the meetings in support of her 71-year-old husband, who has Parkinson's disease, and said there wouldn't be a group without Gust.

"It's a very positive, upbeat group for people who have an un-positive disease, and Judi sort of sets that tone by being enthusiastic," the 69-year-old said.

Gust said she likes to provide the participants — approximately 15 to 30 — with a variety of activities to keep the meetings attractive. She invites medical experts to speak, introduces the participants to music and dance therapy, thinks of roundtable discussion topics, and encourages family members to attend.

"Sometimes, people are hesitant about coming and think it's about commiserating about their condiditon," Gust said. "But that's not what they do here."

While Gust is responsible for setting up the activities, Sue Mullins, client services representative for University of Iowa Community Home Care, collaborates with her to brainstorm ideas and take care of the finances.

"I just can't say enough about how happy I am just to talk to on the phone with her every week," Mullins said. "She and I are pals."

Mullins said Gust is wonderful to work with and is truly dedicated to the group and helping her husband, Bob McCown, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1992.

"I think it really is a testament to her love for her husband," Mullins said. "She does whatever she can to be knowledgeable and find ways to be active, stay active, and stay happy."

Gust was a surgery oncology nurse at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, and while there, she helped form a breast-cancer support group. Her experience was a factor in taking over the Parkinson's group.

After retiring and before taking over the group, Gust said, she was involved in the UI Museum of Art Docent Program. She attended UI art-history classes, was a tour guide for the museum, and introduced students to art.

"We would take grade-school kids on tours of the Art Museum and bring art into schools after the flood," Gust said. "It wasn't us lecturing them but encouraging kids to look at art by exposimg them to it."

However, as her husband's conditions progressed, the support group became her top priority.

"I definitely wanted to attend these meetings with my husband, but I didn't think I would be that involved with it," Gust said. "It's amazing how many show up for support groups. It's really been a fun group and a unique experience for me."

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