Group of seniors

Parkinson’s Advocate Providing Support to Northern Michigan Residents

Hettie Molvang has never thrown out a first pitch, but if it raises awareness for Parkinson’s disease and available resources in northern Michigan, the 90-year-old is game.

Hettie Molvang

Hettie Molvang

On the advice and coaching of her great-grandson, Molvang has been practicing and perfecting her approach and will take the field on Sunday, July 28 at the Traverse City Pit Spitters’ home game. Cheering her on will be a crew of people with Parkinson’s disease and their guests, connected to Molvang through her education and advocacy work with Parkinson’s Network North. Tickets to the game are being provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

“It’s my passion. My husband had (Parkinson’s disease) and I watched it steal everything from him,” she said.

Eric Molvang survived World War II as part of the Danish underground movement. Hettie Molvang, originally from Great Britain, lost her grandmother in the war due to a bombing. They never imagined their biggest fight would be Parkinson’s disease, but Eric Molvang was diagnosed in 1997.

“I only allowed myself to wallow a very short time,” Hettie Molvang said. “Eric was much the same. When you’ve been through a war, you learn that every day is something that you work with. You make it count.”

A nurse since the end of World War II, Hettie Molvang went on to have a distinguished career as a clinician and educator, teaching at Northwestern Michigan College for many years. She didn’t connect Eric’s increasing trouble with writing his name as a possible symptom for the neurodegenerative disease.

“It really hit me because I could see what was happening and I was angry at myself because I didn’t pick up that first symptom,” she said.

His death 11 years ago only served to bolster her commitment to working on behalf of people with Parkinson’s. She’s testified in Washington, D.C., for increased research funding for the disease and is active with many organizations, including the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is partnering with MPF and the Kirk Gibson Foundation for Parkinson’s on a year-long awareness and fundraising campaign to support additional clinical research toward a cure for Parkinson’s.

Hettie Molvang with Parkinson's Network North founder Maxine Meach

Hettie Molvang with Parkinson’s Network North founder Maxine Meach

She leads support groups for PNN, which serves a 10-county area in northern Michigan. The organization also offers exercise opportunities, updates members about the most up-to-date research and puts on a Summer Forum, which draws experts to the area. Molvang only sees the need for PNN’s services growing, especially as experts point to evidence that the number of cases of Parkinson’s disease will double by 2040, with some calling it an impending pandemic.

Joining a support group, engaging in regular exercise, working on voice and breathing through singing and learning how to advocate for yourself as a patient top Molvang’s recommendations for people with Parkinson’s disease, or Parkinsonians as PNN calls them.

“There’s a lot of help out there if you want to go after it,” she said.

And if you go after that support in northern Michigan, it’s more than likely you’ll get to know Hettie Molvang.

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Photo credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

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