listen live
Jones Angell

ON AIR STAFF
Jones Angell
full schedule

107.7 FM NOW ON THE AIR
Current weather in Hendersonville, NC 30° Jan 21's Weather
Clear
HI: 59 LOW: 29
Your Forecast

FORMER NORTH CAROLINA STATE TROOPER TREKS ACROSS AMERICA TO FIGHT PARKINSON'S DISEASE

FORMER NORTH CAROLINA STATE TROOPER TREKS ACROSS AMERICA TO FIGHT PARKINSON'S DISEASE FORMER NORTH CAROLINA STATE TROOPER TREKS ACROSS AMERICA TO FIGHT PARKINSON'S DISEASE

COMING TO HENDERSONVILLE LATER THIS WEEK    

For more than 25 years, Tommy Dellinger says his identity matched his job title.

The Gastonia man, formerly of Crouse, went from being an Army soldier to a Lincolnton police officer. Then, in 1997, he joined the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Dellinger spent 17 years as a trooper in Gaston County, the last five being especially trying. He knew something wasn’t right as menial tasks grew tougher and tougher.

First his right elbow began to twitch. Then it never stopped. His right arm didn’t swing like his left and shaving, brushing his teeth and putting food into his mouth became a tough feat.

A battery of tests confirmed Dellinger’s worst fears in 2008. He had Parkinson’s Disease, a debilitating illness that impacts about 1 million Americans and for which there is no cure.

“I worked on the road as a trooper for another five years,” Dellinger said. “But every day wasn’t easy. It got harder to button my buttons. Getting out of my car wasn’t easy.”

Depressing boredom

At 45, Dellinger suddenly found himself a retired man. The first month brought forth some valued rest and relaxation, but it didn’t take long for him to miss the career he worked so hard for.

He received a tag each year he spent with the Highway Patrol. Each tag had a number associated with it, ranking each member based on the seniority they have achieved within the agency.

As he hung up his tags on his garage and reflected on the time he spent patrolling Gaston County highways, he couldn’t help but be emotional.

“I cried like a baby,” he said. “I told my wife I don’t know what’s happening here. I guess that’s the only graphic representation of all the years I worked, those tags.”

Dellinger lives in a spacious 2,100-square foot home in east Gastonia, though those four walls sometimes felt like a prison as he came to grips with the fact he couldn’t do the things he once did.

His truck would spend days in his driveway untouched, Dellinger too depressed to leave.

“I wouldn’t get out much,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’d just hang out with the dog.”

A surgery and a fresh spirit

Dellinger made the decision in February to get deep brain stimulation in an attempt to relieve the Parkinson’s symptoms.

The surgery implanted a wire into an opening in Dellinger’s skull. A battery pack was later inserted near his collarbone, and the procedure’s design was meant to replicate the benefits of medication without the debilitating side effects.

The impact, Dellinger says, was immediate.

“I felt the muscles just relax,” he said. “I was able to reach into my pocket from a seated position, which was a struggle.”

As productive as the surgery was, he knows not every Parkinson’s patient is able to receive it. He wanted to help others with the disease. And when he heard about someone hiking across the country to raise awareness for veterans, Dellinger found his next mission.

A long journey

Months now of Dellinger’s life have been spent lugging a 30-pound backpack around his neighborhood, calling police agencies across the United States and taking care of a whole bunch of logistical issues he never knew he’d have to face.

Then on Sept. 1 he began walking in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He hopes to finish at the Gaston County Police Department, some 2,400 miles and six months after his journey begins.

All he carries with him is that backpack full of clothes, gadgets and survival tools to get him through the grind.

He is camping along the way if need be, but most nights local law enforcement agencies are helping him in finding an indoor place to bed down.

A fan of The Eagles, Dellinger plans included winding through Winslow, Arizona, before going east through New Mexico and up through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before coming further eastward..

With dogs named Knox and Manning and a granddaughter called Peyton, it should surprise nobody that Dellinger is a massive fan of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Though he’ll had to cede his season tickets this year, his excursion took him through Knoxville and his beloved Neyland Stadium.

And don’t be surprised if the former trooper strategically schedules some of his “rest days” for the play-offs and the championship game.

He’ll miss birthdays and wasn't home with his wife as most American families celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Modern cellphones are making that time away more bearable than it would have been for generations past and, as Dellinger says, it’s just six months out of his life.

He’ll finish the penultimate day of his trip at his parents’ home in Crouse, before a crowd of friends, family and former co-workers welcomes him home.

He hopes to average more than 10 miles trekked each day, an exhausting journey. While he admits he’s no longer in the top physical shape he enjoyed while a trooper, the drive of the Highway Patrol will push him through.

“The thing I learned in the Highway Patrol, more than anything, was don't ever quit.", he said.

(Thanks to the Gaston Gazette for much of this and to Wayne King, Deputy Chief of Staff and District Director for Congressman Mark Meadows.)

 

 

Comments