Still The Great Communicator

July 12, 2017 Staff Writer

IT'S BEEN MORE THAN A dozen years since he stepped away from the microphones at K-57 radio, and three years since his last on-air appearance as a commentator at the Pacific News Center. Still, Jon Anderson remains as one of Guam’s best known and best loved media personalities.

 His broadcast career on Guam began in 1977 when he became general manager of KUAM. Four years later he and some partners bought a radio station that became K-57 where he launched the first news-talk format on island. For 25 years Jon ruled the morning drive on Guam. Powerbrokers, politicians, Tun Juan and Tan Maria all tuned in to listen, or called in to be heard. Jon arbitrated the debate with a fair-minded calm admired by all.

 Today, at 75, Jon is living with Parkinson’s, a disease that ultimately forced him off the air. Trembling hands made it difficult to type, balance problems hampered his ability to walk, and worst of all it weakened his voice, which could no longer project the same resonance and authority it once had.

 “It’s very hard psychologically,” said Jon, “for someone who spent their entire career in the media to suddenly have to stop talking.”

 For most of his life, Jon made his living as a broadcaster, on the radio or TV. “Even in high school when I was still in my home town (Aberdeen, South Dakota), I worked as a radio guy. That’s been the hardest thing for me to adjust to, the inability to be a radio guy anymore.”

 Parkinson’s disease is an age-related degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Unlike “Alzheimer’s dementia,” Parkinson’s primarily affects movement and speech, not cognitive functions. It develops gradually and becomes worse with time. By 2012, Jon’s condition began to take its toll, and the symptoms became progressively worse that by 2015 his ability to walk and talk was severely impaired.

 Recently, however, his condition has noticeably improved. “I’m doing better now than I was a little while ago,” Jon revealed. Last year, he underwent surgery at Queens Hospital in Honolulu to stop the shaking and improve his ability to speak. “I had what they call deep brain stimulation. It involves a neurologist drilling 2 holes in your skull and dropping some leads into the brain.”

 Very fine wires with electrodes at the tip were implanted into his brain. The wires are connected to extensions that run under his skin, behind the ear, and down his neck to a neuro-stimulator on the right side of his chest. “I have a pacemaker-type unit here,” said Jon, patting his chest. “But this is not a pacemaker. It’s an implanted pulse generator, which sends electrical stimulation to the brain.”

 The FDA approved “Deep Brain Stimulation” [DBS] for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in 1997. While it has proven effective for many, it is not a cure, and the National Parkinson’s Foundation cautions there are risks and the potential for negative side effects.

 However, Jon has not suffered any side effects, and he is convinced of the benefits. The operation has restored some of what he lost. “It’s cut down on the shaking and improved my speech,” Jon said. “I think I’m stronger speaking now than I was three years ago. I want to tell people that if they have Parkinson’s or the incipient initial stages of Parkinson’s they should investigate this surgery (deep brain stimulation).”

 There are still physical issues Jon needs to work on. “My posture is not good, and I have balance issues. I have to be careful that I don’t fall down. I need to get into a regular program of exercises and coordination so that I can improve.” But overall, “I feel pretty good,” he summed up. 

If I can be of help to anybody, if there is anybody out there dealing with Parkinson's, I'd be happy to work with them, or meet them and talk to them."

Jon is now working with GRMC Physical Therapist Marc Pagaduan. Twice a week he comes to GRMC’s Rehabilitation Department to work on maintaining and improving the motor skills that have been restored by the operation. The goal of the therapy program Marc has devised is to introduce Jon to some exercises that will “improve his skills even more” and help him deal with the symptoms he still has so that he can “live a better life.”

“Mr. Anderson is very functional,” Marc said. “With him, we are basically working on routine exercises to keep him from slipping back. Parkinson’s doesn’t have a cure. We don’t have something we can give him and the Parkinson’s will go way. So what we want is to keep him where he’s at, keep that good condition where it is, and keep it from coming down any further.”

 Jon wants to share his struggle with Parkinson’s disease, and he has reached out to former colleagues to help him tell his story. “That’s what I do. That’s what I did for a living for 30 years. I’m a public person,” Jon explained. “I don’t have any problem sharing my problems with the general public.”

 Jon estimates that there may be as many as 30 other people on Guam suffering from full-blown Parkinson’s, and he hopes to form a support group, a Parkinson’s Association, to share information about the disease and ways to help each other live with Parkinson’s.

 “I haven’t given that up. If I can be of help to anybody, if there is anybody out there dealing with Parkinson’s, I’d be happy to work with them, or meet them and talk to them,” Jon asserted.

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