After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 11 years ago, Simon Challies learned how to live well with the disease. Now he’s passing that knowledge on to others through his new facility, the BrainTree Wellness Centre.
Simon Challies ran Ryman Healthcare while living with Parkinson’s disease. Now he has raised $6 million for a centre to help others with the neurological disease.
The BrainTree Wellness Centre in Christchurch is the first of its kind in New Zealand. It promotes lifestyle changes to help people live well with neurological conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke and multiple sclerosis.
Challies has a personal connection and passion for the project. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement – in 2011 when he was 41. He stood down as managing director of Ryman in 2017.
The centre’s $8m total price tag has been almost entirely funded by private individuals, businesses, and community trusts, with over $1m given in kind by consultants and contractors, a loan of $1m from the Rātā Foundation and less than $200,000 coming from local, regional or central government.
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BrainTree opened its doors on Wednesday.
Peter Versloot, who has Parkinson’s, was one of the first people to come in and use the facilities, and said the centre was a good upgrade from the previous Parkinson’s Canterbury facilities in Burnside.
“The facilities are second-to-none in comparison. It’s great, and it stretches you a bit.”
Versloot would usually go to a gym class about once a week but planned to do more often now because of the enticing new centre.
Chief executive for Dementia Canterbury Darral Campbell said the new centre reinforced the premise that people shouldn’t have second rate facilities because they have a disability.
“They should have nothing but the best. Disability of itself is quite debilitating. One of the most important things is to stay connected and socially stimulated,” Campbell said.
“The environment for that needs to reflect a place you want to be.”
The centre features a gym, yoga and dance studio, seminar rooms, a whole foods cafe and a meeting place. It has been designed to encourage people to live well with their conditions and adopt healthy lifestyle choices.
Challies’ own experience has been that if he followed the “four principles” – a healthy diet, regular exercise, keeping up social contact and getting good sleep – then he can live a better life with his condition.
“That was my experience, when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 11 years ago – I discovered that perhaps the medications could help, but there’s a lot more I could do for myself.
“I’ve learnt a lot about how to manage the condition well, and I’d like to share that with other people.
“It does get tougher – there are times when you just don’t feel like going out, but when you do go out and engage with people you do feel far better for it.”
The number of Cantabrians with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and dementia is expected to double by 2040, reaching 30,000 people – about the population of Timaru.
The BrainTree centre – developed by the Canterbury Brain Collective, is a joint venture by Dementia Canterbury and Multiple Sclerosis & Parkinson’s Canterbury – houses both organisations and other groups that support people to live well with neurological conditions.