Voices of the NIH Community

“I love you Daddy”

Dr. Katrina Gwinn and her sister, Dr. Rosa Gwinn, remember their father who passed away from Parkinson's disease and how that brought them closer together as a family and in particular strengthened Katrina's bond with her father. Katrina is a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson’s disease.


Dr. Katrina Gwinn: So when he was first diagnosed, the first thing I thought to myself was, okay, what’s really important here is that I’m a family member, I’m not his doctor. Because I saw patients at the Mayo Clinic; there were a lot of family members who were doctors, and they’d take care of their parents like they were their patients. I’m like, I’m not going to fall into that trap; I’m going to be the daughter. And then the first guy he saw was a bit of a Charlie, you know? I really didn’t like him at all, he put dad on a completely inappropriate couple of meds and I just had to say something.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Right, I remember that in particular; it just didn’t add up. But you also did some other things for dad: clinical suggestions, like one of them that I’m thinking of is when you put the blue tape on the floor, the painter’s tape...

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Right.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: …and you would put it at these regular intervals on the floor, in their house, because it would help guide his footsteps so that he wouldn’t stumble, because it gave him something to focus on. So it was a gait improvement or something.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Um hmm.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: But the other thing that comes to mind is when he was getting his first walker, and you gave him some expert advice, what he needed to look for in a walker.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I don’t remember.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Okay, you told him to get a red one because it improved visibility.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Did I? That was good advice.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Yeah, and then later you told me, “I told him to get a red one because a red walker is more fun than a black walker.”

(Both participants laughing)

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: So but you were always bringing these sort of practical arguments to his attention because our dad is a scientist. 

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I mean, even though I did stuff for him, you know the biggest treatment that he had that other people didn’t have is our mother.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Oh yeah.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: If I could prescribe our mother for every Parkinson’s patient…

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Yeah.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: …they would do much better. I mean, this is the love of her life. The love of her life who when he was really confused and in the ICU said to her, let’s steal a car and get out of here.

(Both participants laughing)

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Exactly.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Which was a very good idea, considering the circumstances.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Yeah, it was a bad place to be. 

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Do you ever worry about getting Parkinson’s?

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Well, I do, but not much. But I think you worry about it more than I do.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I used to worry about it.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Um hmm. 

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I don’t worry as much. After dad died, you know, even though I’m an expert in Parkinson’s I went to a special event for Parkinson’s patients and I just got really tearful and I could barely handle it.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Yeah.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Just because I saw so much of his own suffering; I mean, when you’re somebody’s doctor, you see them 30 minutes, you take care of them, you help them, you do what you can; you see the next person. But when it’s your dad…it’s all the time.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Um hmm.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: And you really get to know what they’re going through and it was rough.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Well, you know, he was sick for almost 20 years.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Yeah.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: You know, I mean he wasn’t really sick in the beginning and he could still travel and he certainly enjoyed himself, but, I mean do you think maybe in a weird way that his being sick actually helped us – maybe you in particular – be closer with him because of that link?

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I think so.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: I do, too. 

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I think so because I feel very close to our dad and I love him a lot.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Closer than when we were growing up?

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Yeah.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Yeah.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: I’d say so. I mean, it’s weird to think that pain can lead to intimacy, but it kind of has to because you kind of have to be there for each other. And you and I were there for him the last week of his life, the last two weeks of his life. I mean, we were there for him and I’m proud of that.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: One of the last interactions I had with dad was, he was in his hospital bed and he couldn’t even talk, he had that sore throat and his voice was already diminished and he and I had always liked doing crossword puzzles together. So I said, “Oh, well, what’s this dad, it’s a five letter word for celery-like, it starts with ‘c.’” And he says, “Crisp”; and I said, “What?” And he says, “Crisp.” I mean, this is a guy doing a crossword puzzle on his deathbed and I thought…he’s a pretty cool person.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: Oh yeah,

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: How about you? Do you feel like you got to say goodbye?

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: The last words I ever said to him were “I love you daddy.” It just came out.

Dr. Rosa Gwinn: Um hmm.

Dr. Katrina Gwinn: And the fact that I called him “daddy” was like very little girly and I realized, you know, I had this professional relationship, I had all this disease knowledge, but at the end of the day, he’s just my daddy and I was just his little girl.

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023