Parkinson’s in the Workplace – Steve’s Story
Saturday, 14th March 2020

Coming to terms with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s is challenging but even more so if you are still in the workforce and may be the primary breadwinner. Recent interviews conducted by Shake It Up supporter Maree Faulkner with 21 Australians living with Parkinson’s explored the impact of their diagnosis on their career.  Our Pause 4 Parkinson’s campaign this year shines a light on this important issue. Employment and career progression add to the stress of a diagnosis with people questioning their ability and what the future holds. Steve Woodhouse, who was involved in the sporting industry for many years shares his experience.

To say Steve Woodhouse loves sport would be an understatement. To say he is passionate about sport is still an understatement!

Steve started his career as a teacher but after 10 years he changed direction to follow his passion and took on a role with the WA Football League, becoming the GM of West Perth.   Later, Steve was recruited to Tourism WA and Events Corp WA working in marketing and media for motor sports.  The role was exciting and involved a great deal of travel but Steve’s heart was always with footy.  In 2000 he achieved his dream job, GM with West Coast Eagles.  This role was highly demanding but rewarding and Steve loved it.

A few years into the job, Steve started to notice that he had difficulty writing and some problems with movement on his right side.  As these persisted over time, Steve mentioned the issues to his doctor who referred him to a neurologist.  In 2005, to Steve’s great shock he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

PD is a degenerative neurological condition with no identified cause and, as yet, no cure.  Like most people, Steve had thought PD was an old person’s disease, but he was only 50!  A fit, active and sport loving 50.  Steve’s life had been “going along very nicely” – he was exactly where he wanted to be and his team, the Eagles, was working toward a place in that year’s AFL grand final.  Steve felt completely unprepared for the devastating news he had just been given.

But the single-minded focus of the Eagles and its management helped to pull him through that first difficult post-diagnosis phase.  Steve disclosed his diagnosis to his CEO, who responded with loyalty and practical support, ensuring Steve was provided with the workplace adjustments he needed to continue to do his job, such as voice to print technology.  Steve says that his colleagues had too much else going on and really didn’t seem to understand the implications.  This suited Steve, as he didn’t want sympathy, he was just relieved that their response to him did not change once they knew of his condition.

The West Coast Eagles got their grand final slot in 2005, losing by only a slim margin to the Sydney Swans and then went on to win the AFL Premiership in 2006.  Great times!

But then the Club became embroiled in its highly publicised difficulties.  Steve recognised that the intense stress of that period was exacerbating and possibly accelerating the progression of his PD, but he also understood the imperative and opportunity that the crisis provided for substantive change within the Club.  With the support of the CEO and Board he set about developing a new business plan and restructuring the management, splitting his own role in the process.  This enabled Steve to work reduced hours over the next two years as he bedded down the organisational changes he had designed and moved toward retirement.

Although Steve would have much preferred to continue his career for longer, he was pleased that, with the support of his CEO and Board, he was able to plan and manage his progress to retirement whilst making a significant contribution to the future of his Club.

Now in his mid 60s, Steve is managing a number of significant health issues, but he continues to enjoy gardening, fishing and travel, and avidly supporting the Eagles from the sidelines.

Learn more about Parkinson’s in the workforce