Piper Alpha survivor opens up about Parkinson’s diagnosis

The Piper Alpha Memorial at Hazlehead Park. 167 men died in 1988 when a leak on the Piper Alpha platform led to a series of explosions.
The Piper Alpha Memorial at Hazlehead Park. 167 men died in 1988 when a leak on the Piper Alpha platform led to a series of explosions.

A Piper Alpha survivor is facing a new struggle after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Vince Swales met fellow survivors at a memorial service in Aberdeen earlier as they remembered the 167 men who lost their lives in what remains the world’s worst offshore oil disaster 30 years on.

In the same week, his daughter Katie tackled her fear of heights to raise money for her father’s latest battle by abseiling off the Forth Rail Bridge in aid of Parkinson’s UK.

The 61-year-old said his “world fell apart” when he was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological condition.

He first noticed symptoms four years before his diagnosis in 2012, saying: “My arm wouldn’t swing when I was walking and my foot seemed as though it had grown because my boot didn’t seem to fit properly.

“I found it difficult to tie laces and fasten buttons together as I’d developed a tremor in my right hand.”

Mr Swales said following diagnosis medication immediately helped control his symptoms and he praised the help of specialist medical staff.

Formerly a foreman linesman, climbing electricity grid pylons for Balfour Beatty, he now does ground-based work with the firm.

Among the challenges he faces is people assuming he is drunk and refusing him entry until he shows his Parkinson’s card.

He said: “My family and friends were all finally told, it was an extremely difficult time for us all but we have come to learn that we essentially have to take each day as it comes.

“We were all in the dark so raising awareness is so important. That’s why things like Katie’s abseil are so important, it raises awareness and helps fund Parkinson’s UK’s effort into findings a cure, and helps the charity provide immeasurable support to people with the condition and their families.

“I am especially proud of Katie for taking this abseil on as she is not normally happy to even put her foot onto a step ladder.”
His daughter, who lives in Perth, has raised more than £3,000.

She said: “Dad has already overcome so much after surviving Piper Alpha.

“He was one of only 61 survivors who went home to their families so for another battle to present itself in the form of Parkinson’s to someone who had already experienced so much heartache was more difficult than I can describe.

“I did the abseil to raise awareness of the condition and to support this amazing charity and their efforts to find a cure while showing my dad that I’m there for him – regardless of what Parkinson’s throws our way.”