Perfect Match helped them find each other 31 years ago. Now they’re facing their greatest challenge

Perfect Match helped them find each other 31 years ago. Now they’re facing their greatest challenge

When he signed up to appear on a 1980s dating show, New South Wales shearer George Isbester never imagined it would lead to him finding his perfect match on the other side of the world. 

George, from Nymagee in the state’s west, appeared on the Australian dating show Perfect Match in the 1980s, and while he didn’t meet his partner on the TV, a twist of fate led him to Marsha, the love of his life.

Now, 31 years later, they are facing one of the greatest challenges of their lives, after Marsha was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. 

But the love that helped them overcome the challenge of dating someone on the other side of the world, is keeping them strong.   

After gaining attention on Perfect Match, George was selected to appear in US women’s AlaskaMen Magazine — which  profiles “single men lookin’ for wives” —as part of a spread dubbed Australian Men Down Under.

George watching himself on the iconic Australian dating show Perfect Match.(ABC Western Plains: Ondine Slack-Smith)

George was swamped by letters from women from across the United States.

“I had 75, one from every state in America,” he says.

“I answered them all, I had to cull ’em down like cattle.”

Marsha, who was living in Sacramento and working for the governor of California at the time, said she wrote to George after her friend dared her to contact one of the men in the magazine.

Marsha Johnson-Isbester appeared in an issue of Western Magazine.(Supplied)

“George popped out at me,” she says.

“He was in his tweed jacket by his water tank out in the boonies and he just looked the most normal of all the men in there.

“I just thought at least, because I was doing some agricultural consulting too, I could talk sheep prices with him.”

But the pair felt a connection, and after exchanging letters for more than a year, Marsha visited Australia.

Marsha and George communicated via letters during the early years of their courtship.(ABC Western Plains: Ondine Slack-Smith)

George fondly recalls the time spent together.

“She stayed for about three weeks, and we got on pretty well. I took her around all the vineyards because she likes a bit of wine,” George says.

“She was into agriculture and she sounded like she knew a fair bit about stock work. We just hit it off.”

A year later, George visited Marsha in the United States and they decided to get married.

A new challenge

Thirty-one years on, the couple live on a property in Dubbo after stints over the years in Nymagee and Cobar.

George and Marsha on their farm in Dubbo, where about 500 people are living with Parkinson’s.(ABC Western Plains: Ondine Slack-Smith)

After spending half a lifetime relying on each other, Marsha recently has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder that affects the nerves.

“I got diagnosed on July 4, 2020, which is American Independence Day. The irony is not lost on me,” she says.

“I lost my total independence and I’m still trying to get my head around what’s happened to my life.”

Parkinson’s disease is the second-most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder globally, and affects about 200,000 Australians.

Marsha’s diagnosis came a year after she first noticed symptoms.

George and Marsha Isbester keep smiling despite Marsha’s  Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.(ABC Western Plains: Ondine Slack-Smith)

She attributes this to the different ways the disease can appear in a body.

“It manifests itself in back aches. I had a tremor in one leg, a repetitive injury in one wrist where I would start stirring a pot on the stove and couldn’t stop,” she says.

“I would just be thinking what in the heck is wrong with me?”

She saw two GPs and two neurologists before a third GP diagnosed Parkinson’s disease.

Marsha isn’t alone. In Dubbo, about 500 residents have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The regional location means it can be harder to access treatment.

New telehealth services 

Shanna Fealy, a post-doctoral research fellow at Charles Sturt University with the Ageing Well in Regional and Rural Australia Group, says a big problem for Parkinson’s patients in rural areas is the limited access to specialist care.

Dr Fealy says more attention should be paid to Parkinson’s research in Australia.(Supplied: Shanna Fealy)

“A lot of those specialists are found in metro areas, and I suppose that where the disparity really lies is in that service provision for people with Parkinson’s in these areas,” Dr Fealy says.

To help equalise medical access, two specialist neurologists from Westmead hospital in Sydney have collaborated with the Mid North Coast local health district to provide services to regional Australians with Parkinson’s.

“They’re currently trialling a hybrid telehealth clinic, so basically linking those city services for people in the bush so that they can have that [same] level of care,” Dr Fealy says.

Love and laughter

Although Marsha doesn’t know what her journey with Parkinson’s holds, she is sure of one thing — that she wouldn’t get by without the love and support of George. 

“He’s my measure,” she says.

“I think it’s the sense of humour. I’ll hang around and see what happens next, that’s what he makes me think.”

Marsha says George has been a constant support network throughout her journey with Parkinson’s disease.(ABC Western Plains: Ondine Slack-Smith)

Even in these uncertain times, George finds a way to lighten their load and have a laugh.

“It’s very hard and it’s harder now because I’ve found I’m doing more in the house than I’ve ever done. I even cook!,” he says.

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