Celebrity endorsements for research go a long way in helping all patients of Parkinsonís
When Michael J. Fox opened up publicly in 1998 about a diagnosis he had received seven years prior, he put a face on Parkinsonís disease. The disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that causes shaking, tremors and a loss of balance. It affects about a million people in the United States and currently has no cure.
Fox received his diagnosed in 1991. His decision to keep the disease under wraps was both personal and professional. At the time of his diagnosis he was told he had a good 10 years of work left, which caused the actor to drink heavily. By his own accord Fox was in denial. It wasnít until after he stopped drinking that he was able to embrace his diagnosis and go public. Since that time, Fox has been a principle advocate for Parkinsonís and stem cell research aimed to taper the disease.
Though no cure has been discovered, advancements in battling Parkinsonís are prevalent. A Colorado News Connection article revealed that 29-year-old Coloradoan Kelly Weinschreider opted for a procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) so she could avoid the array of medication required to combat symptoms of Parkinsonís.
ďThe thought and the hope that DBS would help my symptoms and essentially reduce my medications, and just really improve my quality of life, made it worth it,Ē Weinschreider said. ďItís kind of like if you can get through one hard day in your life that improves so many, hopefully, years ahead of me, itís well worth it.Ē
For his part, Fox is not an advocate of the brain surgery method of combating Parkinsonís, but prefers medication. Much of that, as he told National Public Radio in 2002, is due to his public persona.
ďIíve been medicating perhaps too much in the sense that the symptoms people see in some of these interviews that [I] have been on are actually dyskinesia, which is a reaction to the medication,Ē Fox said. ďBecause if I were purely symptomatic with Parkinsonís symptoms, a lot of times speaking is difficult. Thereís a kind of cluttering of speech and itís very difficult to sit still.Ē
The cluttering of speech, a traditional symptom of Parkinsonís, is what caused singer Linda Ronstadt to give up her career four years ago after going public with her Parkinsonís diagnosis. Last year she made a rare public appearance in San Jose, Calif., to openly discuss her condition and her decision to stop performing with a public audience.
ďI canít sing anymore,Ē she said. ďThatís that. I can still sing in my brain but I canít sing. Itís just the way it is. If youíre going to have Parkinsonís you better have a sense of humor. Because somebody wants to surprise you with Mr. Toadís wild ride Ė you wake up in the morning and you have this collection of symptoms, you donít know whatís going to show up.Ē
For Fox, Ronstadt, Weinschreider and the thousands of others with Parkinsonís there are small doses of hope. Recently, scientists discovered that the drug used to combat Leukemia, nilotinib, may be able to slow or halt the advancement of Parkinsonís in patients diagnosed with the disease.
According to Fernando Pagan, medical director of the translational neurotherapeutics program at Georgetown, nilotinib works by eliminating toxic proteins that build up in the brains of people with Parkinsonís and Alzheimerís.
ďOur drug goes into the cells to turn on that garbage disposal mechanism,Ē Pagan said. ďAnd if weíre able to degrade these proteins, we could potentially stop the progression of this disorder.Ē
There are more than 20 support groups for Parkinsonís patients throughout Colorado. To find one closest to you visit the Parkinson Association of the Rockies at www.parkinsonrockies.org.