HOMEPAGE www.danieljvance.com

By Daniel J. Vance

“Ruth” (not her real name) has been battling disability for decades. She and her brother have Parkinson disease, her mother had it, and Ruth's late sister had multiple sclerosis. Living on a Midwest farm, she and her husband “Bill” read this column in their local weekly newspaper and prefer not being identified.

“At first I didn't believe it,” said 78-year-old Ruth in a telephone interview of her diagnosis with Parkinson disease in 1994. “My (half) brother did have it before me, but he and I have different fathers.”

The National Parkinson Foundation defines the disease as a slowly progressing, chronic neurological condition affecting brain cells, which leads to a reduction in a brain chemical, dopamine. This lack of dopamine produces symptoms such as limb stiffness, gait or balance problems, slowness of movement, and tremors on one side of the body. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have it. Researchers believe a mix of genetic and environmental factors cause it.

To compound her struggles, later in 1994 doctors diagnosed her with a heart condition and implanted a pacemaker. And in 2004 she had heart “pig valve” surgery.

“All of us like our bodies healthy and I wish mine was,” she said. “At the same time I'm thankful I can do what I can. There really isn't anything I can't do.”

But it hasn't always been that way.

Said husband Bill: “When Ruth was first diagnosed (with Parkinson disease), everything went well for 18 months until she went downhill. It got to the point where she couldn't do anything. She just sat in the chair depressed.”

For a while, Bill even had to bathe and dress her.

Desperate five years ago, he read on the Internet about a Florida doctor. Although expensive, this doctor's unique treatment for Parkinson disease would work well for Ruth, in that she has regained the ability to write, dance and drive.

As a rule, as a columnist I don't espouse specific treatments for any disability because people respond differently to them. So I won't mention hers. In fact, what works for her may not work for anyone else. The National Parkinson Foundation Web site claims that “no treatment has been shown to slow or stop the progression of the disease.”

That said, does Ruth have advice for people recently diagnosed? “They just need to learn more about the disease,” she said.

For more, see danieljvance.com or www.parkinson.org [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]