DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


Several weeks ago, I asked readers to share their personal stories. “Bill” of Dunedin, Florida, responded after reading my request in the Tampa (FL) Tribune. I won't use his real name here because he used to be a counter terrorism/counter intelligence team member specializing in surveillance tactics with a federal agency.

“I first began noticing symptoms in 1996,” said 57-year-old Bill in a telephone interview. “I had slight hand and arm tremors and lost some sense of smell. Interesting enough, I soon discovered while working in the field that my hand/arm tremors would activate when the 'action' started.” He also noticed his handwriting becoming smaller.

Eight years later, after having self-diagnosed following an online search, Bill eventually visited a Florida neurologist, who officially diagnosed him with Parkinson's disease. “I was mentally prepared for (the diagnosis), but after going to the car to drive home, I (suddenly) realized my whole life would be changing. I had a progressive, chronic, neurological disease with no cure.”

A National Institutes of Health website calls Parkinson's disease a “motor system disorder” caused by a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Symptoms can include tremors in the hands, arms, face, legs or jaw, rigidity or stiffness, slowness of movement, and postural instability.

Bill dealt with the disease head-on. He began by educating his entire family. “And I determined I wouldn't let it affect me quicker than I'd like,” he said. “I found out through reading that exercise could be key. It allows me to stay limber, temporarily keeps the tremors down, and keeps me in good shape.”

Today, when on too much or too little medication, he can experience involuntary body movements, which can make driving a car difficult. What bothers Bill most is that he was well-known in his federal agency for having excellent driving skills. His leg and arm movements have slowed considerably the last few years, so much so that “it feels like I have glue or rubber bands on my feet, and, when I'm walking, it's pulling on me.” He began receiving disability payments in 2006.

To people recently diagnosed, he suggested: “I'd say to start reading and reading and reading about it, and consult with a physician, in part, about an exercise program.” New medications for Parkinson's have been going public almost monthly, he added. He believes a cure will arrive within ten years.

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