With the recent passing of Muhammed Ali, I don’t really think about his boxing career. Instead, I think about his strength and grace as he battled Parkinson’s. He was such a strong man whose life changed forever by a progressively debilitating disease.
Another strong man touched by Parkinson’s is my father. I have seen firsthand how the disease effects a person’s quality of life. Like many people, I associated Parkinson’s with the severe tremors that actor Michael J. Fox suffers from. When my father was diagnosed five years ago with the disease, he never experienced tremors, so I thought the doctor got the diagnosis wrong.
Movement symptoms of Parkinson’s
My dad was an avid walker. He walked a couple miles each morning around my parents’ neighborhood. Everyone knew the social Irishman. After a couple of falls on his walks, which he contributed to the uneven pavement, he changed his routine to walking indoors. He met up with his friends at HarMar—a regular place for walkers. Not long after, he noticed that his legs were always feeling stiff and that his paced was slowing down. I thought he simply needed to do more stretches.
However, my mom noticed that dad’s gait was changing from regular steps to more of a shuffle. He finally went to the doctor when the pain in his legs became unbearable. Originally, the doctor sent him to physical therapy, but it only provided temporary relief. Next, they gave him cortisone shots to relief the pain. Again, the benefits didn’t last long. Eventually, they sent my dad to see a neurologist. The diagnosis came back as Rigidity Parkinson’s Disease. Our family had never heard of that form of the disease. We now know that the four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
- Slowness of movement
- Stiffness, and
- Trouble with balance
There is no cure for Parkinson’s. However, there are medications that can provide mild relief from the symptoms. The National Parkinson’s Foundation is a great resource for families to learn about the disease and find support.
It’s hard to see all of things that Parkinson’s is taking away from my dad. But, like Muhammed Ali he is fighting it with strength and grace.