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Mesa Musings:

Ill in his body, but not heart

September 15, 2009|By Jim Carnett

My friend Lee, a retired high school science teacher, has Parkinson’s disease.

A million and a half Americans share his plight, and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

Though Lee has Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s doesn’t have Lee.

“It is what it is,” he says philosophically. “I didn’t ask for it, but I have it, and it’s up to me to determine how I’m going to react. I can’t complain about things I can’t control. I must move forward and live my life to the fullest.”

Lee has the right attitude. For many Parkinson’s patients, depression is a daily companion.

Parkinson’s is insidious. I have some familiarity with it. My father had it the last 10 years of his life. I watched as it slowly robbed him of his dignity. He went from being a vibrant senior who loved exercise, music and literature, to a broken man who couldn’t walk, turn over in bed or feed himself.

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It was sad.

Lee, however, is anything but sad. Diagnosed five years ago, he lives an active, rewarding life.

“Life offers no guarantees,” he says. “It’s up to us to play the hand we’re dealt. We can complain, but what good is that?”

Lee finds comfort and inspiration in the words of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative illness that has no cure, though research could significantly alter things in the future. You may have heard of the disease through the considerable efforts of actor Michael J. Fox, who’s had it for two decades.

Fox was diagnosed early in life (he had “young-onset” of the disease).

Most Parkinson’s sufferers are diagnosed between ages 55 and 65, and two-thirds are males. There may be a genetic link, and possibly an environmental one.

Parkinson’s is a brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells die or become impaired. The cells produce the chemical dopamine, which facilitates smooth, coordinated body movement.

Signs of the disease include tremor or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance problems.

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