I’m sure just like me you know someone, a friend or a family member who has been affected by Parkinson’s and seen how life-changing it can be.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease and often difficult to diagnose.  I’m talking about it because as a physician and advocate, I want to clear up misinformation and give valuable advice to those who deal with this on a regular basis.  Also, patients of mine who have Parkinson’s don’t always feel like they can live a full and rich life. So my goal is to inspire those with this disease so that they can lead a more fulfilled and meaningful life.

Jimmy Choi

Most of us are thriving and looking forward to building our lives and careers in our twenties. My friend Jimmy was the same. However, that’s when he started to notice minor physical changes, but he brushed them off as normal aging.  Jimmy soon met a wonderful woman and decided to get married. At that time, his dad gave him some fatherly advice and suggested he go and buy life insurance life. So that’s exactly what Jimmy did. During the life insurance exam, however, the nurse started asking him particular questions. She noticed things about Jimmy that he didn’t even think about. It just so happened that the nurse also worked in a neurologist’s office and she told Jimmy that he needed to see a doctor.

You might think that Parkinson’s is an older person’s disease, but it can affect younger people too. Jimmy was diagnosed at age 27. At first, he tried to ignore his diagnosis, but when he fell down a flight of stairs with this 10-month-old son in his arms, he knew it was a wake-up call. Jimmy says, “I think everybody has to have that rock bottom moment and that was for me. I realized then that I was becoming a danger to my kids and a burden to my family instead of helping my wife raise our family.’  Jimmy then completely turned his life around.  He shares exactly how he did this, starting with walking one neighborhood block to build up strength and stamina.  Over time he became stronger – he’s now run in over 15 marathons and over 100 half marathons!  This man is a true #HealthHero and anyone who suffers from Parkinson’s will be truly inspired by him.  You’ll also learn how exercise impacted his symptoms and overall health.  He also shares a personal message that you’ll want to hear, which includes “Everybody is faced with some type of adversity. The idea is never to give up.”

Dr. Peter Lewitt

Parkinson’s disease comes from the brain. It’s a specific group of nerve cells that are lost which cause all the symptoms like tremors at rest, slowness of movement, and gait problems. The feeling that someone is aging prematurely is sometimes a classic feature of it. And yet it can be very subtle. Someone who has Parkinson’s can feel like they’re slowing down, like they just don’t have much energy or they’re weak.

When it comes to age, Dr. Lewitt, a medical doctor and the Director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Program at the Henry Ford Hospital says the typical age Parkinson’s starts is 58.  But he says, “There’s a large group of people in their 40s who have been misdiagnosed as having something else but turn out to have Parkinson’s.”  Dr. Lewitt goes on to explain how tremors, balance or gait problems have a kinship with Parkinson’s but may not be Parkinson’s.  He says it’s important to figure out why these symptoms are happening and what is causing them as the cures may be different.  Dr. Lewitt is also the chairman of the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation Professional Advisory Board. And he talks about how these types of organizations can be very helpful to patients with Parkinson’s.

Donna Rajkovic

It took about three years for Donna to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  That was over 10 years ago.  Part of the problem was her young age when her symptoms first began.  Donna tells me, “It started with the twitching of the thumb. And so when your thumb is twitching, you’re just like, “Oh, my thumb is twitching.” And then my shoulder started to droop and my gait changed, so my shoulder wasn’t able to swing when I was walking.”  At first, the doctor thought she had a pinched nerve.  But her symptoms kept changing, her leg began to drag and her toes started to curl.  She found herself going from doctor to doctor before finally one neurologist ordered a DaTscan of her brain, which measures dopamine levels.  Donna was told she didn’t have much dopamine on the left side of her brain.

Donna hasn’t let Parkinson’s stop her.  She is very passionate about raising awareness and helping to find a cure.  She holds an annual gala that donates 100% of the proceeds to research.  Donna also shares why she’s very proud to participate in a landmark study, and has some advice for those who may struggle with this neurodegenerative disorder.

Dr. Hubert Fernandez

The Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, or PPMI for short, is taking place at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Fernandez, MD is the site’s principal investigator for the PPMI study and the director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic.  Dr. Fernandez explains the importance of this study, and why a biomarker is crucial in helping to understand Parkinson’s.  He says, “A biomarker is a specific test that tells us whether a disease or a disorder is getting better or getting worse.” Once that specific marker is identified, then therapies can be tracked better. And it accelerates the discovery of new treatments.

Dr. Fernandez also talks about deep brain stimulation which is a fascinating surgical therapy for Parkinson’s.  He explains it this way, “We put a pacemaker in the area of the brain that’s misfiring for Parkinson’s disease. And so the result of that is a more regulated firing and it pretty much improves the tremor, the stiffness, the slowness. It’s one of the best treatments we’ve ever discovered in this century.”

Charles Lacasse

Charles is a lead fitness and nutrition coach.  He explains how he works with Parkinson’s patients when they have symptoms like tremors and what the main goal is for them.  He says, “A lot of things we try and do is work on improving their posture, improving their mechanics. Things like helping to get rid of some of the functional problems that have begun, so their knees are stronger, their shoulders are stronger.”  Charles also shares what he uses to help with rigidity, to try and loosen patients up.

Erica Hornthal

Erica Hornthal is a clinical counselor and dance therapist.  She shares how dance therapy is psychotherapy that integrates social, cognitive, physical, emotional, and even spiritual integration of an individual. She explains that dance therapy is very helpful, “A lot of my clients actually have never danced a day in their life, but they’re noticing that it’s joyful, it’s a way to reconnect. It re-patterns their brains and it keeps them sharp and it allows them to cope with the changes that this diagnosis brings.”

Notable Guests

Jimmy Choi

Jimmy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 27. He was so surprised that he sought out two other Doctor’s opinions and kept his diagnosis a well-kept secret, shared with only a few. Jimmy’s health deteriorated and he hit rock bottom when he fell down the stairs while holding his 10-month-old baby. He decided to make changes and has never looked back. Jimmy turned to running and has ran over 15 marathons and over 100 half marathons.  He also competed on season 9 of American Ninja Warrior. He participates in event after event, all year round with the goal of raising funds to help find a cure while inspiring people all around him.

Hubert Fernandez

Dr. Fernandez, MD is an internationally recognized expert in movement disorders who has been voted one of the Best Doctors in America by his peers.  He is the Professor of Medicine (Neurology) at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University and the Head of Movement Disorders under the Center for Neurological Restoration at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Fernandez is an active and productive researcher and he has initiated or participated in over 50 clinical trials. He has published his findings in well over 300 articles and abstracts on Parkinson’s disease, cervical dystonia, blepharospasm, and other movement disorders. He has nearly 40 published book chapters and books to his credit, and has served on the editorial board of Movement Disorders and is currently an editorial board member of the American Journal of Clinical Neurology, European Neurological Journal, and Clinical Neuropharmacology. Learn more at my.clevelandclinic.org

Peter LeWitt

Dr. Lewitt, MD is the Director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders program at Henry Ford Hospital and is a Professor of Neurology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. In addition to extensive experience in conducting clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, his research interests have included pre-clinical models and biomarkers of neurological disease, pharmacokinetic analysis of neurological drugs, and gene therapy. He has served as a clinical trial and neuropharmacology consultant in the development of therapies for neurological disorders. He is the author of more than 300 publications in basic and clinical neuroscience.

Dr. Lewitt is also the Chairman of the Michigan Parkinson Foundation’s Professional Advisory Board. Since 2003, Dr. Lewitt has been editor-in-chief of Clinical Neuropharmacology and has served on the editorial boards of Movement Disorders, Journal of Neural Transmission, Journal of Parkinson’s Disease and Translational Neurodegeneration.  Learn more at parkinsonsmi.org

Donna Rajkovic

Prior to being diagnosed in 2012, Donna went through 3 years of both physical and emotional changes, along with a series of inconclusive tests. She saw many different doctors none of who gave her a definitive diagnosis. It was only after much frustration that she finally met a doctor that was able to confirm she had Parkinson’s. Donna’ doesn’t let Parkinson’s define or stop her. She enrolled in the PPMI study at the Cleveland Clinic to help find biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease. She became a Team Fox member alongside thousands of other members all over the world to support the Foundation’s mission to find a cure which is very important to her and her family. 100% of proceeds from all Team Fox events goes directly towards Parkinson’s Research. We don’t know what the future will bring, but Donna does believe that together we have the power to accomplish amazing things.  Learn more at teamfoxinthed.com

Charles Lacasse

Charles has been in the fitness field for nearly nine years and is the head trainer for Fitness Together Novi. He has received his Masters in Exercise Science from Oakland University and is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through NSCA. Charles is also a certified personal trainer through ACE and NASM. His extensive background includes working in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, corporate wellness, and health coaching, as well as personal training. Charles likes to use his knowledge and experience in helping people reach their ultimate goals. His enthusiastic outlook makes training sessions not only challenging but fun.  Learn more at fitnesstogether.com/novi

Erica Hornthal

Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, is a licensed clinical counselor and board-certified dance/movement therapist. She is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, which is a group psychotherapy practice dedicated to providing holistic counseling for individuals, couples, families and groups. Erica received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago. She is passionate about helping individuals of all ages increase their quality of life by emphasizing the mind-body connection to enable growth and healing. As a movement therapist, Erica uses body movement every day with her clients to provide the means of assessment and the mode of intervention in therapy. Learn more at www.chicagodancetherapy.com

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