A Different Kind of Parkinson’s Hero

I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Christopher Reeve

In the last few years, several amazing Parkinson’s heroes have become the face of the Parkinson’s community world-wide. Super heroes like American Ninja Warrior Jimmy Choi, Matt Eagles, diagnosed at 8 years old, who has created Parky Life and has filled some of the void in the UK left by the passing of Tom Isaacs. Linda K Olsen, a triple amputee with Parkinson’s, lives an unimaginably full life in spite of her disabilities. Carol Clupny, has hiked on The Camino in France and Spain, covering a 1000 miles in 4 different treks and cycled on a tandem bike with hubby Charlie in the annual RAGBRAI bicycle race across Iowa 3 times. Tim Hague won the Amazing Race Canada with his son, overcoming many PD induced obstacles to win.

We can’t all aspire to what they have accomplished. They are definitely the outliers. However, there are many people in our community who we can look up to and are our everyday Parkinson’s Heroes. Here are a few that I know personally. I hope to follow up with several more in the coming weeks.

Dancing Through Parkinson’s

Linda Berghoff was a dancer who began to have difficulty doing turns and other dance moves. Once she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, she started looking for solutions. Because her children live in NY and she is in LA, she searched in both cities for ways to improve her life. She heard about David Leventhal and his groundbreaking work creating a dance program for People with Parkinson’s and immediately contacted him. She trained with him so that she could teach the program once she was back in LA. Her closest friend’s daughter had started a dance company in LA, so Linda proposed that they take on this program. Today, with Linda’s guidance, Invertigo Dance Theater offers 6 classes weekly in different locations in Los Angeles, reaching hundreds of people .

Soaring With Hope for PD

Naomi Estolas, Clara Kluge* and Amy Carlson* are the forces behind SOARING WITH HOPE FOR PD, which really was the centerpiece of the WPC in Kyoto. Their stories are intertwined beginning with the WPC in Portland (more about that later).

Naomi was diagnosed April 2015, however her symptoms go back to 2010, when she started experiencing slowness and movement that was not as fluid as it should have been. She learned that she had Parkinson’s during her work lunch hour. She and her husband were in shock and didn’t know much about Parkinson’s. Naomi decided immediately to start her personal fight against PD. Within the first month of being diagnosed, she attended 2 PD conferences and found the support group that she still goes to.

The three women were introduced to each other by Trish Lowe*, a woman with Parkinson’s who is a support group facilitator. They met at Lineage, a facility run by Amy for PwP’s, at a screening of the documentary film SAVING GRACE with David Levanthal.  The three of them went to Portland together for the World Parkinson Congress in September 2016. I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with them in Portland and saw how quickly they mobilized others when they decided to do something. Naomi approached Anders Leines, a photographer with PD whose work was on display, to take a photo of a group of people with PD in front of one of his photo-murals. She and Clara spent the next two days recruiting people to participate at the designated time. The photo below was featured as a highlight of the WPC by Parkinson’s Life, a UK-European website.

WPC highlights lead
Photo by Anders Leines
Naomi and Clara, bottom left, Twitchy Woman, center

Soon after the WPC ended, Naomi thought about doing a project for the next WPC in Kyoto. SOARING WITH HOPE FOR PD came into being with the goal of making 10,000 origami cranes representing HOPE. Naomi, whose mother is Japanese, had 1000 origami cranes representing Hope on display at her wedding. So 10,000 should be attainable for the WPC, right? Naomi recruited Clara and Amy to help get the project going. Naomi worked nearly fully time on this project for the next 2+ years, again quickly reaching out to others, including school groups, to make many of the cranes, educating them about PD. They also reached out to PwP’s living in many other countries to send cranes with messages of hope written on them. The end result was many more than 18,000 cranes hanging from umbrellas, with messages from around the world in many different languages. The display at the WPC was magical, to say the least.

In a separate, but related project, Clara, who loves to dance, sent out a request for videos of original crane dances by PwP’s. She received so many that she has over 50 hours of videos. Many were shown at the Soaring with Hope for PD display at the WPC. She is currently working on a documentary about the project.

Naomi’s Parkinson’s journey consists of ups and downs day-by-day and even hour-by-hour, even with the challenges she always tries to do the best she can and LIVES LIFE in the present. Her hope is for each of you to do the same. 

Who are your Parkinson’s Heroes?

Do you know someone who should be recognized as a Parkinson’s Hero? Please email me at twitchywoman18@gmail.com with their name and why you think that person is a hero. I would love to share what they are doing with all of you.

*Clara Kluge, Amy Carlson and Trish Lowe will be featured in a future blog post. They are all remarkable women who are Parkinson’s Heroes.

The Crane Dance Project for Parkinson’s

As the Soaring with Hope for PD Parkinson’s project took off, one of the team members for that project, Clara Kluge came up with yet another way to engage People with Parkinsons (PwPs) for the World Parkinson Congress(WPC). Because she loved to dance and was involved in dance classes for PwPs, she envisioned having PwPs and the community at large create dances using cranes as the theme. Her dream became the PD Crane Dance Project. David Leventhal, the co-founder of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for PD® Program, became her mentor on this endeavour; he calls Clara “the force behind this project.”

And she truly was a force, inspiring so many to participate in the project. Clara invited People with Parkinson’s from around the world to submit a 2 minute video of an original dance inspired by the origami cranes that she folded and sent to those who requested them. Expecting to receive about 50 videos, she received 147 from 17 countries. This added up to a whopping total of 5 hours of video! Over 1800 dancers participated from around the world. The two videos were shown on a continuous loop at the WPC at the Soaring with Hope exhibit and the Dance for PD® Program Booth.

Some of the spin offs from the project are that it inspired dancers to:

  • Learn how to fold origami cranes
  • Write poems about the experience
  • Dance more, move more
  • Tap their inner creative spirit
  • Make stronger connections
  • Feel connected with other dancers from around the world
  • Collaborate with fellow dancers
  • Not feel alone
  • Get excited about doing something positive for themselves
  • Get a tattoo of an origami crane

This project was such a success that Clara is looking into making a documentary of the whole experience with the many dancers and dance groups who participated in the original creation of this project. 

Origami Dance
Japan Parkinson’s Disease Association Fukuoka
Invertigo Dance Theatre, Los Angeles, California

To view more of these inspiring dances, go To YouTube and search Crane Dances Parkinson’s and a number of dances will appear.  I will keep you posted when and where you can see all of the dances.

Two Stories from the Heart

Last month I had the chance to interview two more women with PD.  Since each of us experiences our PD differently, it is always interesting to hear how each person approaches her diagnosis and finds a way to move forward with her life.  We can learn so much from each other, finding our way on this lifelong journey with each other’s support and encouragement.

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Linda and Gail

Linda

Linda was a dancer. When she was in NY several years ago, she discovered that Mark Morris Dance Studio, the premier modern dance studio in NY, has classes for people with Parkinson’s.   She went in and there were about 50 people at all levels who were dancing. It is such a beautiful program. We know that exercise is good for us. It brought in music, imagery and creativity and it was so much more fun than slogging away on a treadmill for exercise.

Mark Morris dancers trained Invertigo Dance Theater to run the program. It must be run by professional dancers, because they really understand strategy of how the body works.

“A doctor told me 10 years ago when I was diagnosed that dance is going to help me stay well. And I am doing pretty well. Maybe it is the dance. We don’t make any medical claims. It is just a real dance class that is modified for PD.”

 

Linda thought her first symptoms were just the aging process, even though her mother had died years earlier from PD.   “I thought it was age. I was taking jazz classes but I couldn’t turn all of a sudden. I was getting dizzy when I turned on my left side. I thought, that’s unusual, since turns were always easy for me, and I wasn’t quite as flexible and I was stiff. It wasn’t till I was on vacation and I started getting a tremor in my left leg and I got worried. It started and stopped at the beginning and then eventually it just wouldn’t go away.   It only bothered me when I was resting. And that’s when I went to a doctor.”

She knows she had symptoms before. She had a couple of falls and other symptoms 5 years prior that she attributed to age. “When you look back it kind of resonates. I always had a reduced sense of smell. I broke my nose when I was 10 and so I never thought of that as a symptom.”

Initially she went to her internist who said “You don’t have Parkinson’s”. “I said maybe I have Parkinson’s since my mother had it. My mother had been bedridden for a number of years with Parkinson’s before she died. Then Linda went to a general neurologist and he said ‘I don’t know, you need to go to a movement specialist.’ I was going to NY to visit my children, so he suggested I go to a movement specialist in NY, which I did , and then I went to UCLA afterwards. They said time will tell. And they were right. It took 2 years to find the right doctor to treat her.”

She gets her info about PD from groups like ours, and from her doctors who have also given her a lot of information. Because she goes back and forth to NY so often, she also sees a doctor in NY who is one of the premier PD doctors in the US. All of her doctors have agreed on a course of action, and progression, which is comforting to know that the best doctors think along the same lines.

Linda started with Azilect, then the Neupro patch, which they recalled. Then Requip. And now Sinimet. It is the same medicine her mother was on. “I do see a difference after several years. It wears off sooner, I have to take it more often, but I am still on a relatively low dose.”

She is in a telemedicine study with the University of San Francisco. She thinks it is terrible, it has a long way to go to make it work. She is interested in the exercise study at USC, but travels too much to participate.

So what keeps her going?  Linda is doing the things she likes, like volunteering to teach this dance program.   It is satisfying and keeps her going.   She takes dance classes that are not so hard, but she is still dancing. And her grandchildren are her vitamins.   She travels often to see them.

What makes her experience so unique? Her mother had PD. She sees how different her life is than her mother’s was with PD. Her mother wasn’t active, so the trajectory of her disease was very different. She had a different life and wasn’t well. Linda says “I see all of us making the most of a situation that can make you want to crawl up into a ball and do nothing. But we are not letting it. We are trying not to let it.

Her one piece of advice for others is to keep moving. It really makes a difference.

Gail 

Gail was diagnosed about 4 years ago. In about 2005 she noticed her foot bouncing occasionally at odd times. She got a referral to a neurologist who said it was something neurological, but he didn’t know what. If it gets worse come back. In 2008 she thought it was getting more frequent and went to Dr. Steven Sykes at Cedars, who also said he didn’t know what it is, but if it gets worse come back.   November, 2011, while at a movie, she realized she had a tremor in her left hand and whispered to her husband “I have Parkinson’s.” I went to Dr. Sykes in December, who said he had good news and bad news. The bad news is that she did have Parkinson’s, but the good news is look how long it took to get to this point. In 2008, he had written in her record Parkinsonism. Something like, but he couldn’t make the diagnoses at that time. He thought I would have a slow progression and I think I have. I went on Azilect right a way. Started Sinimet about a year ago when I realized that my balance was off and I was stiff and I wasn’t moving. I could look in the mirror and see that it wasn’t me. The Sinimet really helps.

She goes to 3 support groups. She has made wonderful friends and learns a lot in the groups. The doctors don’t experience the weird little things that happen to us. We can always ask in the groups “does anyone have????”

Apathy has never been a problem for her. She goes to exercise classes and has so many activities to choose from. She loves the exercise class at the Westside Pavilion.   When she first started she could barely do many of the movements and has seen a big improvement in what she can do.

What makes her story unique? Loving support groups. If you reach out and use the support groups, it is very valuable. The thing that is really exciting to her is that she is on the board of the new PD organization that is starting in LA.

Her advice to the newly diagnosed: find all of the kinds of exercise and do the things that you enjoy and go to support groups.

growing-old-cartoon-doctor

I hope to continue to interview more people with PD in the coming months and post their stories here.  Guys, that includes you, too.   Please contact me directly if you would like to share your PD story.

Parkinson’s Awareness Month and More

There is much to share with you this week.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month.  Join the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation Team During Parkinson’s Awareness Month    Friday, April 1- Saturday, April 30 (Online & around the US)

What will you do to help raise awareness this April, Parkinson’s Awareness Month? Join the team to #EndParkinsons with PDF and help make a difference in the PD community!

Click Here to Learn More

Last month, my Movement Disorders doctor, Indu Subramanian, asked me to write about my experiences with yoga and PD for the Brian Grant Foundation’s Power Through Project.  She worked with a yoga instructor to produce videos for the website about the benefits of yoga for People with Parkinson’s.  My story and Dr. Subramanian’s videos are now up on the  Power Through Project website.

Sunday, we had another great meeting for Women living with PD in Los Angeles.  Invertigo Dance Theater’s Sofia Klass and Linda Berghoff (also a PWP) teach Dancing Through Parkinson’s in various locations around LA.  They led us through dance sequences IMG_0824designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s Disease.  Special thanks to the The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for hosting us.  I had the opportunity to interview 2 more women about their experiences with Parkinson’s.  This has been a great way to share our journeys with other women and to help all of us better understand this disease that is changing our lives.  I will post their interviews later this week.

Have a great week.

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