By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) – Parkinson disease affects a million Americans.
Actor Michael J. Fox has it, and St. Louis broadcaster Jack Buck was diagnosed before his death in 2002.
Now, you can help support those with Parkinson by playing in a golf tournament to raise money for research and support for those with the disease.
Here’s a look what it means to live with this disease and the local effort to combat it.
“We have always been an upbeat family,” said Lynda Wiens, “you always look for a silver lining, and you always find one.”
Almost three decades ago, Lynda and Bob Wiens moved to St. Louis from Canada and raised two sons.
She was a nurse, he was a cardiologist. Bob was the physician on call for visiting presidents, the pope, and the Dean of St. Louis University’s Medical School. Then in the late 1980s he diagnosed himself with the symptoms of Parkinson disease.
“My son was about nine years, 10-years-old probably, and he wanted to know why dad could play ball with him one day and not the other,” recalled Lynda.
Parkinson is a neurological disease that causes tremors, slow movements and problems with speech. In time, Bob had to give up his medical practice. The Wiens lives changed.
“At that time we didn’t do anything for Parkinson,” said Lynda. “There wasn’t any medication, there wasn’t much treatment at all.”
Nerve damage not related to the Parkinson eventually meant using a wheelchair. What began for Lynda, was a crash course in the disease.
“It’s not a terminal illness,” said Lynda. “It doesn’t mean you can’t do things anymore. It just means you do them differently.”
In patients like Bob Wiens and others with Parkinson disease, doctors know that the chemical messenger dopamine are being destroyed. Much of the work to understand the causes and treatment of that has gone in right here at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“The advances made recently are really incredible,” said Dr. Joel Perlmutter, a neurologist and researcher at Washington University School of Medicine.
Doctors know most cases aren’t hereditary, but likely triggered by environmental exposure. And symptomatic treatment has improved dramatically thanks to new medicines and new ways of delivering old medicines like L-dopa.
“One new treatment is actually putting in a tube directly in the stomach and then administering the L-dopa continuously as a gel,” said Dr. Perlmutter. “Turns out that’s been dramatically an improvement and that research is on-going.”
Dr. Perlmutter pioneered work in a deep brain stimulator that can help control tremors. Bob had one implanted in 2000.
“It’s like a heart pacemaker in a way,” said Lynda Wiens “but you have the wires going into your brain and it makes a big difference. For him it was huge.”
That and regular exercises classes like this one at APDA Parkinson Community Resource Center.
Exercise, it turns out, improves quality of life and may even slow progression of the disease.
“With ADPA (Parkinson Community Resource Center) it was a Godsend because I don’t know where I’d be without that,” said Lynda.
Lynda’s contributions helped get the center in Chesterfield up and running. She now volunteers, and attends support group meetings.
She and Bob still enjoy travel and each other. Their lives have changed, but they’ve never given up.
“At the time I thought if we get 10 good years we’ll be lucky,” said Lynda. “And now we’re 25 years down the road and he’s still going strong. It’s a great life. We’re so blessed.”
You can support to research and resources for those with Parkinson Disease by participating in this year’s Jack Buck Memorial Golf Classic.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak is the honorary chair.