Share The Health

A Positive Outlook on Parkinson's Disease

04-05-2016

George Callan can often be found walking through Frederick Memorial Hospital with a smile on his face and a friendly greeting to offer. As a Software Solutions and Training Specialist at FMH, George has the right mindset for helping others. Whether it’s related to computer needs and software issues, or more personal topics like coping with a life-changing diagnosis, George tries to maintain a positive attitude.

In 2010, George started to notice changes during daily walks; “I’ve always liked to go for a walk, inside or outside, depending on the weather. During my walks I started noticing that my left foot and left side were becoming weak. It felt like my foot would drop.” Concerned about becoming stranded away from home, George stopped going for walks outside and started looking for answers. Each doctor George visited sent him to another specialist, ranging from a rheumatologist to a neurosurgeon. After hearing the name of a local neurologist several times, George decided that would be his next step.

“Within ten minutes of meeting Dr. Ernest Clevinger, and discussing my symptoms, I was diagnosed.”

After almost a year of looking for answers, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in August of 2011. The very next day, he shared the news with his co-workers – just minutes after their staff meeting had been interrupted by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the East Coast. He states, “My news wasn’t quite as earthshaking as the quake, but I was able to ask my colleagues to help me watch for symptoms and signs that my meds might need to be adjusted. My friends and coworkers have been amazingly supportive.”

Interested in learning how other colleagues were dealing with PD and its effects on their lives and work, George invited others to share their experiences with him, hoping their insights could help him as he looks to the future. “Some of my coworkers either had relatives or knew people with PD and it was helpful to hear about their experiences. To be surrounded by very supportive and encouraging people made a world of difference to me in the beginning.”

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson’s disease was first characterized extensively by an English doctor, James Parkinson, in 1817. Today, we understand Parkinson’s disease to be a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to fire without normal control, leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement. Parkinson’s disease is one of several diseases categorized by clinicians as movement disorders.

Common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Tremor or Shaking
  • Small Handwriting
  • Loss of Smell
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Trouble Moving or Walking
  • Constipation
  • A Soft or Low Voice
  • Masked Face or Serious Facial Expression
  • Dizziness or Fainting
  • Stooping or Hunching Over

According to the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, there is no “one way” to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. There are no readily available lab tests, screenings, or scans that could confirm a PD diagnosis. If an individual displays at least four of the main motor symptoms (shaking/tremor, slowness of movement, stiffness, and trouble with balance), a combination of screenings and diagnostic testing will confirm a Parkinson’s diagnosis. For George, he learned that “once you start taking medication for PD, if symptoms subside, then you most likely have Parkinson’s disease.”

After his diagnosis, George’s doctors were able to teach him some self-assessment tests, as well as ways to recognize some of his own symptoms. And while he’s currently on his third PD specialist (the first two having left the area), George stresses the importance of seeing the right medical professionals, “a good neurologist is really the key to diagnosis, treatment, and medication selection and management.”

Once treatment began, George relied on his support systems, at home and at work, to tell him if the medicines were working. Using a helpful checklist, George was able to tell others what to look out for. “I asked coworkers to alert me if they noticed symptoms. If you see symptoms early on in the disease, the medications aren’t working. I’m not always aware of the symptoms taking place so I needed their help.”

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. Researchers believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors can play a role in the development of the disease. However, the biggest risk factor for Parkinson’s disease is advancing age, affecting 1 in 100 people over the age of 60, with men at a somewhat higher risk than women. To learn more about Parkinson’s disease, risk factors, diagnosis, and much more; visit www.michaeljfox.org and www.parkinson.org for the most up-to-date information.

Today, almost 5 years after his diagnosis, George still maintains a positive outlook on life. Acknowledging his faith in Christ to be his greatest source of encouragement, George adds “Be an encourager. The more you can encourage others the more you’ll encourage yourself. Offer a smile, say hello, and continue to encourage others.” While he still encounters peaks and valleys relating to his disease, George recognizes his limitations and works around them; “I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, I guess.”

Categories: Working at FMH