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Parkinson’s patient completes bike marathon

Thursday December 18, 2008

Kim Nguyen

Plano Courier - In July 2008, Lori McWilliams’ life turned upside-down after doctors diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease.

At 45, McWilliams felt she was at the top of her game. She loved her job as a kindergarten teacher at McKinney Christian Academy. With a degree in deaf education, she was very active in the deaf community and taught sign language.

“I was overwhelmed with sadness. I lingered on things that I would not be able to do in the future,” the Allen resident said. “I still wanted to be a good mother and good grandmother. I thought, ‘Why me?’”

With the support of her family and friends, she accepted the cold, hard truth and became determined to continue doing everything she loved despite her diagnosis. She immediately cut back on stress, changed her eating patterns, began exercising and started taking the medications to combat Parkinson’s disease.

“It took a lot of support from my husband and family, but mostly self-determination,” McWilliams said. “I tried not to complain about it and didn’t let it bring me down. Hopefully, I have encouraged my children to fight to overcome their obstacles in life.”

In April, McWilliams was in New York as part of a book-launch campaign for “Proud Hands: Personal Victories with Parkinson’s - A Show of Hands,” a collection of success stories from people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Teva Neuroscience, Inc. and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA) partnered to compile the stories for the book. McWilliams is one of the featured stories.

Another of the Parkinson’s patients featured in the book suggested to McWilliams to participate in the El Tour de Tucson bicycling marathon. She immediately signed up to ride on a tandem bicycle with her husband.

McWilliams' determination climaxed as she and her husband took part in the 26th annual University Medical Center El Tour de Tucson in November. Riding alongside the Teva Neuroscience team supporting the Arizona Chapter of the APDA, the McWilliamses completed the 35-mile bike journey.

“It was so exhilarating to cross the finish line,” McWilliams said. “I felt awesome and so positive, especially because we were riding to raise awareness of Parkinson’s.”

McWilliams was so pumped after finishing the marathon that she wanted to go again.

“I have this new motto: I may have Parkinson’s disease, but Parkinson’s disease does not have me,” McWilliams said. “It may take a while to overcome the shock, but never give up.”

According to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, Parkinson’s disease (PD) was first described in 1817 by James Parkinson, in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy. It is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning it is caused by degeneration, or dysfunction and death, of neurons within the brain. Parkinson’s causes motor and non-motor symptoms.

The disease is believed to affect approximately one million people in the United States. Misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s is common, however, so this figure is not precise. The likelihood of developing the disease increases with age, typically beginning in people between the ages of 50- 60, and slowly progresses with increasing age. The average age of onset is 62.4 years. Onset before age 30 is rare, but up to 10 percent of cases begin by age 40.