"Living" with Parkinson's
I have known Kristina Wedding-Taylor, a fellow high school teacher, since she was fourteen years old. At fourteen, she was an incredibly intelligent, more than slightly rebellious, strong minded student who knew what she wanted and was determined to accomplish all of her goals. Today, Kristina is a wildly beautiful young woman, wife and mother, who is respected by her peers and adored by her students. Unfortunately, Kristina has had to leave her career. She has Parkinson’s disease.
I met Kristina when she first came to Point Option, the school I taught at, when she was a freshman in high school. The school was a magnet school that targeted underachieving gifted students. Students, typically juniors and seniors, had to apply to attend the school and had to be interviewed as part of the application process. Kristina was the youngest student to enroll in the school, and frankly, I was not happy to have such a young student in my classes; our school was geared to more mature students. I was the sole science teacher in the school and taught Kristina the three and a half years she was enrolled in the school.
During her first year, I noticed her hands were shaking. I pulled her out of class to ask her about the shaking. It was over ten years before doctors were to determine the cause of the shaking. The trouble with diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is that is considered a disease for older people. Traditionally, Parkinson’s affects people over the age of fifty. When Michael J. Fox, was diagnosed at the age of twenty-nine, the case was highly publicized due to his star status and his youth. By twenty-nine, Parkinson had played havoc with Kristina’s body. At thirty, she must drag her body upstairs to go to bed at night because she cannot walk. On a bad day, Kristina has trouble standing, she falls out of chairs, and she cannot write. The medicine she takes makes her vomit and her petite body is rail thin. She cannot drive to work and must be accompanied whenever she leaves the house.
Through all of this, Kristina tries to create a sense of normalcy for her son. With the help of her husband and friends, Kristina is surviving. Kristina has a story to tell. During the many years prior to her diagnosis, Kristina has been told that her shaking ran in the family, that it was nerves, stress, or that it must be the medication that she took. Her complaints were brushed aside by many medical professionals. As a teenager, adults assumed she must have been doing drugs. Older men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s, not teenage girls. Her complaints were not taken seriously. It took ten years of doctors’ visits and uncontrolled symptoms before a diagnosis was made.
Although Kristina has been on the strongest medications available, including Levodopa, a prescription medication that is modified by brain enzymes to produce dopamine, her Parkinson’s is now at a point that she cannot function as a teacher. She cannot drive; on a bad day, she cannot walk or write. For people in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease a brain surgery known as deep brain stimulation is an option, unfortunately, as in any brain surgery, great risk is involved. Kristina’s Parkinson’s has also been identified as a genetic form of Parkinson’s. Since the directions for the disease resides in every cell of her body, the surgery is not an option for Kristina. Even if surgery were an option, Kristina is a parent of a twelve year old son; her doctors will not conduct the surgery.
Kristina asked me to write this article to let the world know that Parkinson’s does not affect only older adults. It can affect people of all ages. Kristina does not want sympathy; she is a tough young woman who will fight her own battles. Her stubbornness has gotten her further than any medication could. Kristina wants to tell other young people of her battle and let young people know that they need to fight for their health. Although Kristina can no longer write, she needs her story to be heard.
UPDATE: There has been an update on an experimental surgery that may be feasible for Kristina. If she is approved, it will not "cure" her but it may make some of the simple life tasks more manageable. We are keeping our fingers crossed!!
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