I’m Benjamin ‘B.J.’ Bement. I was diagnosed with PD in October 2013 at the age of 44.
I was employed at a chemical plant for 18 years. Leading up to my initial symptoms I had taken three rounds of strong steroids in 2012 in response to three health issues that include a pinched cervical nerve with neuropathy, severe bronchitis and an adverse reaction to blood pressure medication. I left work on New Year’s weekend unaware I would not be returning.
After the hives and swelling abated, my energy and stamina did not return. My fatigue grew worse. I could not walk more than 100 yards without feeling like I would collapse. I stabilized myself with a cane or hanging onto a shopping cart at the store. I was too weak to pass the pulmonary test to resume work.
I started an aggressive search for answers. Over the next 10 months, I would see 14 different specialists and make more than 100 visits to doctors’ offices or labs. I wouldn’t take, “I don’t know” for an answer.
My general practitioner took 14 vials of blood to conduct every test he could think of. They all came back negative. My cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and everything else were okay for a man of my size.
About five months later, I picked up a CD, splaying my fingers out to grip the wide plastic case. My hand started wavering backward and forward. I immediately thought it was probably something neurological.
It took a couple of months to see a general neurologist. He pursued multiple sclerosis tests, which came back negative. He referred me to a movement disorders specialist (MDS) [a neurologist with specialized training], who ordered a DaTscan to ‘rule out Parkinson’s,’ but it was positive.
The MDS placed me on carbidopa/levodopa, which resulted in immediate improvement, confirming the Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis. I was put on short term, then long term disability. Although I had good benefits, they wouldn’t last forever, so I hired a lawyer to handle my Social Security filing.
I entered the holiday season of 2013 without a path forward. I had a four-month pity party mourning the loss of my past life. After the last holiday and the last football game, I had nothing else to distract me.
I began to search online for answers. I stumbled across a support group on Facebook and commented on some posts. A wonderful person named Michelle Lane replied and invited me to Washington D.C. for a Parkinson’s Action Network conference and Hill Day. I had no idea what to expect and was scared to meet people who were further along than me.
After I arrived, I saw there was nothing to worry about. Over the next three days I saw many people with more advanced symptoms being extremely passionate, active and hopeful. This began my advocacy journey.
I have since worked with many organizations and committees. I am in my third year of serving on the People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council for the Parkinson’s Foundation, my first year on the newly formed Gulf Coast Chapter Board, and my fourth year as chair of Moving Day Baton Rouge.
I have many ideas that I would love to see take life. Although I have been in advocacy for almost 10 solid years, I feel I am just getting started.
I could not make this journey without my awesome wife Kelly, my family, my church family, my local PD support group members, and the Parkinson’s Foundation staff. Here’s to another 10 years of new beginnings.