Though at the time having worked more than 25 years as a private investigator, Detroit police officer, and an FBI agent involved with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism, Jim Patterson of Dunedin, couldn't figure out the riddle that was his failing body.
A physician in 1996 noted his first symptoms of loss of smell and trembling fingers. But it wasn't until 2003 when another physician diagnosed Parkinson's disease.
According to the National Institutes of Health, Parkinson's disease is a motor system disorder caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The primary symptoms are limb or face tremors, limb or trunk rigidity, slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination.
Said 60-year-old Patterson, "In 2003, I filled out a patient history before seeing my physician. He looked at what I had written and said, 'My friend, you have Parkinson's disease.' I wondered how he could know because he hadn't even examined me. (Along with things I had mentioned in the patient history) he had noticed my very tiny and cramped handwriting."
Leaving the doctor's office, he felt alone and unsure of what to expect. So he began searching for more information and learned he had other symptoms. In 2006, he had to quit his job with the FBI because of being unable to drive an automobile well.
About four years ago, Patterson became an advocate for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation and has been a speaker at seminars and featured on Fox News in Tampa. Lately he's been preparing for an operation that could improve the quality of his life.
He said, "I'm very much thinking about having a deep brain stimulation operation. It involves a pacemaker-sized device being placed in your chest with electrodes running into the scalp and brain. It sends impulses to the parts of the brain controlling movement. It's not a cure, but it should help with the symptoms and my life likely will be better."
He has a consultation in November with National Institutes of Health physicians in Maryland. He knows about six people that have had the operation, and all have been satisfied with the results. The operation has risks.
To people recently diagnosed, he said, "First, if you're capable, start exercising, which helps you stay limber and fight the disease. Also, find a support group and keep up to date on information about the disease. That how I learned about deep brain stimulation."
For more stories of courage in disability, visit www.danieljvance.com or find them on Facebook at "Disabilities By Daniel J. Vance." LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.