George Leggett with his wife and caretaker Patti Leggett at their home in Fruitvale.

George Leggett with his wife and caretaker Patti Leggett at their home in Fruitvale.

Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month – Disease remains difficult to diagnose

Fruitvale resident George Leggett has been suffering from the effects Parkinson's disease since 2007.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

In the Friday, Apr. 5 edition of the Trail Times, the article “Disease remains difficult to diagnose” the correct website address is www.parkinson.bc.ca.

The tulip, for many people, is just another flower to be seen in the garden or in a floral arrangement; nice to look at and not much more.

But for 77-year-old Fruitvale resident George Walter Leggett, along with 11,000 others in British Columbia suffering with Parkinson’s disease, it’s a symbol of hope, for a cure and a better future.

April has been designated as Parkinson’s Awareness Month. The disease is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder, next to Alzheimer’s. And, like Alzheimer’s, it has no known cure.

It causes the dopamine producing cells in the brain to die, which in turn results in an onslaught of various symptoms that range from daytime sleepiness, aches and pains, muscle weakness and the most common, tremors and shaking.

The vast number of symptoms associated with Parkinson’s can make it difficult to diagnose and such was the case with George Leggett who finally after years of searching, was recently diagnosed.

Back in 2007, Leggett went in for a usual checkup at the clinic, where he told his doctor he had been experiencing numbness and tingling in his extremities.

“I kept telling the doctor my feet are cold all of the time,” Leggett recalled.

The doctor then referred him to a specialist in Nelson who diagnosed him with peripheral neuropathy, a condition typical of diabetics.

“I don’t have diabetes and I got (peripheral neuropathy),” he said.

After being diagnosed George began experiencing muscle weakness and his wife and caretaker Patti Leggett couldn’t understand where this was coming from.

This lead to another visit to the doctor who suggested physiotherapy.

The therapy went on for quite some time and the weakness kept progressing.

The Leggetts eventually had to sell their home because there were too many stairs for George.

But their home wasn’t the only change caused by the weakness.

“George used to go out for hours and clean up around the community. Picking up bottles, trash, anything he could find,” Patti said.

“Then one day it got too difficult and I said ‘I’m not going out anymore,’” George added.

George was also forced to cut back on more activities he enjoyed, including curling, camping and even travelling the province which he and Patti would engage in frequently.

Then while he was visiting the physiotherapist again they noticed something they hadn’t quite picked up on earlier.

“One day at physio, George was sitting there and his hands were just shaking uncontrollably,” his wife said.

“The therapist said, ‘I think you may have Parkinson’s you should see your doctor again,’” George added.

So, another trip was made to the local doctor and he prescribed medication for Parkinson’s although not entirely sure that was the cause.

In addition to the prescription, the doctor sent George to see a heart specialist regarding a heart attack he had experienced in previous years.

“The heart specialist also figured it was Parkinson’s and referred him to yet another neurologist in Kelowna,” Patti explained.

This is where the chase finally ended.

“The specialist in Kelowna was more concerned about the muscle weakness and it seemed he wasn’t even going to tell us about the Parkinson’s,” Patti said.

“We asked him on the way out if that’s what it was and he confirmed it.” George remarked.

In a way it was a weight off their shoulders knowing it was Parkinson’s disease, and they could start dealing with it more effectively.

They both attend the Parkinson’s support group, led by Renice Townsend, which meets once a month for lunch at the Colander restaurant to discuss symptoms, exercises and research progress into the disease.

“We’ve done two eight-week sessions of Tai Chi and it really helps. It’s supposed to be the best thing to do for Parkinson’s,” said Patti.

In addition, George does exercises regularly and joins in with the walking group in his community to keep his muscles engaged. And for his mind he reads, and plays coordination and other game types on his iPad.

His efforts appear to be paying off. His last visit to physio left his therapist pleasantly surprised.

Muscle strength and coordination have improved and swelling in the extremities has gone down significantly.

Great news regarding Parkinson’s research surfaced on Tuesday when U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neuro-technologies (BRAIN) project. The project aims to map the human brain and discover things such as how memory and behaviour work and how diseases such as Parkinson’s come to be.

For more information on the local support group and Parkinson’s awareness month contact Townsend at 250-367-7437.  Parkinson’s Disease Foundation has  many ways for you to show your support at www.parkinson.bc.ca.