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Stillwater Couple Getting Parkinson's Patients into Treatment Studies
- Feb 05 2013
By Mary Divine, email@example.com
In July 2009, during one of their daily dog walks, Libbe Erickson noticed that her husband, Kim, was dragging his feet.
A year later, Kim, a pilot for Delta Airlines, was on a layover in Honolulu. He got up one morning, went into the bathroom of his hotel and started shaving. He looked into the mirror and saw that his right hand was shaking.
"It wasn't from being tired or from working out," Kim Erickson said. "I had just woken up; I was fairly rested."
When he got home, Erickson went to see a neurologist in Stillwater. The diagnosis: Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the brain that leads to tremors as well as trouble with walking, movement and coordination.
There is no known cure, but the Ericksons, who live in Grant, are working to change that.
The couple became research advocates for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation and are working to get other Parkinson's patients involved in studies that could lead to new drugs.
"The only way we're going to make advances is if people living with Parkinson's participate in research studies," Kim Erickson said. "The real hindrance with Parkinson's research right now is the number of study participants is so low."
Only about 1 percent of Parkinson's patients participate in research studies, compared with 5 percent of cancer patients, according to the Ericksons.
Parkinson's is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly and affects an estimated 20,000 people in Minnesota.
The disease slowly destroys the nerve cells in the brain that make a chemical called dopamine. Without the chemical, the brain cannot properly send messages related to movement, which leads to the loss of muscle function.
Symptoms of Parkinson's disease typically begin appearing between the ages of 50 and 60. The most common symptoms include tremors; stiff muscles; slow, limited movement; difficulty with walking and balance; and weakness of the face and throat muscles.
To combat his symptoms, Kim Erickson, 57, does yoga for balance and range of motion and rides a stationary bike. Much to his 2-year-old granddaughter's glee, he also practices "big and loud" movements and exercises in which he will walk with an exaggerated gait and move his arms and face in "big" ways.
"I'm like a 5-year-old girl at the end of her dance recital: TA-DAH!" he said, stretching his arms out and smiling widely.
"Having two young granddaughters is wonderful because I get to practice on them; they don't care. With Ellie, the oldest, we walk down the street doing the big-and-loud walk, and she's there with Grandpa walking big and loud and exaggerating all her facial expressions, too."
Studying a Drug
Kim Erickson also is participating in a National Institutes of Health clinical trial led locally by Dr. Martha Nance, medical director of Park Nicollet Health Services' Struthers Parkinson's Center in Golden Valley.
The 44-week trial -- called the FS-ZONE study -- involves Pioglitazone, a drug used to treat diabetes. The drug helps stabilize the metabolic disarray that appears inside the cells of people who have diabetes and may do the same for those who have Parkinson's.
Nance said the best candidates for clinical trials to treat Parkinson's are people who have just been diagnosed and are not yet taking any medication. "But it's hard to get those people to participate in research," she said. "They don't even want to be there in the first place."
Study participants like Erickson are key to finding better treatments to the disease, said Nance, who also serves as a professor of clinical neurology at the University of Minnesota.
"You have to have a certain sense of wonder about the world -- a sense of interest in trying to push back the frontiers," she said. "I can't find better treatments for Parkinson's disease without the help of the patients of today. The patients of tomorrow will never have better treatments for their disease unless I do the research."
The Ericksons, who have been married for 30 years, say they are working for a cure for the disease to help their two children and two granddaughters in case they are ever diagnosed.
In the meantime, the couple are trying to stay active. They exercise at Anytime Fitness in Stillwater and walk their three dogs -- Remy, a black standard poodle; Rider, a white standard poodle; and Gabby, a Jack Russell terrier -- on their 8-acre property in Grant, just west of Manning Avenue.
Some days, Kim Erickson can make it four miles. Sometimes, he can't walk up the hill.
As for diet, Kim Erickson said his wife eats the healthful foods in the family.
"I'm more on the junk-food side," he said. "Unfortunately, Peanut M & M's aren't a cure. If they were, I'd be cured."
Mary Divine can be reached at (651) 228-5443. Follow her at twitter.com/MaryEDivine.
How to Help
Anyone with Parkinson's disease interested in participating in research may contact the Parkinson's Disease Foundation at (800) 457-6676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who don't have the disease also are encouraged to learn about advocating for Parkinson's research by completing the foundation's free Parkinson's Advocates in Research course at pdf.org/paironline.
Source Date: Feb 05 2013
Source Publication: St. Paul Pioneer Press
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