Patient, father, athlete
It all started with a skin twitch on my left arm just above my wrist.
It was October 2006, we lived in sunny Miami, Florida, I had just retired after 12 years as a power forward in the NBA, because of my bad knees.
After the holidays, I lost my internal fire and passion and I was feeling depressed. My couch, television, bowl after bowl of Captain Crunch and I had developed too close of a relationship. My family and friends were worried about me. Everyone thought I was taking my retirement hard. When I retired from the NBA, I prayed to God to show me what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life.
That bothersome skin twitch on my lower left arm spread. One day I noticed my left hand started shaking and I dropped my car keys again and again. I knew something wasn’t right.
So, like during my playing days, I went to the doctor to get checked out. As a professional athlete, I’m used to having injuries. You go to the doctor – if it’s necessary, have surgery, get rehab and get well. When my knees hurt, I had surgery, did rehab and recovered. With the right medical care and diligent rehab, you always get better. Well, this time I didn’t. The doctor couldn’t figure out why my hand was shaking and thought it was triggered by stress and it would go away.
By this time, my family and I had moved backed to Portland, Oregon. I was still feeling blue, my left hand was still shaking, but I was happy to be back with my neighbors and friends in Oregon. I played for three seasons for the Trail Blazers and always felt at home in Portland.
I just couldn’t shake the sadness I was feeling.
After more doctor visits, I ended up meeting with Dr. John Nutt, who is a neurologist at Oregon Health Science University, one of the country’s most renowned research and patient care facilities. When I was a player, I visited a lot of seriously ill children at OHSU and I always admired the excellent level of care they give their patients.
At an appointment in November 2008, Dr. Nutt diagnosed me with young onset Parkinson’s disease. I had put on some pounds from all those bowls of Captain Crunch, and was convinced and distracted that Dr. Nutt’s scale at his office wasn’t right. The news of my Parkinson’s diagnosis just didn’t really sink in at the time. I guess I was in shock at hearing that I had the disease.
At the time, the only thing I knew about Parkinson’s were the famous people who have the disease – Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox. I didn’t know anyone personally. I thought to myself, “I’m 6’ 9” – how am I going to manage that?”
Lucky for me, Dr. Nutt sits on the Michael J. Fox Foundation Board. So, I was able to get word to Michael J. Fox and was fortunate to have a phone conversation with him. Now that I had the diagnosis, I struggled with going public with the news I have Parkinson’s. Michael really helped me during those early phone conversations. He’s so optimistic and positive. He did tell me that if I went public, I have a responsibility to help in the fight and to help others struggling with the disease.
Michael told me you have to rule Parkinson’s, you can't let Parkinson’s rule you. Looking back, I was probably a little scared too. I had played against some powerful opponents during my years in the NBA – guys like Charles Barkley, Shaq, and Karl Malone. But, nothing I have experienced is like living day to day with Parkinson’s – a disease there is no fix for, no cure, no surgery to repair.
I took Michael’s words to heart. Since I went public in May 2009, I’ve been connecting with other Parkinson’s patients.
Based on my own experience and those of my new brothers and sisters living with Parkinson’s, it became clear to me that when people are just diagnosed, they need more support than is currently out there.
So in August 2011, with the generous support of friends, neighbors, sponsors and the Parkinson’s community in Portland, my Foundation was able to launch the first phase of our new website, “Powering Forward.org”. It’s a place for newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers to visit to learn more about the disease from others living with it, connect and get support so they can be empowered and inspired to live their lives to the fullest.
My prayers have been answered. Parkinson’s isn’t anything I would have expected or thought would happen to me, but I feel a deep calling to help others live their best lives, to be a great father to my sons and daughters and to “Power Forward” through my life day to day and count my blessings.