Yep, I am a Tigers fan! (I'm a Detroit Lions fan too, even though I have to wonder if they will ever get into a Super Bowl before I die!!) I remember the 1968 Tigers in the World Series (I had the baseball card of EVERY Tiger player that year... unfortunately, my Dad... well that's a story for another time), but more recently I remember the 1984 Tigers, who won the World Series in 5 games (otherwise known as "The Roar of '84"). One of the biggest reasons for the Tigers winning that series was Kirk Gibson, or 'Gibby' as he is known.
That is why I was somewhat saddened to hear a couple of years ago (2015 to be exact) that he also had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But Tuesday night my wife and I attended a presentation entitled 'Team Up To Beat Parkinson's Disease' that featured Gibby as the keynote speaker. And after hearing him speak, I am still sad that he too now has to go through this journey like myself and many others, but I am also very much inspired and encouraged by his hope, passion, and his "Don't give up!" attitude!
So in this post I thought I would cover some of the topics from the presentation, along with some of the high points of Gibby's keynote. It inspired me, and although I cannot even begin to convey Gibby's humor (he is a funny guy!) I hope I can convey enough of what he said to inspire you as well!
Team Up To Beat Parkinson's
The first part of the session was given by Spectrum Health, and featured a small panel that talked a bit about their role in treating Parkinson's in the Grand Rapids area. Originally people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson's had to go to Detroit to get any kind of neurological care, and the doctors kept asking themselves the question 'Why do patients have to travel so far to get the proper care?' And that is one reason why there is now such good neuro care in West Michigan. Some of these same doctors came to the GR area and started specialized neuro care facilities such as Spectrum Health Neurosciences, Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences, and the like. Without this happening I'm sure myself and others would have to travel to Detroit all the time for care.
Next they gave an overview of Parkinson's disease, symptoms, diagnosis, etc. I'm not going to go into all this, because most of us probably know this information already (especially if you have been reading this blog or have PD yourself). But some of the statistics were mind boggling: There are 1.2 million people in the US alone suffering from this disease; 60,000 new people are diagnosed each year in the US; and 30,000 here in Michigan are afflicted with Parkinson's. What blew me away, though, was that 1 in every 2 people over 60 years old will end up being diagnosed with Parkinson's!!
They also talked about how, even with PD, we can still live a fruitful life; and have a better quality of life. As long as we take care of ourselves, exercise, see a Movement Disorder Specialist/Neurologist, and take charge of our own destiny, our lives can still be full. Finally they talked about having a multidisciplinary approach to the disease is what works best for the patient; this is exactly what I had to do to go through with my DBS surgery. Working with not only a neurologist, but PT, psychology, psychiatry, speech therapy, nutrition, and others can help each patient through their particular symptoms (because no two patients are alike!) One of their final thoughts that I remember was to "Focus on the things you CAN control, not the things you can't!", which I thought was excellent advice (I know I sometime focus on the wrong things!)
Kirk "Gibby' Gibson
Next up was a video about Kirk Gibson's career. There were a couple of things I didn't know about Kirk Gibson - One is that he is the same age as I am: 59 (but he did say he will turn 60 shortly). Another thing I never knew was that Kirk almost ended up playing football! While at Michigan State University, he was a star on the football team, and everyone thought he would be one of the first picks in the NFL draft; however, he decided to try baseball in his last year, and was so good that the Tigers drafted him before the NFL could! I never knew we came that close to losing a great and legendary Tiger!
And of course he was instrumental in the Tigers World Series win in 1984, including his clinching home run off Goose Gossage in the eighth inning of Game 5. One thing you may not know is that Gibby's first time at bat in the major leagues was against Gossage, who struck him out with three pitches! Gibby got revenge that day, and cemented his status as a Tiger legend!
Kirk Gibson now broadcasts Tiger games on Fox Sports Detroit. When we had watched him on TV, he never really showed any signs of Parkinson's - but we only saw him from the waist up. When Gibby came out to speak after the video (BTW he is a BIG guy!) it was obvious to me and I know to others that he had PD a lot longer than 2015. Like a lot of us, he walked around the stage rather slowly and I could see the PD stiffness in him - because I had seen it in me before.
Irregardless, Gibby's personality and humor were quite the opposite - he had obviously come to grips with his diagnosis and wasn't going to let it slow him down or defeat him! He started off talking about himself pre-Parkinson's - about his time at MSU, football vs. baseball, getting drafted by the Tigers in 1975, and about his famous home run in '84. He had many funny stories about himself and some of the people who inspired him - Sparky Anderson, Jim Leyland, and players both on the Tigers and later the DiamondBacks.
It turns out that Kirk had symptoms for many years before he was diagnosed - maybe 10 or more. He told about times with the DiamondBacks where his players knew something was wrong - the way he would hold his left hand in while running and where it not swing freely (a common symptom). Or how his foot would drag while running the bases or just walking out to the diamond. But it was during the Tigers opening day in 2015 in which he was broadcasting that was the final straw - he related how he was barely able to even go through with the broadcast and interviews that day, and then he knew for sure something wasn't right and that it wasn't going away. After seeing his regular physician, and being sent to a movement disorders specialist, and then - like me - having a DATscan and assessment, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's.
Like all of us who have been diagnosed, being told you had Parkinson's was scary, shocking, and caused a flood of emotions. But with Gibby, rather than denying it or just giving up, he accepted it, understood as much as he could about it, and then 'Came up with a game plan'. He decided, like Michael J Fox, that he could use his personality and awareness to help others. As he said, "This is who I am now". He believes he can have an impact and help as many people as he can. Just to go home and keep quiet about his disease was not an option for him - he wanted to have a purpose.
One of the things that has helped him in this was baseball - because, as he stressed, you have to play baseball as a TEAM. It takes teamwork to win, and it is no different in dealing with Parkinson's. You have to work with your team - neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, etc. - in order to keep yourself in the best shape you can. And that it is a choice - you yourself have to choose to get up and do something about your disease - and NEVER EVER GIVE UP!
He then brought up on the stage (to their surprise I think) both his physical and speech therapists. It was obvious that he admired and respected both of these women for their dedication to helping him with this disease... but he was also not above having them assist him in not only injecting some humor into the discussion but also to illustrate some of the exercises a Parkinson's patient has to do to try to maintain their balance, speech, and mental capabilities. That ended up being expanded to the entire audience, as we all had to stand up and practice the 'counting' exercise! (Most of us with PD know what I am talking about!)
He also expressed his support for caregivers, including his wife, JoAnn. How caregivers are a part of the team, and sometimes they too are overwhelmed and need some 'time off'. Not only that, but that those of us with PD need to share how we are feeling with our caregivers, because there are days when, no matter what, we just feel... well, crappy. And we don't know what to do about it and sometimes don't say anything, which just makes things worse. He likened it to working on a puzzle; sometimes you just get stuck. You look and look but just can't figure out where the next piece goes. Then (as he said) your wife walks by, picks up a piece, and immediately finds the right place in the puzzle for that piece (which drew tons of laughter from the audience). That turns the 'light' on and then before you know it, you've found and placed a dozen new pieces in the puzzle.
Gibby, like MJF, also has a foundation called the Kirk Gibson Foundation whose slogan, like Gibby himself, is 'Through Collaboration, Cooperation and Teamwork...We can find a cure!'
All in all, it was a funny, informative and inspirational evening. I can only hope that I will be as strong as Kirk Gibson is through my journey with Parkinson's, and that I, like him, can use my talents - and this blog - to help others on the same journey.
Thank you, Gibby!