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Taking the fight out of Parkinson's disease

Taking the fight out of Parkinson’s disease

Peggy Sue Susany walked 3 to 5 miles a day for years, until she developed Parkinson’s disease (PD). She was about to give up on walking, working, and driving until she met with experts at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cahouet Center for Comprehensive Parkinson’s Care. They recommend she take up boxing. Now her symptoms are under control and there are days when she forgets she has PD. Living Proof that patients like Peggy Sue can conquer disease one jab at a time.

Taking her best shot against Parkinson’s

Walking was Peggy Sue’s favorite exercise until she developed a cramping sensation in her toes. She began to trip often, and her confident stride turned into more of a shuffle. She recognized the symptoms from her father’s experience with Parkinson’s disease.

After unproductive meetings with three doctors, she heard about the grand opening of the AHN Cahouet Center in Bellevue. She attended out of desperation.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to drive any more or go to work. I wasn’t doing well,” said Peggy Sue. “I went there, and it changed my life.”

At the Cahouet Center she met with Dr. Timothy Leichliter, AHN neurologist, Parkinson’s specialist, and medical director of the Cahouet Center and David Von Hofen, director of programs and services for the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania. Dr. Leichliter changed her medication and encouraged her to start boxing.

“Exercise is known to be the best medicine for PD,” said Dr. Leichliter. “Boxing is a good way to get people up and active in a fun way.”

“When you have Parkinson's disease, the body stiffens and slows down,” he added. “Tremors set in. Everything becomes more difficult. Simple tasks that most people take for granted, they now have to think about. It becomes very frustrating.”

Boxing also helps PD patients work on balance, according to Dr. Leichliter. Poor balance is dangerous because it can lead to falls and serious injury.

Fighting for a normal life

At first, Peggy Sue was skeptical. Her children encouraged her to give boxing a try.

“I was shaking when they put gloves on my hands for the first time,” said Peggy Sue. “I thought, ‘What did I get myself into?’”

She enrolled in a class for Parkinson’s patients, Rock Steady Pittsburgh, at Fit 4 Boxing Club in Allison Park. Now, she works out two days a week for an hour, punching at bags and opponents’ gloves. Since she began training, her balance and ability to walk have improved. Her life has returned to normal.

“Now I cook, clean, and do yard work. When I’m driving, I’m not a hazard on the road,” said Peggy Sue. “The best part is, now I can go shopping with my daughter. We love to shop.”

“They [PD patients] improve significantly — not only physically but mentally as well,” said Dr. Leichliter. “The class doubles as a support group, because they are with people suffering from the same disease and battling the same fights.”

According to Dr. Leichliter, over 1 million people in the U.S. suffer from PD and about 200,000 new patients are diagnosed every year.

Complete care under one roof

AHN and the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania designed the Cahouet Center to serve people with PD so they could receive all the care they need in one building. It provides patients a single point of contact for scheduling appointments with a variety of specialists including:

  • Neurologists and neurosurgeons who specialize in movement disorders
  • LSVT BIG®-certified physical and occupational therapists and LSVT LOUD®-certified speech therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Dietitians
  • Exercise specialists

The Cahouet Center also connects patients like Peggy Sue to a support network. “They have so much information,” she said. “When I met David from the Parkinson Foundation, it was like I found a friend. He understood exactly what I was going through.” 

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