Michael J. Fox has lived with Parkinson's disease for more than 20 years and, though the disease has affected Fox's mobility and speech, he continues to thrive with the help of medication, enough so to launch his own new TV sitcom, “The Michael J. Fox Show,” this fall.
Fox is an example of how people with Parkinson's disease can actively manage the disease and stay busy doing the work they love. He's worked tirelessly during the past two decades to fund research for improved treatments and, hopefully, to find a cure for Parkinson's disease.
Another such person with young-onset Parkinson's disease working to find a cure is Dr. Nicole Jarvis, a Norman OB-GYN.
Jarvis was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease at age 38, less than two years ago. Since, she's on a crusade of sorts to raise money for national research and treatment for Oklahomans with Parkinson's disease.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research includes about 1,600 Team Fox fundraising groups worldwide, but before Jarvis formed one, there was no Team Fox in Oklahoma. Jarvis formed her team in August and by December, through door-to-door efforts and her first Nicole Jarvis MD Winter Gala for Parkinson's Disease Research, Jarvis' team raised $115,000.
In April, Jarvis was honored at an awards dinner hosted by Fox in New York for her team's ranking as the 12th highest fundraising team for all Teams Fox.
In January, Jarvis formed the Nicole Jarvis MD Parkinson's Research Foundation Inc., including a board with 12 members. Among those members are Mike Fowler, CEO of Fowler Holding Co. and Fowler Auto Group; Gene McKown, president, Ideal Homes Norman; Sherri Coale, University of Oklahoma women's basketball head coach; and Barbara Smith, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Chickasaw Nation.
Now, Jarvis and her board are focusing on this year's gala, to be held from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dec. 12. at Embassy Suites in Norman, which is the presenting sponsor of the gala. Jarvis hopes to raise at least $150,000 at this year's gala and said her foundation has already raised about $50,000, from sponsors including Republic Bank and Trust, Fowler Holding Co., Chickasaw Nation, Ideal Homes, Jack and Lisa Hooper, of Blu Fine Wine and Food, and Norman Regional Hospital.
Hard to pinpoint
Jarvis was 38 when she learned she had the disease. She'd been weak, nauseated and disoriented. She fell down the stairs at her office repeatedly, and stiffness overcame the right side of her body, causing her leg to drag and her arm to tighten up, making it hard to move. She also developed a tremor in her right thumb.
As is the case with many people with young-onset Parkinson's, doctors couldn't pinpoint the cause of her symptoms. The disease doesn't show up on most MRIs; there is no blood test or other dependable diagnosis tool.
Often the disease is diagnosed when no other causes can be found, or when a patient responds favorably to Parkinson's disease medications.
Having seen several doctors who couldn't make a diagnosis, Jarvis started researching her symptoms and determined she might have Parkinson's. That's when she contacted Dr. Kevin Klos, of Tulsa, a movement disorder specialist who confirmed the diagnosis.
Jarvis said she felt relief at finally having a name for her condition, and the treatment Klos prescribed improved her functioning.
“I mean nobody wants to be told that they have a chronic degenerative disease that there's no cure for, sure,” Jarvis said. “I have plenty of bad/sad feelings about that. But there are worse things that it could be for sure, and what was key for me was getting treatment started.”
Through her foundation, Jarvis hopes not only to help fund the Michael J. Fox research, but also to donate to the Parkinson's Foundation of Oklahoma, which provides services directly to Oklahomans with the disease.
DID YOU KNOW?
A degenerative disease, Parkinson's disease kills the brain cells that produce dopamine, a hormone integral to controlling muscular movements.
Parkinson's itself is not deadly, but the CDC rates complications from the disease as the 14th leading cause of death in America.
About 15,000 Oklahomans live with Parkinson's disease, Jarvis said, and about 10 percent of all cases are young-onset, with symptoms showing before age 55. Most cases are diagnosed at about age 62, experts say.