Diseases, like great causes, need high-profile celebrity advocates to raise awareness. Those of us affected by Parkinson's disease — be it as a patient or a family caregiver — are grateful that Muhammad Ali's children finally went public with details of their father's illness, and have not kept him out of the public eye. However, despite lending his name to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and serving as an ambassador for Parkinson's causes, your March/April 2006 cover story poignantly revealed how the sports legend can no longer speak for himself — or for fellow Parkinson's patients.
In this age of “charitainment,” Parkinson's needs fresh blood to take up the fight and make the disease better understood. It is not a “sexy” cause; we fear it, we fear that we may be among the 1 in 100 people in their “golden years” who contract the disease. Though it can be crippling or disabling, early symptoms can be so subtle and gradual that they're sometimes ignored or attributed to the effects of aging: Perhaps every fourth person I come across will volunteer, out of solidarity, that their father or grandmother had Parkinson's, for it had manifested itself only through minor tremors or other relatively innocuous symptoms.
Muhammad Ali's unique case forms the public perception of what the disease does to people: greatly reducing the speed of the thought process, slurring speech, severely limiting movement. Parkinson's is a uniquely individual disease, which manifests itself in many forms: physical, mental, and emotional.
In that regard, it was extremely educational to read about Ali the man and Ali the patient, rather than Ali the symbol.
Prague, Czech Republi