Adults' Stories

Grit and grace: Kathleen’s story of fighting Parkinson’s disease

Kathleen Reynolds has always had a fighting spirit.

Fifty years ago, after being born and raised in Hong Kong, she fought to qualify to come to the United States for college. For the past eight years, her fight has been against Parkinson’s disease (PD), a movement disorder marked by motor and non-motor symptoms that can worsen over time. The sweet and gentle yet strong and resilient woman combats her symptoms with literal fighting—boxing to be exact. Three days each week, Kathleen participates in Rock Steady Boxing, a class designed specifically for PD patients and their caregivers.

Fight or flight? Fight.

In 2009, Kathleen noticed her eye twitching whenever she was reading, which a neurologist diagnosed as hemifacial spasm, an uncontrollable muscle spasm on one side of the face. She received Botox injections for a year, followed by acupuncture and anti-seizure medication, with no relief—plus, she found herself feeling tired most of the time.

This didn’t work for the active woman who enjoys reading, yoga and hiking. After Kathleen tried every minimally invasive treatment option, the next step was microvascular decompression, a brain surgery designed to treat facial and eye spasm. She was referred for physical therapy at Augusta University Health. The physical therapist noticed that the post-surgical balance problem wasn’t improving and, therefore, referred her to a movement disorder specialist, John Morgan, MD, who diagnosed her with PD.

“Kathleen is facing PD like she has all of the obstacles she has encountered in her life: head-on,” said Morgan, a neurologist and director of the Memory Disorders Program at Augusta University Movement and Memory Disorder Center of Excellence. “She is a wonderful person and exemplary patient. She gets educated, takes her meds, exercises regularly and is always asking great questions of me and others on her care team.”

Staying strong with knowledge and support

“I read anything I can put my hands on,” said Kathleen, who graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English literature. “I try to stay informed without feeling hopeless that all I’m doing is fighting deterioration.”

Kathleen isn’t merely fighting deterioration; she’s staying strong. She focuses on getting her information from places that also offer support. Each year, she and Dick, Kathleen’s husband of 46 years, attend Augusta University Movement Disorders Center of Excellence’s annual Brain Health Symposium, which serves to give patients, caregivers and physicians a platform for sharing knowledge, experiences and support.

“When I first found out Kathleen had Parkinson’s disease, I held a secret meeting with our daughters,” Dick said. “I told them that [her condition] may change the day-to-day, but it’s not going to stop us from moving ahead with all of the things that we enjoy doing together.”

Kathleen and Dick recently joined a tour that traveled from Beijing to Mongolia and Siberia, and will be celebrating the marriage of their second daughter in October in Chicago.

“It’s only because of Dick and his strength that I’m able to continue to do what I love to do,” she said.

Keeping you in the ring

To make an appointment and learn about our neurosciences services and providers, call us at 706-721-4581 or visit augustahealth.org/neuro.

To read other patient stories like Kathleen’s, visit augustahealth.org/stories.

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