A Winning Hand with Parkinson’s
Jeff Ahrens was only 32 when he began to experience the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – a subtle twitch in his pinky, trouble stirring a spoon in a glass, difficulty with his right side when lifting weights at the gym. Suspecting Parkinson’s, he consulted multiple doctors in New Jersey – all of whom told him he didn’t have the neurodegenerative disorder. During the next several years, his physical condition only worsened. His right arm and leg shook uncontrollably; and eventually, he was unable to walk.
“The disease had progressed to the point where I had to leave my job as a mortgage banker in 2000 and go on permanent disability leave,” said the 50-year-old Springfield resident. “I also had to move from my apartment to live with my brother and his family after it became painfully clear that I couldn’t function independently any longer. That was really tough.”
For several years, Jeff traveled to a hospital in New York City for treatment, but the process was long, arduous, expensive and impersonal. In September 2010, he contacted The Movement Disorders Program at Overlook’s Atlantic Neuroscience Institute after a friend heard about the hospital’s participation in a study examining whether Tai Chi helps manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Overlook is one of only three facilities in New Jersey that has been approved to be a member of the Parkinson’s Study Group, a national research group that offers a variety of new opportunities and resources to study Parkinson’s disease.
“This membership allows us to participate in some of the most cutting-edge research studies involving Parkinson’s disease,” said neurologist Roger Kurlan, M.D., medical director of the Movement Disorders Program at Atlantic Neuroscience Institute and internationally known for his work with movement disorders. “Being invited to collaborate with other pioneers in their field is a tremendous affirmation of the work we do, and inspires us to further explore ways to help patients fight this and other diseases.”
“I can’t say enough about the quality and range of care I receive at Overlook,” observed Jeff, who is now under the care of Dr. Kurlan. “I’ve never experienced customer service like this at a hospital before. There is never a wait when I arrive for an appointment, and the staff cares for my total well-being, not just my illness.”
“Dr. Kurlan is very attuned to my medication needs,” Jeff added. “By controlling my dopamine levels with medication, he has helped me progress from being barely able to crawl to being able to walk on my own and drive a car.”
Jeff also praises the benefits of Tai Chi classes and other holistic therapies he has received free of charge during the course of his treatment, courtesy of Atlantic Integrative Medicine at Overlook’s Atlantic Neuroscience Institute.
“The very first time I tried the ‘dragon serves tea’ move, my tremor stopped!” he exclaimed. “And other therapies, such as acupressure, deep breathing and guided imagery relaxation techniques have taught me how to help my body help itself. Overlook is too good to be true; and the best thing is, it’s only ten minutes from home!”
In his spare time, Jeff also enjoys the cognitive, social and physical benefits of playing bridge at Livingston’s Essex Bridge Club, where – in just over six years – he became a Gold Life Master. In 2009, he was ranked player of the year at the club, one of the largest of its kind in the country.
“Just like the staff at Overlook, my bridge club friends have been tremendously supportive ,” observed Jeff. “I’ve been dealt a bad hand, but thanks to great friends and great treatment, I’ve played it well.”
Fast Fact: There are more than 600 movement disorders affecting more than six million people in the United States alone. While treatment varies, some such as Parkinson’s are incurable, with the goal of treatment to improve symptoms and relieve pain.