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Parkinson's Disease Affects Blacks, Men

Jessica R. Key | , Special to Informer From Nnpa | 2/27/2013, 10:22 a.m.

Life was going just fine for Don Ransom until one day he realized the right side of his body wasn't moving properly.

"I thought it was my rotator cuff problem. I tore it a long time ago so I figured that's why it was like that," said Don who also thought he had a stroke.

His wife, Terri, convinced him to see a physician who referred them to a neurologist. The neurologist told Don he had Parkinson's disease.

"It was like a kick in the head. Being an athlete I thought 'this is it. No more sports.' There are so many other worse things out there that I could have gotten. But I figured the lesser of two evils was Parkinson's so I could deal with that," said Don.

Over the past nine years, Parkinson's has taken its toll on the man who once enjoyed playing tennis, baseball, basketball and running marathons. Don said every day it takes a little bit out of you - each day poses new challenges.

Some days it's difficult for Don to get out of bed let alone attend church or see his beloved Indiana Pacers play live. When he gets nervous his hands shake more than normal. Eating with utensils has become a real challenge so Don has resulted to primarily eating foods he can pick up with his hands.

"Some things you learn to do and take for granted - like brushing your teeth or opening up a can of pop. For me, that's a job," said Don. "But really, any day I get to wake up is a good day."

As the disease progressed, Don eventually had to retire from his job at the U.S. Postal Service. Although there are people with Parkinson's who drive, he chose to stop driving. He grew tired of public whispers and stares at his condition, therefore Don has become somewhat of a recluse - even with his own family. He is adamant about people not feeling sorry for him.

Terri Ransom has had to take on much more responsibility now that Parkinson's has significantly affected Don.

"It's about understanding what he goes through. I'll say 'Don, why can't you...' or 'Don, you didn't do that.' He'll say, 'you don't understand this disease.' He's right, I don't," said Terri. She struggles with her own illnesses such as diabetes. Their young-adult children Don Jr. and Sienne, help when needed.

Although the Ransoms have found ways to bring a sense of normalcy to Parkinson's disease, this condition has devastating effects on people's bodies and lives.

Parkinson's disease is a condition in which a region of the midbrain, called the substantia nigra, degenerates. That part of the brain is involved in coordinating motor activities. This results in shaking of the arms or other body parts; stiffening of the muscles in the arms and legs; people tend to lean forward and not swing their arms and walk with very short steps; eventual changes in the ability to swallow and drooling; lower voice volume; and shaky, small handwriting.