By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Thursday night The Michael J. Fox Show premieres on NewsChannel 5.
The show's been getting a lot of attention because it brings a popular actor back to comedy TV. But, there's another reason the show is creating a buzz. It features Fox coping with Parkinson disease, which he has in real life, and that's the part some local patients and doctors are most excited about.
Anne Merles of St. Louis has lived with the disease for 10 years.
"I think most people can't tell I have Parkinson," said Merles.
The first symptom showed up in her mid-40s, as a twitch in her thumb. She remembers crying when she got the diagnosis five years later, and the advice from a doctor she took to heart.
"What's important is to focus on what you can do about it," recalled Merles, "and to make the best of things."
Parkinson is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Dr. Joel Perlmutter's devoted 30 years to finding a cure.
"I feel like I'm at risk because my father had Parkinson and his only brother had Parkinson," said Dr. Perlmutter.
He doesn't have symptoms, but loves the idea of a character incorporating his disease into a TV show.
"This is part of the face of Parkinson," said Dr. Perlmutter. "And it's not the same all the time, and symptoms vary moment to moment, and people aren't making it up as we've heard on the radio in the past about Michael Fox."
Symptoms include tremor, slow, and stiff movements. It can affect mood, behavior, and speech. But it varies widely from person to person. And that's why Anne Merles is grateful to Michael J. Fox. For his return to TV, and for his willingness to show the full life people with Parkinson can live a full life.
"There's people like Michael J. Fox who I was always a fan of, well now he's one of my heroes," said Merles.
The average age of onset for Parkinson's disease is about 60. It strikes more men than women. Over one million people have the disease, and doctors believe about 60,000 are diagnosed each year. The causes are unknown but some experts believe it is a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Dr. Perlmutter says only about eight percent of the patients he sees are diagnosed before age 40.
We know you'll have a lot of questions about Parkinson's, so Thursday afternoon and evening we are hosting a phone bank with doctors and other health professionals. They'll be taking calls from 4 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. The number to call will be 314-969-8655. Experts will also be on hand to discuss Parkinson's in a web chat right here at KSDK.com during the same times.