Columbus, OH,
19:34 PM

Columbus Dispatch: First Person - Jackie Russell & Delay The Disease

Waiting nervously to walk down the aisle on my wedding day in 1982, I watched my soon-to-be mother-in-law being escorted to her seat.

Oddly, I remember noticing that one of her hands was shaking quite a bit.

Twenty years later, as a nurse working for a renowned orthopedic surgeon, I watched helplessly as this prominent physician, researcher and educator developed a shuffling gait as well as stooped posture and became increasingly shaky and soft-spoken.

Like my mother-in-law and 60,000 other Americans annually, Dr. Thomas Mallory learned that he had Parkinson's disease. All too soon, his symptoms forced him to retire from his successful reconstructive hip and knee practice.

Two years after his retirement, my phone rang. On the other end, I heard a robust voice boom, "Jackie, I have a project I would like you to help me with."

Dr. Mallory was calling.

When we met the next week, the man I remembered as being in decline stood with erect posture, talked in a strong voice and flashed a big smile. When he walked, he took big steps.

The physician still had Parkinson's, but his tremor was minimal and his other symptoms were also vastly improved. His condition seemed miraculous!

When I asked him about his dramatic improvement, he replied, "That's what I want to talk to you about."

Dr. Mallory had been working out with a professional fitness trainer, David Zid, who had designed an exercise plan specifically for people with Parkinson's.

"I do it every day," the doctor said. "It may be the reason I'm improving, but search the medical literature. What is out there that connects exercise to positive changes in Parkinson's?"

By 2005, research was starting to confirm the positive effects of exercise on the functional decline in Parkinson's patients. Eagerly, I shared this information with Dr. Mallory, who then introduced me to his "trainer." David shook my hand and convincingly professed: "There is something to this. I have seen remarkable changes in my clients who were diagnosed with PD while training them."

Dr. Mallory's request was simple: Would I join forces with Zid to help create a formalized program? Perhaps, write a book that might help other Parkinson's patients in Columbus find some hope?

And so our effort began.

David and I began writing an exercise manual while also taking over a small fitness group for those with Parkinson's. The class, held in a church basement, boasted six participants.

David offered his trainer's expertise and his relentless optimism, motivational powers and sense of humor. I used my nursing expertise to guide participants and also contributed music, organizational skills, and a little marketing.

We called the program Delay the Disease.

Soon the benefits of regular exercise could not be denied. We witnessed participants moving better; we elevated heart rates and practiced symptom-specific "big" movements. The patients were fighting the disease with hope.

One of our superstars remarked: "Parkinson's made me old before my time. Now I am living again."

As co-founder of Delay the Disease (now part of the OhioHealth family), I watched that single inaugural class in Columbus grow to more than 500 classes throughout the country and in Canada, with more than 75,000 participants annually.

OhioHealth Delay the Disease is an evidenced-based program with research support being taught to other professionals to help Parkinson's patients worldwide.

I am now working on a similar program, Movement for Memory, for people with Alzheimer's disease. Research indicates that regular exercise might help slow the progression of this disease, too.

For 35 years, I loved being a nurse, but I'm even more passionate about empowering people to fight devastating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's with a readily available tool: exercise.

If you have either diagnosis, keep moving. Walk or bike briskly for 20 minutes, then practice perfect walking, multitasking, balancing and weightlifting.

It's never too late in the disease progression to start exercising — and never too early.

Jackie Russell, 60, lives in Columbus.

Written by Jackie Russell, RN, BSN, CNOR, and co-creator of OhioHealth Delay the Disease. This article was submitted to The Columbus Dispatch and published in the paper's "First Person" Column. "First Person" is a weekly forum for personal musings and reflections from Columbus Dispatch readers. You can see the original column here.