The photographer with Parkinson's
Mary Craig, a 64-year-old retired teacher and guidance counselor from Virginia Beach, is glad she didn’t listen to the doctor who diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease in 2011.
“I was told I’d be in a wheelchair in five years,” Mary says. “More than five years have passed, and I’m not in a wheelchair; far from it!”
Instead, Mary is running, bike riding and participating in an exercise class that includes boxing. She is also working as a wedding photographer and has captured more than 50 brides and grooms in pictures since her diagnosis.
Finding the right help
Shortly after her diagnosis, Mary was determined to find experts who were supportive. She called the number she saw in an advertisement about Sentara’s Parkinson’s disease program. She met Dr. Karen Thomas, a neurologist, and a team of providers, including a speech therapist, a physical therapist, an exercise physiologist and an intern. Dr. Thomas encouraged Mary to be active and try a variety of medications.
“I used different ones and in different combinations and now my symptoms are well controlled,” says Mary. “Dr. Thomas has really worked with me.”
Physical Therapist Tricia L'Heureux gave Mary similar encouragement and guidance. Mary recalls crying at the start of every physical therapy session during the first year. She wasn’t worried about pain: She was petrified of telling anyone about her disease, worried that they would pity her or conclude she couldn’t be a photographer.
“Tricia did more than work with me on physical therapy,” Mary says. “She helped me tell people. I’ve received so much support, and I see it in the number of people who participate in the annual Parkinson’s fundraising walk in my honor. The first year, it was me and my husband Bill. Then our kids. Now we’ve added 12 more people.”
No one’s feeling sorry for Mary either.
“Everyone sees how well I’m doing,” she says.
Therapy and thoughtfulness
It's important to Tricia that her patients feel hope.
“Parkinson’s is not a death sentence,” she shares. “There is so much that they can do to slow down the disease process and maintain a high level of function. If they feel a limitation, I try to attack it so that they can overcome it.”
Tricia initially worked with Mary four times a week for four weeks and then met with her for follow-up sessions three and six months later. In 2015, Tricia provided additional training.
“I helped Mary improve her gait, balance and mobility through exercise. She has gone through the BIG program and learned PWR! Moves (two programs that focus on a high level of effort with a large amplitude of movement),” Tricia says. “Now she is boxing in our Parkinson’s boxing class.”
Tricia is proud of Mary and her accomplishments to overcome PD so that it does not limit her life.
“We have a saying at the clinic: ‘You can have Parkinson’s disease or it can have you.’ Our goal is to help our patients live their lives with PD. It is important that they maintain their identity and not feel defined by the diagnosis of PD. It is about living!"