It only takes a few minutes. A wave of symptoms washes over Doug Curtis and the funny, vibrant Calgary playwright shuts down right in front of your eyes, consumed by the disease he has been fighting for over a decade – Parkinson’s.
Doug was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the young age of 39. A trip to Prague with his wife Heather started the whole process. Doug was forever tripping on the cobblestone streets; and while at first it was chalked up to clumsiness, in the end Doug and Heather knew something wasn’t quite right.
“I knew something was wrong when it took two minutes for him to butter toast,” said Heather.
It took two years and two separate neurologists before Doug was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, a progressive brain disease that attacks the central nervous system. The early symptoms are often movement-related but as it progresses it affects every system in the body including speech, digestion, mental health and cognition.
“At first I was shocked and went into denial,” said Doug. “But then I became aggressive in wanting to battle it – I searched for all the possible therapies.”
During the first eight years after his diagnosis Doug fought with exercise and medication but eventually his symptoms caught up to him. There is no way to slow the progression of the disease – medication only treats the symptoms which progress over time. What started with a slow stiffening of his legs progressed to Doug being bed-ridden and unable to communicate.
“We could have lost Doug for sure,” said Heather. “There’s a number of symptoms that can advance and cause death.”
A clinical trial at the University of Alberta would change that. Doug was able to participate in a trial that would provide a new and better way for his body to absorb his medication. The results of the first treatment were astounding and within 24 hours Doug was up and talking for the first time in a long time.
“It was like I had just woken up,” said Doug. “I was able to walk and interact again.”
Although the medication isn’t a cure, the new, more effective therapy has given Doug his life back and offers hope to people living with advanced Parkinson’s. He’s working on new projects and though he still has debilitating waves of symptoms, they don’t last as long. His previous medication would take close to four hours to take effect. Now it only takes a few minutes for the medication to calm the storm and bring Doug back. “It is definitely an extraordinary treatment,” said Heather. “It truly has saved his life.”
“I would give anything to get Parkinson’s out of my system,” said Doug. “The hope is always there, it’s not going to go away.”