Vascular Parkinson’s and George HW Bush
Saturday, December 1st I woke up early. Because my PD doesn’t let me sleep in the way I would like, I decided to catch up on the hot baseball trade news on MLB TV. Instead, I was shown a graphic that former President George H.W. Bush had passed away. Having played baseball, they focused on that aspect of his life, but there was also a reminder in my brain that Bush had suffered from vascular Parkinson’s disease.
I thought about that as my wife came downstairs asking when and how he died. Some websites would list him as a famous Parkie, but others would not. In looking up Bush’s Parkinson’s condition, I saw that it was vascular Parkinson’s, which is not your regular version of PD, but rather, it’s a type of “atypical” Parkinson’s that is brought on by a stroke in the vast majority of cases, however, there are rare conditions that cause it as well. Many of the symptoms are the same, but there are some differences.
For instance, vascular PD is not treatable by the standard medicines that we use since its cause is either the hardening of the arteries, blood clots, or high blood pressure. Most of ours is based on something unknown that triggers the process of dopamine loss, be it genetic or environmental, it’s a nasty thing, that’s for sure, but you already know that!
Just as quickly as the stroke hits, the symptoms follow. When they do, they can affect the top half and lower part of the body, but they generally tend to exist in the lower half. This means that there are problems with walking and balance.
Additionally, they occur on the opposite side of the body than where the stroke occurred. What’s more, they can be the product of multiple strokes. When that happens, the damage is compounded.
Just because a person has a stroke, it doesn’t mean that said person gets awarded with this cousin of our condition. Here, the stroke has to occur in the basal ganglia. When that happens, people get this PD condition. Sometimes, providers will misdiagnose this as “good old fashioned” Parkinson’s.
Just like for many of us with Parkinson’s, this misdiagnosis can cause problems with treatment since the right medicines won’t work for the wrong condition. Nevertheless, where our Parkinson’s isn’t diagnosable (100% for sure) until an autopsy, vascular Parkinson’s is identifiable through a study of stroke history.
People who have this need to prevent future strokes. They do this with an aspirin a day and not doing things that cause heart attacks watching out for heart disease. Also, they do this by not smoking, eating healthy, exercising, stress/anger avoidance, and watching out for diabetes mellitus. The National Institutes of Health have some great recommendations for that.
A life lived
For Bush’s tragic end, he lived an incredible life. He was a Yale graduate, military hero, the head of the CIA, Barbara’s husband, President and Vice President of the United States, a graceful former President, the father of a President, a senior citizen parachute enthusiast, and a baseball fan. (I give bonus points for this!). Like most US Presidents, he had fans and detractors, but he lived a good life until 94. That says something. He knew a fair bit about suffering, watching his daughter Robin die from childhood leukemia. This led to an amazing act of empathy for another child fighting the condition.
And he was a person with a “sort of” Parkinson’s condition. He knew much of what we felt, even if he felt it for a different reason.
In death, we forget some of his political life, but that’s OK. The things that make us the imperfect part of beautifully imperfect people often mean more at the time than in hindsight. Here, he wasn’t perfect, but nobody is. Accepting people warts and all, if they try their best, means a lot.
I know that’s what I’d like people to do for us someday.
In the end, life is how we live it. As Parkies, be it vascular Parkinson’s or the dopamine-affected kind, we are given a choice. George Bush listened to Tim McGraw and kept going skydiving. That says something.
I hope you’re finding love and support, as well as some fun, in your struggles, too.