By Kim Tarnopolski

GSN Contributor


Debbie Smith is a profile in courage and positivity.

Five years ago, she had a successful marriage, family life and a career with multi-state responsibilities. She was looking forward to her 52nd birthday when she noticed changes in her left hand.

Debbie’s fingers wouldn’t move up and down as consistently as her right hand and her pinky finger would twitch when she was typing, making it sometimes difficult to complete her work.

At the urging of her husband, Debbie went to see a neurologist. The doctor captured her medical history, did a thorough neurological exam, had her do multiple hand exercises and walk down the hall.

When Debbie and her husband sat down in his office, they were not prepared to hear the words, “You have Parkinson’s Disease.”

There is no objective test – such as a blood test, brain scan or EEG – to make a definitive diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Instead, a doctor looks for two or more of the cardinal signs. They include bradykinesia (moving extremely slow), tremor, rigidity, and postural instability also referred to as parkinsonism. Tremor is the most apparent and well-known symptom.

Now, five years later, Debbie laughs and tells people, “God needed someone loud and energetic in the Parkinson’s Community.”

She takes every opportunity presented to share her story, participate in trial studies and show her family that she’s part of the “cure.” In November, Debbie was able to share her journey with members of 100+ Women Who Care Valley of the Sun.

This philanthropic group of women meet quarterly to hear about local charities. Collaboratively, they vote and decide which nonprofit to support with their donations that quarter. Debbie presented Banner Neuro Wellness and was successful in gaining the group’s support.

On behalf of the group, she delivered $11,300 to Banner Neuro Wellness, an umbrella of the Banner Health Foundation in downtown Gilbert. It is a program complementary to current medical treatments and therapies for individuals and families who are affected by Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological conditions

Studies show exercises that specifically address the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can enhance a person’s mobility and quality of life. It has separate support groups for men, women and care partners.

Banner Neuro Wellness offers Exercise4BrainChange – which applies principles to optimize brain repair, brain recognition and skill acquisition. It also offers music, yoga, speech therapy, art, boxing and Friday Coffee Talk to keep victims of the disease engaged.

Depression and lack of socialization are common among victims; getting the members out and involved are considered extremely beneficial. Patients and families participating in Banner Nuero Wellness enjoy a sense of community, increased socialization and ultimately, a higher quality of life.

Debbie made the decision to retire this year so she could focus full-time on her health. She regularly attends Banner Nuero Wellness three times a week.

She’s on a mission to help newly diagnosed people understand Parkinson’s Disease is not a death sentence, even though it’s a degenerative disease with no cure.

“I know that I have this disease for a reason,” she said. “I want to make sure I use the opportunity to impact those fighting the disease who may not be as strong as I am.”

To learn more:

Next meeting

What: A branch of 100+ Women Who Care last year began for women who live in Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler. Like other chapters of the national organization, the 100+ Women Who Care Valley of the Sun gathers quarterly to award one of three charities with a “big give” comprising usually $100 donations from each member. Guests – women only – are welcome. The group meets for an hour of socializing, then consider the charities and make their decision the following hour. They describe their group as “a local philanthropic group of women who meet quarterly, contribute locally and connect personally to benefit well deserving charities.”

If You Go

When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15.

Where: The Forum, 2301 S. Stearman Drive, Chandler.