YOPD Patient Becomes Author, Artist & PD Advocate
By Karen Hales, Neurology Solutions Contributing Writer
Alex Andron’s path has traversed a successful career on Wall Street to new ventures as an artist, author and adventurer who plans to climb to the peak of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea in August as an advocate for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Andron, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) at 34 years old, is a patient of Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center in Austin, Texas. He is currently completing an autobiographical book about his experience with YOPD, No Limits, scheduled for release this spring. He shares his journey on his blog, ElevateParkinsons.com.
Young Onset Parkinson’s Diagnosis & Denial
“It’s nothing I would ever have chosen, but now I see how it altered my path in a positive direction.”
Now 44 years old, Andron was a vibrant 35-year-old with a successful career as a Wall Street portfolio manager and trader and a physically active lifestyle. During a routine follow-up visit with his orthopedist following a car accident that shattered his knee, Andron was asked if anything else was wrong: “My finger shakes,” he responded. Referred to a neurologist by his orthopedist, he was diagnosed soon after with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease, a PD diagnosis referring to anyone under the age of 50 that accounts for less than 20 percent of Parkinson’s cases.
He believes his diagnosis is due to a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental toxin exposure. He underwent chelation therapy to remove high levels of heavy metals in his bloodstream in 2003 following his exposure working on Wall Street following 911. Both his uncle and his father have since been diagnosed with the disease, although he does not have the genetic marker that would indicate a predisposition for PD.
For the first few years following his YOPD diagnosis, Andron maintained a regimen of Parkinson’s medications he described as a “fairly strong dosage of carbidopa/levodopa.” But he said he didn’t truly accept his diagnosis for several years. “I went to the doctor and took medication, but I was in denial. I really didn’t believe it was happening,” he said.
Deep Brain Stimulation for PD
That changed three years ago when Andron decided to undergo deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. Andron underwent a successful DBS procedure in January 2014 at Pennsylvania University Hospital in Philadelphia; however, a severe infection that was diagnosed six months later required surgeons to remove the leads to the right side of his brain. Without the use of the lead that had been implanted on the right side of his brain, his DBS stimulator is only active on the left side. He intends on having the right lead re-implanted at some point, and relies on the team at Neurology Solutions to help him determine the best timing for this procedure.
Andron said it took him about two years following his DBS surgery to feel he had completely recovered from it. Today, he describes DBS as “life-altering” and is grateful for the ability he has regained following DBS. While his tremor is gone and his stiffness is dramatically abated, he said his condition impacts his executive function capability, which includes working memory and the processing ability to manage time, organize and pay attention.
Comprehensive Therapy for PD
Andron became a patient of Dr. Robert Izor and the Neurology Solutions team after moving back to Texas in the summer of 2014. He describes Neurology Solutions as “a comprehensive practice that treats the entire patient.”
“When Dr. Izor treats his patients he’s not just looking at the brain issue, he is looking at the overall patient, what he is doing, how he is living,” Andron said.
He currently is prescribed two PD drugs, amantadine and selegiline, with fewer side effects than his previous carbidopa/levodopa prescription as well as a medication for depression, a common secondary symptom of PD. He also uses Hormone Replacement Therapy for overall wellness and anti-aging advantages including increased energy and muscle tone.
Dr. Izor also recommended he engage in biurnal beats meditation, a form of meditation using different audio frequencies that is believed to connect the two hemispheres of the brain by causing them to work together to solve the “problem” presented by the frequencies perceived in each ear. He also takes a daily multivitamin and is mindful of his diet and nutrition.
“Everything–nutrition, meditation, hormone replacement therapy–has increased my vitality, my energy and overall wellness. For me it makes a very big difference in my life.”
Finding Balance Through Writing & Art
Once Andron quit his job due to his disability at 41 years old, he said he sought a new purpose for his life. “Your goals and dreams, whatever you had – they’re done,” he said. “Your life is changed, your course is permanently altered. However, that path is a new path, an altered path, but a hopeful path. There is a whole world of new things you can do.”
Andron was encouraged to explore brain-stimulating activities such as brain games, jigsaw puzzles and exercise, as well as more creative activities to compensate for the more dominant left brain. He began working with noted professional mosaic artist and instructor Dianne Sonnenburg of the Austin Mosaic Guild and completed a series of mosaics inspired by his trip to Hawaii. He currently is creating a 3-D glass rod mosaic installation of the Neurology Solutions’ logo icon in his Cedar Park studio. The piece will be installed in the clinic’s office in the next few months once it is completed.
With his sister as his editor, Andron also is preparing to publish his book, No Limits, which he hopes will help others who receive a diagnosis of YOPD. “My goal is to raise awareness and hopefully help people have a different response than the one I had by living as an example of someone with PD,” Andron said.
ElevateParkinsons Challenge & Public Awareness Campaign
In August, Andron will mount an expedition that will take him halfway across the globe to climb to the peak of Mauna Kea on a three-wheel recumbent bike to raise awareness of PD. A dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain measuring 33,484 feet from its base, nearly 20,000 feet below sea level, to the summit, 13,802 feet above sea level.
He hopes to inspire other individuals to see their PD diagnosis as a new beginning. For Andron, his PD journey is one that has been a gift in many ways, he said. No longer “living in that rat race” that was his life as a New York trader, he says his new life after PD has expanded his creativity and compassion. “It has given me a much higher level of compassion and empathy for others. It has given me a lot more time to invest in relationships. I’ve deepened my level of authenticity and sincerity,” Andron said.
“I truly believe my life is better today than it would have been had I not had Parkinson’s. I have this creativity I’d never been able to express working on Wall Street. Without PD, I’d never have been an artist, I’d never have written a book, I’d never have climbed a mountain.”
He hopes people will realize that a Parkinson’s diagnosis doesn’t mean you can no longer pursue your dreams. “Know that your life is not over, but realize your life is on a completely different course. It’s nothing I would ever have chosen, but now, looking back, I see how it altered my path in a positive direction.”
You can follow Andron’s journey on his website, ElevateParkinsons.com.
Neurology Solutions is accepting new patients seeking a specialist in managing Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, essential tremor and age-related movement disorders.
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