Former Mayor Maury Meyers of Beaumont, Texas lays claim to a respectable 11 handicap on the golf course – not bad for most amateurs; exceptional for a patient with Parkinson's Disease.
"I used to shoot even better than that," boasts Meyers, who currently shoots in the mid-80s for 18 holes in a sport where many people with no physical disabilities at all struggle to avoid the three-digit range. It took Meyers five years to overhaul the mechanics of his swing after first being diagnosed with the debilitating disease roughly 12 years ago. His determination paid off as 2005 saw him play for the first time in the Dr. Sol and Miriam Rogers Memorial Golf Tournament, which Meyers has organized for more than 10 years. Proceeds from the annual event support a research endowment at the Parkinson's Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine.
The devastation to the Beaumont area wrought by Hurricane Rita last September dealt an untimely setback to the tournament, leaving Meyers scrambling to find a new time and place for the event. The golf course where the tournament was originally planned sustained over 300 felled trees in Rita's wake. Meyers and his fellow organizers persevered, however, as they rescheduled the tournament, rallied his sponsors and fellow players, and succeeded in raising $62,000, a record amount in the history of the event.
Meyers is living proof of the "use it or lose it" adage as it relates to proactively sustaining one's mental and physical capabilities. By staying active in the community versus succumbing to Parkinson's, he embodies advancements in BCM's trinity of patient care, research, and education. Founded in 1977, the clinic remains one of the world's leading clinical and research institutions focusing on Parkinson's disease and related movement disorders. Physicians at the center pioneered the very first therapeutic use of Botox as a treatment for certain movement disorders, and researchers there recently discovered gene mutations believed to play a key role in both familial and sporadic forms of Parkinson's.
Meyers' physician, Joseph Jankovic, M.D., professor of neurology at BCM and director of the clinic, considers the former mayor to be both a model patient and an inspiring activist, a rare hybrid considering the physical obstacles presented daily by his disease.
"My admiration grows for him every year because he not only copes so effectively with the disease, he's going way beyond it," said Jankovic. "He is not just trying to help himself, but he's also helping others by raising funds. I wish all my patients were like him!"
The irony of Parkinson's disease, the pathological antithesis to physical activity, is that it can be treated reasonably effectively by a regular exercise program in conjunction with appropriate medical management.
"There's no doubt that people who have a positive attitude and exercise generally cope with the disease much better than those who don't," said Jankovic.
Meyers, who regularly rides a stationary bike and lifts free weights, considers mental fortitude equally as important as his exercise regimen.
"It's kind of like a war, and your enemy is waiting to close in on you," said Meyers. "I've seen so many people succumb to the disease, spending all their time on the sofa watching TV." The examples set by doctors and patients like Jankovic and Meyers illustrate how obstacles – whether personal or environmental – must be overcome if cures for diseases like Parkinson's are to be discovered.
"Parkinson's disease keeps on going," said Jankovic, "hurricanes or not."