Michael J Fox On Dealing With Parkinson's Disease Amid Recent Spinal Cord Complications, And Finding Cure

Michael J Fox On Dealing With Parkinson's Disease Amid Recent Spinal Cord Complications, And Finding Cure

The actor talks about health scares, research challenges, his new tattoo, and his frustrations with Donald Trump.

Michael J Fox, most popularly known as the kid from the Back to the Future franchise, recently opened up about a series of health problems that he has been coping with off late. In addition to his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease, the actor mentioned that he was now facing spinal cord problems as well, in an interview with New York Times Magazine. The 57-year-old actor revealed that these new health problems have resulted in him falling often and even requiring spinal surgery. The actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 but only made it public in 1998. He kept acting in a slew of films and TV shows as he coped with the disease. After announcing that he was suffering from the disease, he became one of the most vocal advocates for finding a cure to the disease. He started a foundation to fight Parkinson's and has raised around $800 million to date.

During the interview, he mentioned that his health has taken a turn for the worse in recent times. "I was having this recurring problem with my spinal cord," said Fox. "I was told it was benign but if it stayed static I would have diminished feeling in my legs and difficulty moving. Then all of a sudden I started falling — a lot. It was getting ridiculous. I was trying to parse what was Parkinson’s and what was the spinal thing. But it came to the point where it was probably necessary to have surgery."


He continued, "So I had surgery, and an intense amount of physical therapy after. I did it all, and eventually, people asked me to do some acting. Last August I was supposed to go to work. I woke up, walked into the kitchen to get breakfast, misstepped and I went down. I fractured the hell out of my arm. I ended up getting 19 pins and a plate. It was such a blow." He explained that right after the surgery was done he started to push himself too far and too fast.  "It’s because I had certain optimistic expectations of myself, and I’d had results to bear out those expectations, but I’d had failures too. And I hadn’t given the failures equal weight," he said.


The actor has still not given up hope and continues to believe that a cure to the disease will soon be found. He is doing all that he possibly can to help his foundation out in their pursuit of discovering the cure."There’s a new drug that’s been approved that’s like a rescue inhaler for when you freeze," he said. "Because freezing is a very real thing for Parkinson’s patients. I could be sitting here with my foot on fire and a glass of water over there on the table and all I’d be able to do is think about how good it would feel to pour that water on my foot. Treatments for that can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Now, if we can prophylactically keep Parkinson’s symptoms from developing in a person, is that a cure? No. Would I take it? Yes."

In an interview with Fortune, she said, “Parkinson’s patients, we’re the experts on what we have,” the actor said. “We have a responsibility as patients—if we expect these people to do what we need them to, do they need to be fully informed on our experience, what works with us, what we respond to, what can contribute.” Debi Brooks, who co-founded Fox’s foundation and sat with the actor during the interview mentioned that there was still a lot of work to be done. “We still don’t have anything that has been proven to interfere with the underlying disease itself."


The actor recently got his very first tattoo. The tattoo on his forearm is of a turtle swimming through five hoops—one for each decade of his life. The artwork reminds him of why he started the foundation. It also reminds him to keep his disease “in proportion and find ways to flourish in areas that it doesn’t affect,” he added. Parkinson’s “doesn’t reach every part of my life,” Fox said. “Certainly the way I move, the way I walk…I’ve lost a certain amount of spontaneity. There are losses. But there are equivalent gains, whether it’s an insight or experience or exposure to people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet. I’ve been incredibly privileged to see progress being made.”


During his interview with New York Times Magazine, he also spoke about Donald Trump and how he is frustrated with Trump's administration's apparent skepticism toward science. 

"We have a working relationship with the government," he said of his foundation. "Trump is not sitting around thinking about Parkinson’s. But one thing that angered me is when he mocked that reporter. [At a 2015 rally in South Carolina, Donald Trump appeared to mock Serge Kovaleski, a reporter for The New York Times who has the joint condition arthogryposis.] That was a stab to the guts. Not just for me, but for people I know and work with, who try so hard to overcome other people’s atavistic aversion to anybody that moves differently. So I thought, 'Do I say something in response?' Then I thought, 'People already know Trump is an [expletive].'"


The actor mentioned that he is currently working on a new book which revolves around a question that he often asks himself ever since he started facing these new health issues - “Was it false hope I’d been selling? Is there a line beyond which there is no consolation?” 

"For me to get to that place is pretty dark," he said. "I realized that the understanding I’d reached with Parkinson’s was sincere but risked being glib. I’d made peace with the disease but presumed others had that same relationship when they didn’t. Then when I started to deal with the effects from the spinal surgery, I realized: Wow, it can get a lot worse. Being in a position where I couldn’t walk and had health aides 24 hours a day, was I still prepared to say, 'Hey, chin up!' Parkinson’s, it’s a strange test."


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