Paul Ng was a marathon runner who had never taken a sick day from work in 35 years. He was the quintessential health enthusiast, until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009.
When it happened, Ng had a hard time believing what he heard. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. In fact, people living with PD may not show any outward symptoms of the disease for several years, but the patient’s brain stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine during this time. As the level of dopamine decreases, so does a person’s ability to control physical movement in the body and emotional responses.
Such was the case for Ng, a Charlotte, North Carolina, resident, who was the former president of a retail company and now retired. Ng and his wife, Ivy Koay, were enjoying a happy, active life together until the day he visited his primary health care provider in April 2009.
“It was my family doctor who thought I had an essential tremor. He put me on medicine for two to three months. The entire time, I didn’t feel comfortable. So, they sent me to a neurologist, who told me I had Parkinson’s,” said Ng.
However, with no obvious signs or symptoms, Ng refused to accept the doctor’s diagnosis.
“I thought I was bullet-proof. I’m not the one to get Parkinson’s. I’m a marathon runner. Thirty-five years and I never took a day of sick leave. I even plant my own vegetables at home. I just brushed it off and said this must be a mistake,” Ng said. “At that time, I was still very healthy. It took several years before I felt that there was a sickness in me. There was a battle between me and Mr. Parkinson. I felt I lost to him and I knew I had to be careful.”
Ng and his wife began searching for the right health care provider. But now with both Ng and his wife willing to accept Ng’s diagnosis, they prepared themselves to understand the stress and anxiety that comes with it, not knowing exactly what would come next.
“During this time of uncertainty, we wanted to make sure we have a health provider that would cover all of our needs. So, we chose Novant Health,” said Ng.
This is when the couple was first introduced to Dr. James Battista, a neurologist at Novant Health Neurology Specialists - Randolph who specializes in movement disorders that include Parkinson’s disease. Battista said he and other neurologists with Novant Health do their best to see new referrals with Parkinson’s symptoms in days rather than months.
“Outside of Novant Health, when a general practitioner refers a patient to a neurologist, it can take as long as a month to two months to get an appointment. Often, this extended wait time can increase worry, fear and stress in people who have no idea of what is happening to them,” said Battista.
Currently, when a general practitioner wants to refer a patient to a Novant Health neurologist, Battista said it only takes one to two weeks – not months.
“Timing is critical in Parkinson’s,” Battista said. “While we can’t turn back the hands of time, we can try to reduce the symptoms of the disease and offer many more independent years of life.”
When the couple first met with Battista, they felt both comfortable and confident in his care.
“I thought that he was very sharp and very smart. I come from a high demanding job as the president of a company, so when I first saw him, he was so attentive and so inspiring. You don’t find a doctor concerned with the details of a patient. But he is,” said Ng. “The way he dispenses medicine. He is very targeted. When I complain about my night time difficulty, he changed the medicine to help me. He also adjusted my morning medicine as I am competing in a bowling league.”
To date, Ng said he has experienced very few noticeable symptoms.
“From the time he was diagnosed, until about three years ago, we didn’t notice anything that would hinder his lifestyle. The last three years, the disease has progressed a little bit. The (medicine) dosage has increased,” said his wife. “Parkinson’s is a progressive disease. The first five years, he was almost able to continue all of his activities,” she said. “Now, during times of anxiety, you see a little shaking. The most troublesome is the constant constipation. When the medicine dosage increased, so did the constipation.”
The couple has not shied away from family, friends or any activity that is a part of the life they have built together. Ng still plays with his grandchildren in the treehouse outback and even slides down a fire pole and the zip line in the backyard as well.
In 2016, Ng participated in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Games where he took home eight medals. He plans to compete again this year in nine events. Ng was very proud to point out that his wife will be competing in four events this year as well. However, Koay said has has no problem leaving all of the medal ceremonies to her husband.
For more information on Parkinson’s disease, visit NovantHealth.org/neuroscience.