Specialized therapy helps Alpena woman navigate unexpected diagnosis
ALPENA — Less than one year ago, receptionist Pamela Brunn was involved in a motor vehicle accident. She was broadsided and her car was totaled. As one might imagine, it was a harrowing event. Afterward, Brunn began experiencing shaking in her right hand. She met with her primary care provider Megan Layton, F.N.P.-C., M.S.N., who referred her to a neurologist. Brunn was shocked to find out that her symptom was not associated with the accident. Rather, just days before her 57th birthday, she was told she had Parkinson’s disease.
“Initially I was in denial,” said Brunn. “I thought the shaking in my hand had to be a result of my car accident somehow. There is no genetic history of PD in my family. In fact, the only people I’d known with Parkinson’s were men much older than me.”
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects neurons in a specific area of the brain. It can happen at any age, although it typically begins later in life. People with PD may experience tremors, Bradykinesia (slowness of movement), limb stiffness, and gait and balance problems. Physical therapy can often help relieve and manage the symptoms of PD.
After initial diagnosis, Brunn declined taking medications but scheduled a follow-up appointment with her neurologist, Jorge Gonzalez, M.D. At that next meeting, she was experiencing shaking in both hands.
“Dr. Gonzalez wanted to start me on medication at the first visit, but I wanted to hold off,” said Brunn. “I think I was still in a state of disbelief. Then the tremors began in my other hand, and he explained that every case is unique. He encouraged me to begin the medication and also prescribed physical therapy, so I began both.”
Brunn was also having issues with her balance and gait. Therapists Eve Cooper, D.P.T., and Victoria Pleiness, P.T.A., at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, utilized the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment BIG program to help treat Brunn. LSVT BIG is designed specifically for patients with PD to help improve movement.
“Some of the balancing challenges I was having I was incorrectly attributing to my weight or fitness level. They were actually due to PD,” said Brunn.
She kept a positive attitude and had a very specific goal in mind to help keep her motivated.
“I told the therapists I wanted to attend an outdoor concert in the summer, safely and with confidence,” Brunn said. “They knew just how hard to push me to keep me motivated and learning so I could make it.”
“Pamela made great improvements from the LSVT program and surpassed her goals significantly,” said physical therapy assistant Pleiness. “She worked hard to make gains and gave everything she had during therapy sessions even when it was challenging for her.”
Brunn is thankful for the help she received from the rehabilitation team.
“They gave me the confidence to make small changes that have made a big difference,” she stated. “Now, I can self-correct and keep myself on track. They were encouraging and laughed at all my corny jokes. As my condition changes, I know they will be there for me when additional therapy is needed, and I will be happy to work with them again.”
Brunn maintains her job and plans to get back to doing the exercises she learned in therapy at home each day so that she can stay in the best condition possible. She wants to be ready for the next concert.
Those who would like more information about MidMichigan Health’s rehabilitation services may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehab. Those interested in more services available in Alpena may call 989-356-7248.