Around 2018, Alexandria’s Katie Fordham, then 36, was handing out chocolate candy bars to members of the Ohatchee High School football team. It was just her nature. As the wife of the Rev. Sam Fordham, the minister of Oak Bowery Baptist Church, she had always enjoyed serving others and her family of five.
However, on that day with the football players, she noticed a tremor in her hand and realized something was wrong. During the following months, other puzzling symptoms followed, such as hair loss, weight loss and feelings of apathy.
“I figured the problem was my thyroid,” Fordham said.
After seeking help from several physicians and undergoing multiple tests, she had a range of possible disorders but no diagnosis.
By 2019, Fordham was having full-body tremors so strong that she shook her bed at night. She suffered from fatigue and apathy and had difficulty carrying out her responsibilities, such as homeschooling her three children. Then came the proper diagnosis — Parkinson’s disease.
“If I had been 30 years older,” she said, “no one would have blinked if I’d had those symptoms.”
Fordham began learning all she could about Parkinson’s, and she sought help from the national Parkinson’s Foundation, based in Miami, which is dedicated to raising money for research, distributing information about the disease and promoting community involvement. Its website states that only 1 percent of the U.S. population who is older than 60 has Parkinson’s, and four percent of those were diagnosed before the age of 50. Parkinson’s can strike people in their 20s, but most of the cases develop as people age.
After Fordham received her diagnosis, she qualified for a new study, Deep Brain Stimulation, that gave her hope. DBS was discovered in the late 1980s. Tiny electrodes are implanted into certain areas of the brain. A neurostimulator, sometimes called a brain pacemaker, is placed near the collarbone, and supplies high-frequency stimulation to the electrodes. The stimulation helps the brain alter the abnormal signals caused by Parkinson’s.
In February, a surgeon placed the first electrode in Fordham’s brain. Afterward, she endured a day with hours of tests that allowed the doctors to determine the settings for the neurostimulator. Her husband filmed her and later created a video of the testing process. In the video, she walks in a line, taps her toes in a pattern and places pegs in holes repeatedly. After each set of activities, the research team turns on various stimulator settings.
In some settings, Fordham performs the activities without tremors, while in others, she experiences fast or slow tremors throughout her body. (To see the video, visit www.youtube.com, and use keywords “Kamping with Katie.”)
In 2022, Fordham hopes to undergo another surgery for the opposite side of her brain. Already, the stimulation and her medications are controlling most of the tremors and other symptoms.
“There is no cure for Parkinson’s at this time,” said Anniston neurologist Anthony Esposito, “but there are multiple research projects being done worldwide. There are many new medications, but the most effective one is still Carbidopa-Levodopa, which has been available since 1988.”
Despite her experiences with Parkinson’s, Fordham considers herself fortunate. First, receiving an accurate diagnosis was a blessing, since not knowing the cause of her symptoms frightened her and her family. Fordham lists her other blessings, such as her improvement, along with having health insurance, family support and friends from her church. They are helping her sponsor a walk to raise awareness of Parkinson’s. It is to take place Nov. 6 at Oxford Lake.
“Also, I have the blessing of living in America,” she said, “and I live in Alabama close to UAB.”
Also, she is thankful that her three children, who are 14, 11 and 8, have learned to accept the change in their lives.
“Initially, they didn’t understand that I didn’t feel well,” Fordham said. “As time has passed, and as the children have gotten older, they have taken on some of the responsibilities of the household: doing their own laundry, helping with dishes, and keeping the house clean. I am blessed and appreciate that God loves me and helps my feet hit the ground every day. I keep going.”