Local News

Parkinson's Disease Does Not Just Strike Elderly

Posted April 28, 2006 9:34 a.m. EDT

— In the early stages, Parkinson's Disease can be difficult to diagnose. It is a degenerative disease of the nerve cells in parts of the brain that control muscle movement. It is more common among the elderly, but a Holly Springs woman noticed the first symptoms in her teens.

Laura Gratkowski has to take eight pills every three hours. More than 15 years ago, in her late teens, she felt stiff, with mild tremors. The diagnosis came about the same time Mark Gratkowski proposed to her. She was 20.

"I always wanted to marry her and I'm still glad that I did," he said. "I knew what her symptoms were at the time, but I did not know what the future held. It is scary for that reason."

The future held two sons -- Luke and Ian.

"With Luke, my first son, I was off meds for the whole nine months, which was awful. I basically didn't move for nine months," Laura said.

The boys are accustomed to their mother's "shaky" moments even when strangers around them are not. Such moments could occur in a grocery store, when she might appear to be intoxicated. For her and others with Parkinson's, she wants understanding.

"There's actually something else going on," she said.

Two years ago, she tried deep brain stimulation. Wires inserted near the thalmus are connected to two pacemakers in her chest that trigger dopamine production in the brain. It did not work as well as she hoped.

"I was hoping for maybe a 10 percent increase in the quality of life. I got maybe four percent," Laura said. "It's a lot frustrating, but you know, you do what you have to do."

Gratkowski founded the

Triangle APDA

. The group will meet the second Wednesday of each month beginning May 10 from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. It will be held at 6175 Old Jenks Road in Apex. You can e-mail


for more information.

Medication cannot cure Parkinson's Disease. It can only treat the symptoms and perhaps slow it down. People with the disease are also more prone to develop Alzheimer's Disease.