Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tom Berdine, I’m 37, and I have Parkinson’s Disease. I don’t know how or why nor will I ever find out. All I can do is accept it and move on with life. While doing so I hope to draw international attention to the issue of young onset Parkinson’s disease through any advocacy efforts within my ability. When I was initially diagnosed I thought that Michael J. Fox and I were the only young people in the world with this, was I ever wrong!
I joined the US Air Force in 1985 straight out of High School and was classified as a Signals Intelligence Analyst in which Ii excelled at until January 2001, when my life and future took a quick u-turn.
For about a year I had been having difficulty with my lower back and my eyes. Friends and family were asking if I had been in an accident and pointed out my slowed movements. My eyes were, and are constantly dry and I have difficulty focusing. Optometrists noted a stigmatism but glasses did not remedy my vision. I also visited a chiropractor which did not help. Shortly after I noticed a stiffness in my left hand and slurred speech. I thought nothing of it.
Finally after encouragement from my ex-wife in October 2000 I made an appointment at the Hickam Air Force Base hospital (I dread doctors). Following a series of tests I was diagnosed with essential tremor and referred to Neurology at Tripler Army Medical Center for further testing.
The Army at first diagnosed depression but soon after diagnosed ”probable Parkinson’s” and prescribed Mirapex. Unfortunately at this time my marriage was falling apart and the anxiety side-effects of the drug caused me to lose control and caused undue suspicions. My wife and 3 daughters left in January 2001. I was alone, confused, angry, and hurt.
During this period I began psychiatric treatment for severe depression.
In March of 2001 I took a month long TDY to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC and was introduced to Dr. Cannard (an expert in movement disorders). Thorough testing and a trial dose of SINEMET resulted in my official diagnosis of ”probable Parkinson’s disease”, a familiar term. He offered to definitively diagnose Parkinson’s but I am not quite ready for an autopsy of my brain!
I medically retired from the Air Force (TDRL) at 80﹪ disability on 1 October 2001. The which Veterans Association (VA) has granted me that 80﹪ tax free. The period from October 2000 to October 2001 was a year of trials and tribulations, and I learned much about myself.
Today I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico by myself at the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. I am unemployed and live on $1500 a month. I am a full time advocate for Parkinson’s disease, and I would have it no other way.