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Nurse lives life to the fullest whilst managing Parkinson’s

28 March 2022 - Kathy now keeps her mind and body active after her successful treatment at King’s means she is currently symptom-free

Bromley resident and nurse Kathy French was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2018 after completing the London Marathon that same year. Kathy has always enjoyed taking on challenges that test and improve her fitness levels. In 2018, Kathy took part in the London Marathon but shortly after the event she noticed something that would change the course of her life.

Kathy, now 73, recalls the events that led to her diagnosis and said: “A few days after the London Marathon, I was looking through some pictures that were taken along the route at Tower Bridge and I spotted something strange. My shoulders appeared uneven and my left arm was significantly lower than the other. Shortly after this I began to experience mild tremors in my legs and arms.”

After visiting her GP Kathy was referred to King’s for further examination, where it was confirmed that Kathy had Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition affecting 145,000 people in the UK. The condition develops when cells in the brain stop functioning correctly and are lost over time. This can lead to tremors or shaking across the body and can make everyday movements like walking up and down the stairs extremely difficult.

With the support of her family, Kathy started treatment in July 2018. She tried various combinations of drugs before she found one that reduced the tremors.

Kathy said: “The first few drugs that I was prescribed helped to reduce the tremors, but I did experience harsh side effects such as increased my heart rate and nausea, which was quite unsettling.

“I discussed the side effects with the neurology team at King’s and in May 2020 they altered my treatment plan, which now involves administering different drugs. It’s been a total game changer as I’ve stopped having tremors.”

She added: “In addition to the medication, I manage my condition by keeping active and practicing Pilates and yoga. I completed the London Marathon virtual run last year and always aim to hit 10,000 steps a day.

“I’m thankful to have a supportive husband and children who encourage me to try new hobbies and enjoy life. In fact, I’m learning to speak Italian – it’s important to keep both the mind and body active, particularly when you’re living with Parkinson’s.”

Last year, Kathy also volunteered as a vaccinator at a busy centre in Central London. Alongside completing 12.5-hour days administering vaccines to the community she would teach yoga and Pilates to her fellow vaccinators before their shifts.

Kathy said: “It was rewarding to know I was helping thousands of people to protect themselves and their loved ones and it made me realise there was so much I could do despite the diagnosis.”

Kathy’s willingness to carry on and enjoy life led her to discover further volunteering opportunities, including joining the patient group CRISP (Community for Research Involvement and Support for People with Parkinson’s). The group, which was set up 10 years ago by clinicians at King’s College Hospital, is made up of patients, carers and research staff across London who offer their personal views on Parkinson’s related clinical research studies that are taking place at King’s.

Kathy explained: “I joined the CRISP group a few months after my diagnosis. After practicing as a nurse for over 30 years, I felt that I was in a unique position to offer advice based on my clinical knowledge as well as my personal experience. It’s also given me the opportunity to connect with and support others with the condition.”

Reflecting on life since her diagnosis, Kathy added: “My focus is to live in the present moment and not to dwell too much on what will happen two or even five years from now. Right now, I’m responding well to treatment and am enjoying living life and making a difference.”

Consultant Neurologist Professor K Ray Chaudhuri, who has overseen Kathy’s treatment at the Parkinson Foundation Centre of Excellence at King’s College Hospital, said: “Myself and the team at the King’s Parkinson Foundation Centre of Excellence are incredibly fond of Kathy and admire the strength and perseverance she has shown throughout her treatment with us. In spite of everything, Kathy has been determined to live well – even keeping up her running.