It took Roy Roden and his wife Lynn four months to bicycle about 5,000 miles cross country, from Seattle to Miami.
Down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, through a sandstorm in the New Mexico desert, across Route 10 in Texas. And they took their dogs, who rode behind them in carriers: Samantha, their Labradoodle, Oliver, their English springer spaniel.
Their trip was not just for adventure; Roy Roden, 57, of Pembroke Pines, has Parkinson’s disease.
Their mission: Raise awareness and funds to help cure Parkinson’s, a progressive disorder that is the second most common degenerative disease of the brain after Alzheimer’s. During their travels, the Rodens met with Parkinson’s patients, their caregivers and researchers, encouraging patients to join clinical trials and making them aware of Deep Brain Stimulation, a surgical procedure that can suppress Parkinson’s symptoms.
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Roden had the procedure done in July 2012; he began his bike ride four months later in Seattle.
Prior to undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation, Roden was taking 30 pills daily.
“I couldn’t shave, button my shirt or feed myself without dropping all my food,’’ said Roden, an exercise physiologist. He no longer takes medication for motor-skill issues, as the exercise has mitigated his symptoms.
Parkinson’s is caused when nerve cells in the brain become impaired or die. These cells, which control movement, produce the chemical dopamine; the resultant loss of dopamine causes Parkinson’s movement problems. Parkinson’s symptoms include insomnia, tremors, stiffness, balance issues, lack of coordination and twitching.
For Roden, the first signs of Parkinson’s came from a twitch in his right thumb about 20 years ago. He began to lose his voice, suffer from insomnia and depression, and noticed his right arm stopped swinging when he walked.
“It was like plastered to my side,’’ Roden said.
Roden visited at least six doctors before he was diagnosed in 2009 with Parkinson’s. By 2012, Roden underwent the Deep Brain Stimulation at UHealth-University of Miami Health System. He and Lynn — they are now separated — ended their bike ride at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, where they were greeted by Roy’s doctors, family and friends and members of the Parkinson’s community.
“It was an amazing trip,’’ said Dr. Jonathan Jagid, the UM neurosurgeon who performed the procedure on Roden, said at the time.
Deep Brain Stimulation uses electrical stimulation of the brain to control symptoms, said Dr. Corneliu Luca, director of UM’s Deep Brain Stimulation program. During Roden’s surgery, doctors implanted a device into his chest that sends electrical impulses to targeted areas of the brain that control motor control and muscle function. These impulses are controlled by a pulse generator, similar to a pacemaker.
“Using a battery pack and wires the size of angel hair pasta, this technique can control abnormal brain circuits in the same way a pacemaker controls an abnormal heart rhythm,’’ Luca said.
The surgery is conducted in two stages. During the first stage, an electrode is inserted into the skull to stimulate the brain’s areas while the patient is awake. A week later, the electrodes are connected to the pulse generator, which is then placed in the chest while the patient is under general anesthesia.
Roden said he took a couple of aspirin after the first surgery, and missed only three days of work.
“The risk of DBS is very minimal,” said Dr. Badih Adada, a neurosurgeon at Cleveland Clinic of Florida in Weston. “It is done very safely and with minimum discomfort. It is not a cure to Parkinson’s but [helps] patients not responding well to medication.”
The ideal candidate for surgery is a patient who has had the disease for five years or more and initially responded well to medication, but has seen the medications’ effectiveness diminish.
Today, Roden says he no longer has tremors. He said he still suffers from depression and takes sleeping pills for his insomnia.
He continues to pedal for a cause. Two months ago, Roden completed an 1,800-mile bike ride from Vancouver to the Los Angeles area. And he is gearing up for a 100-mile sea cycle ride next September from Havana to Key West. A sea cycle is a Catamaran-style pedal boat that allows someone to pedal across water.
As for his symptoms, Roden said his right foot has begun to drag a little when he walks.
“But other than that, you wouldn’t notice I had Parkinson’s disease,’’ Roden said.