When Kim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 45, she thought her days of bicycling were over. An avid athlete who had enjoyed biking since she was a child, Spletter had always looked forward to her daily 20-mile rides, and found them to be the perfect way to unwind after a busy day. All of that changed seven years ago when Spletter began experiencing an array of physical symptoms ranging from tremors and stiffness to a complete lace of muscle control.
“I couldn’t balance on my bike and the tremors and muscle rigidity prevented me from pedaling,” Spletter says. “I was always an athletic person and suddenly saw my life shrinking.”
Her doctor diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive neurological disease that occurs when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough of a brain chemical called dopamine. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease says the degenerative movement disorder affects over one million people in the U.S. Although the average age of onset is 60, people are diagnosed as young as 18.
While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, medication and therapy are used to treat symptoms of the disease including tremors and shaking, stiffness and slow movements.
A retired sheriff’s deputy, who was used to an active lifestyle, Spletter had a hard time accepting her diagnosis and the realization that suddenly nothing physical was easy for her.
“I couldn’t walk for any distance, and I had trouble dressing myself,” she says. “All of my joints hurt and the dopamine replacement medication that I was taking for Parkinson’s made my dyskinesias (abnormal involuntary movements) worse.”
Mourning her loss of independence, Spletter felt hopeful when her doctor suggested she take part in a new clinical trial at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The study would use a noninvasive approach called focused ultrasound, to target and heat the abnormal brain cells associated with dyskinesia.
Over the course of four hours in September, 2015, Spletter received a series of focused ultrasound waves that passed harmlessly through her skull to kill a targeted group of cells. After the 11th wave, she had regained 70% of her strength on the left side of her body, and while Spletter had been taken by wheelchair into the procedure, she was able to walk out on her own after it was completed. In addition, her symptoms of trembling and shaking subsided almost immediately.
As one of the first Parkinson’s patients in the United States to undergo the procedure, doctors told Spletter that while the focused ultrasound procedure would make her symptoms less debilitating, they weren’t sure how long the results would last. Spletter, however, was undeterred by the uncertainty of her prognosis and determined to make the most of her second chance at mobility. Today, over a year and a half after her treatment, many of Spletter’s symptoms continue to diminish.
“The procedure turned back the clock for me,” says Spletter who decided to make the most of her newfound freedom. She began walking and biking, and taking spin classes at her local YMCA. She found that a regular biking regimen and spin classes were especially helpful in keeping her Parkinson’s symptoms at bay.
Today Kim continues to teach the Pedaling for Parkinson’s class and continues personal training her clients with huge success.