Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attorney General's Actions Help Publicize Parkinson's

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attorney General's Actions Help Publicize Parkinson's

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Some people with Parkinson's disease stuff their hands in their pockets. Others routinely sit on them or clamp them behind their back. Not America's attorney general.

Three years after her diagnosis, Janet Reno does nothing to hide the tremors that wrack both arms. At a recent event at MTV's Times Square headquarters, she shuddered so much during a talk on youth violence that both the podium and microphone shook.

"We are living in a culture of violence," the former Dade County prosecutor said, asking adults to listen to young people -- a short speech that won applause and kind words.

In trademark style, Reno has gone from Stage 1 to Stage 2 Parkinson's while in the limelight as America's top law enforcer. By dealing with it matter-of-factly, by dismissing her tremors as a "phantom wing" -- Reno has, perhaps unwittingly, emerged as Parkinson's "poster child."

Her experience may also say some thing about America's changing attitude toward disabilities.

Listen to Judy McGrath, MTV's hip black-clad president, who joined with the Justice Department recently to promote a CD-ROM providing young people with advice on how to channel their rage creatively -- into poetry, music and public service:

"I think of the power of her personality and who she is when she gets going -- and I kind of forget what she's doing and how she looks," said McGrath, 46, whose corporation reaches 265.8 million homes worldwide.

Not that it's easy to ignore.

"I see it. I feel bad for a minute and I completely forget about it," McGrath said. When Reno works a crowd, McGrath said, people look her in the eye, not at her hands.

Parkinson's is a brain disorder that generally comes with age and has no cure. It gradually robs people's ability to control their movements. It is caused by the absence of a chemical called dopamine, which lets most of us move our limbs smoothly. More than a million Americans have it, among them the evangelist Billy Graham and the actor Michael J. …

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