The politics of Parkinson's

Dustup between Limbaugh, Fox highlights the disease
2006-11-03T00:00:00Z The politics of Parkinson'sVANESSA PHILLIPS
Medill News Service
November 03, 2006 12:00 am  • 

The recent public dispute between Michael J. Fox and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has turned the public's attention towards Parkinson's disease.

"Almost anytime Mr. Fox is seen publicly, he generates public attention for Parkinson's disease," Jeanne Rosner, director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation's Chicago-based chapter, said Wednesday. "We always get a boost in calls, emails and questions."

Rosner said her organization received many comments praising Fox and asking how they could show their support.

During his radio talk show last week, Limbaugh accused Fox of exaggerating the symptoms of his disease during a Missouri political campaign advertisement for Claire McCaskill, a supporter of stem cell research.

"He was either acting or off his medication," Limbaugh said on his Oct. 23 show, accusing the actor of attempting to gain sympathy. "He is using his illness as a tactic to secure the election of another Democratic senator."

Fox also made an appearance in the Chicago area last week to support the candidacy of Tammy Duckworth, running in the 6th congressional district. Duckworth also supports stem cell research.

Parkinson's disease -- a motor system disorder cause by the loss of dopamine producing brain cells -- leads to symptoms such as tremors, muscle rigidity and impaired movement. These symptoms progress over time, making it difficult to walk, talk and perform basic tasks. More than 1 million Americans have the disease.

Fox rebuffed Limbaugh's accusation during several later news interviews.

"The irony of it is that I was too medicated," he told CBS News on Oct. 26.

The medication can cause increased symptoms of shaking and swaying, he said.

Mary Wesley, treasurer at the Glenview-based chapter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association, said Wednesday her organization didn't experience a large increase in public response because of the controversy.

But overall, she said, Fox has contributed greatly to general awareness and funding for Parkinson's.

"He is a well-known name and he is younger, and this helps to get people's attention," she said.

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