Minnesota Stem-Cell Activist Responds to Rush Limbaugh's Comment's

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Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of being off his medication or acting. Next he went on to charge that Fox is exploiting his disease. Minnesota Parkinson's activist Jackie Hunt Christensen issued a response outlining her similar experience with Parkinson's symptoms and why she thinks people who could benefit from stem cells are the best people to speak out for the issue.

Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of being off his medication or acting. Next he went on to charge that Fox is exploiting his disease. Minnesota Parkinson's activist Jackie Hunt Christensen issued a response outlining her similar experience with Parkinson's symptoms and why she thinks people who could benefit from stem cells are the best people to speak out for the issue.

Christensen, the Minnesota activist with Parkinson's disease who refers to herself as the "MUSCLE (Minnesotans United for Stem Cell Line Expansion) Mom," today issued the following statement:

"I guess it's time for my battery-operated brain and I to weigh in on this election year debate on stem cell research, particularly since Rush Limbaugh has had the heartless audacity to say that Michael J. Fox was 'either off his medication, or acting' in pro stem-cell research ads in Missouri. Next he has said Fox is exploiting his disease by getting involved. Who better to speak out than someone who could actually benefit from the bill?

For years, I have spoken out in favor of stem cell research and until recently was moving around FAR MORE than Michael J Fox. My husband used to say that sometime's he would almost get motion sickness looking at me.

I had deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS), which I refer to as my "battery-operated brain," or "BOB," to address my symptoms of Parkinson's disease that had gotten progressively worse since my diagnosis at age 34 in 1998.

Parkinson's disease (PD) goes well beyond the shaking or tremors that most people associate with the disease. In fact, as many as 25 percent of PD patients never experience tremors. Muscle rigidity, slowness of movement and poor balance are the three other symptoms that are used by doctors to diagnose the disease. Other symptoms can include loss of facial expression ("masking") and soft voice, caused by rigid facial and throat muscles; constipation; depression and cognitive effects.

Unfortunately, the levodopa medication that initially works pretty well to control these symptoms stops working so effectively over time, and especially in younger patients, often causes the involuntary writhing movements that we can see in Michael J. Fox's TV ad, and which led me to seek brain surgery to alleviate.

Brain surgery is a pretty drastic step to take, but when you feel your life slipping away while research is stalled because federal funding is being held hostage by a minority of legislators out of touch with the wishes of the American public, you find yourself ready for drastic measures.

Deep brain stimulation surgery, in my case, involved the placement of two electrical leads, each with four electrodes, deep in the brain. The leads are connected at points on the back of my head to two pacemakers in my chest. These batteries provide constant electrical stimulation to trick my brain into minimizing many of my Parkinson's symptoms.

I am thrilled that DBS has worked so well for me. My dyskinesia has virtually disappeared, and I am much more mobile than I had been. However, I know that it is only a stop-gap measure, not a cure. I continue to tire easily physically and mentally. It does not halt the progress of the disease, so, eventually, like the medication that I continue to take, it will work less well.

To put it bluntly, dyskinesia sucks! It is exhausting and painful to be moving almost constantly. And I don't know anyone who enjoys writhing in public, actor or not. Michael J. Fox has put this physical and social discomfort aside to speak out for a cause in which he firmly believes and one which could someday benefit him and countless others. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, was speaking from a glaring lack of knowledge and sensitivity.

Legislative efforts on embryonic stem cells have called for federal money to be freed up for the use of excess embryos from in vitro fertilization efforts which are slated for destruction as medical waste. SCNT involves the introduction of genetic material into an ovum but does not involve any sperm. In other words, two key ingredients required for conception of a baby - sperm and a womb - are missing from this equation.

For patients like Michael J. Fox and me, embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, unfortunately and confusingly referred to as "therapeutic cloning,") offer a great deal of hope for better treatments or a cure for Parkinson's and many other diseases while not harming others. The Bill of RIghts tells us we can pursue life, liberty and happiness, and speaking out for these research techniques that could give us that is part of that right. It's too bad that the comments of Rush Limbaugh and others, who claim to be all about the rights of the individual cannot offer positive solutions without hurting others or denying them their rights to free speech."

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Jackie Hunt Christensen

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