Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis Changed My Life--for the Better!

Diagnosed at 41

No one wants to be diagnosed with a life changing disease. In 2001, when I was 41 years old, I started feeling a tremor in my right hand. I talked with my doctor and she sent me to a neurologist to have it checked out. I was first diagnosed with essential tremor which runs in my family. Then in May of 2008 I was re-diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This was a devastating diagnosis. I didn't know what it meant. I have two sons who are now 18 and 15. Would I live to see them get married and have children of their own? In August of 2008, I went to OHSU for a second opinion. After that, I went to a newly diagnosed meeting at OHSU. I really didn't want to go to this meeting. In fact, I was at my hairdressers telling her I was going to skip it. She talked me into going and I'm so glad I did.

Cadillac Sharon1

At that meeting I met a man who had had Parkinson's disease for 17 years and was teaching Pilates in his community. There was no way anyone could have known this but I wanted to teach Pilates before my diagnosis and had given that dream up after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. After that meeting I contacted the Pilates teacher education program and started learning how to teach Pilates.

I am so happy with my life right now. I am a certified comprehensive Pilates trainer. Pilates keeps me moving and exercising and takes away my stiffness. It's the best thing I could ever have in my life! I have never felt so focused on a goal. It's a wonderful feeling. I have purpose in my life. I'm teaching others with Parkinson's Disease. I've completed the certification program through OHSU on how to teach exercise to people with Parkinson's disease. This program is modeled after their research of an intensive exercise program in which I was a participant. I've also completed my first half marathon walking and have walked other races with the support of my family and friends to raise money for various Parkinson's organizations. At my last checkup with my neurologist, he said that my gait looked great. I think exercise makes me feel good and helps slow my Parkinson's disease symptoms. That's my story. I've only just begun to live.


I believe this is a wonderful story of a very courageous young person. Debra is a star example of taking a bad situation and turning it into a positive one. Surely this Pilates is beneficial for her and could be for almost anyone. I am so proud of you Debra!

Elaine , Dec 20, 2013


It helps to have a wonderful supportive family! Love you mom!

Debra Millegan, Oct 27, 2014

Debra -- what a wonderful story. I hope others will take your advice and exercise. I am a firm believer that exercise keeps this disease at bay. I am 12 years from diagnosis, have been on the same dosage of medication for the past 4 years, still working, EXERCISING, sewing, traveling and doing all of the things I enjoy. I am thankful each day for where I am with the disease and I am sure that exercise is the reason why!

Jan , Jan 29, 2014


Hi Jan, You sound like you are doing great! I love hearing other's stories. Thank you! Debra

Debra Millegan, Oct 27, 2014


My husband was just diagnosed last week. He is 47. I think exercise is so important, healthy or not. I mentioned Pilates to him but it needs to be his decision. You mentioned OHSU in your story. Is that Oregon Health and Science University by chance? I live in Oregon near Eugene and would love to connect with someone who teaches Pilates with Parkinson's in mind. We have only just started our journey and I want to get connected with the right resources. Thank you for sharing your story!

Jennie, Aug 30, 2014


Hi Jennie, Yes, I was speaking of OHSU in Portland OR. Have you tried connecting with Parkinson's Resources of Oregon (PRO) to get references for exercise programs for People with PD (PWPD)? They are also good at directing you to support groups. I know a little about the Eugene area resources because my brother-in-law lives there and has PD as well. He works with a trainer at a club in downtown Eugene that he loves. Also, are you seeing the neurologist Dr. Batya? She specializes in movement disorders and has a great team of specialists in PD that she works with. I hope that helps! My facebook page is called Pilates for Parkinsons if you'd like to talk more we can message there privately. Best, Debra

Debra Millegan, Oct 27, 2014

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