Healthy Living

Doctor with Parkinson's Continues to Serve the Medical World

Doctor with Parkinson's Continues to Serve the Medical World

Dr. Terry Capistrant was 55 years old when he discovered that he might be experiencing the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. It was when he had just finished a spinal tap on his patient and noticed that his writing was small and cramped as he wrote his notes.  

Dr. Capistrant knew that something was wrong, and he immediately felt a feeling of dread in his stomach.

“It was very stressful,” said Terry, now 80 years old, sitting in his Lilydale home overlooking the Mississippi River.

The symptom he noticed is called micrographia and is experienced by patients shortly before they are diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. Micrographia is also brought on by stress, which was very common in Dr. Capistrant's career as a neurologist.

Friends and family were devastated by the news. “We were both depressed,” said the doctor’s wife, Jacque, about the diagnosis. His son, Ted, was also surprised. “It was shock and despair,” he said, “I assumed — and I was wrong — that it was a death sentence.” However, after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, Dr. Capistrant is still going strong after battling the disease for 25 years. Not only is he strong, but he's never been more motivated.

Dr. Laura Li, director of the Capistrant Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, says that he is one of the best patients. Capistrant lived up to every expectation of a Parkinson's patient and has also showed persistence and a positive attitude. The doctor regularly exercises and has a great support system of family and friends behind him.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. It was first discovered by James Parkinson in 1817 and was first named shaking palsy, due to the symptoms that were observed in patients at the time. The disease  is characterized by involuntary tremors and shakes that compromise the patient’s physical capabilities. Other signs of the disease include hypertonia, muscle rigidity, bradykinesia, and general instability.

Parkinson’s symptoms are caused by the destruction of dopaminergic brain cells located in the substantia nigra, a region in the brain. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that helps smooth the synapses between neurons that control movement. In the absence of this neurotransmitter, movements become erratic, unstable, and unpredictable. Even when standing still, the patient may experience tremors.

Read on to learn more about Capistrant's long career as a neurologist, and see what he is doing now for Parkinson's disease.

Photo source: Dr. Capistrant and wife Jacque Capistrant by Deanna Weniger / Pioneer Press