Healthy Living

Law Enforcement Officer with Parkinson's Disease Goes Above and Beyond to Raise Awareness

Law Enforcement Officer with Parkinson's Disease Goes Above and Beyond to Raise Awareness

Retired Trooper Tommy Dellinger lives with Parkinson’s disease, and he has a mission. The North Carolina Highway Patrol officer completed a cross-country walk to raise awareness of Parkinson’s. Gaston County and North Carolina Patrol Cruisers drove next to Tommy Dellinger and his supporters as they walked the final four miles of Officer Dellinger’s mission. This "parade" was the conclusion to his incredible 2,300-mile walk that began in California in September and ended back home in North Carolina. Family, friends and law-enforcement colleagues were there to cheer him on and help him finish his spectacular trek.

“Thank you for every one of you for coming and for supporting me along the way,” said a tearful Dellinger, moments after arriving at the police station, and wearing a Tennessee Volunteers cap, his favorite team. “I love all of you and I couldn’t have done it without you.”

In 1997, Dellinger joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol. His career included a stint in the U.S. Army and as a police officer in Lincolnton. Dellinger is also a 17-year veteran as a trooper in Gaston County. Being active and a law enforcement officer was his life.

When Officer Dellinger was only 39, he began to have problems doing even simple tasks.  He visited medical professionals and the diagnosis was Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s is an incurable disease that disrupts the central nervous system, which controls motor functions. The loss of cells in the brain that produces dopamine is the cause of Parkinson’s. It is a diagnosis that generally occurs in people who are in their early 60s or older, but it can be diagnosed among those under 50 years of age, which is called Early Onset Parkinson's.

Symptoms appear slowly and over time. At first, you may not notice the tremors in your hands, or the difficulty remembering projects, or why your walking gait is slower, but the symptoms are there.

The most obvious symptoms are shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity, and difficulty when walking. These symptoms are particularly depressing if you are young and unaware of what is happening. Loss of thinking and behavioral problems, dementia, depression, and anxiety are also common symptoms. 

There is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s, and medical professionals base treatment on the individual and their symptoms. There are medications that can help, and surgical therapy is a possibility. Other options can include exercise, getting more rest and some alternative medication.

Trying to keep track of medications and when you need to take these medications can be frustrating. You need to make sure you understand your medicine and stick to a schedule to gain the most significant benefits from the drugs.

Surgical options are available only for Parkinson’s patients who have gone through other medical treatments for tremors or who suffer from weighty motor fluctuations.

The surgical treatments for those with Parkinson’s are:

  • Deep brain stimulation or DBS: In this procedure, electrodes deliver tiny electrical pulses to the portions of the brain controlling movement. This stimulation allows the brain to maintain normal movement activity with lower doses of levodopa or Parkinson’s medication. Surgeons connect electrodes by a wire to a pulse generator implanted under the skin on the chest. No parts are visible.
  • You can also have surgery that implants a tube in the small intestine. This tube transports a gel preparation of carbidopa/levodopa to the brain to help control spastic motor conditions.

Dellinger actually underwent deep brain stimulation with the intent to help relieve some of his Parkinson’s’ symptoms. For him, the surgery was successful and helped him cope better with his symptoms.

Photo: Tommy Dellinger. Source: Youtube/The Gaston Gazette.