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'Muhammad Ali's Parkinson's didn't define him and mine doesn't define me' says Belfast dad

Published 07/06/2016

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali in his prime
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali in his prime
The Greatest: boxing legend Muhammad Ali
Life changing: Patrick Crossan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago
Life changing: Patrick Crossan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago

The former world heavyweight boxing champion suffered from Parkinson's for 30 years. Following his death on Friday from septic shock, Belfast dad and award-winning athlete Patrick Crossan tells Lisa Smyth how he copes with his diagnosis of the disease.

Patrick Crossan refuses to let the fact that he has Parkinson's disease stop him from living life to the full. In fact, he spent the weekend in the Republic of Ireland where he won the Leinster Athletics M50 after winning both the 200m and 400m races in his age category.

The father-of-two from west Belfast is also the current holder of the All-Ireland Indoor M50.

It is an incredible physical achievement for any 53-year-old man, let alone someone who is living with Parkinson's.

People with Parkinson's don't have enough of a chemical called dopamine because some nerve cells in their brain have died.

Without dopamine, sufferers can find that their movements become slower, so it takes longer to do things.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson's, which causes symptoms such as a tremor, fatigue, pain, depression and constipation.

As the condition progresses, sufferers may also develop problems with their speech, memory and the ability to swallow.

However, Patrick - dad to 21-year-old Kevin and 16-year-old Therese - isn't interested in discussing the problems he may face in the future.

"I don't want to know the prognosis, or what might happen," he says.

"I only want to deal with what is happening now."

Patrick was celebrating his 50th birthday when his wife of 22 years, Maureen (46), noticed a tremor in his hand.

He had been feeling under the weather for months but his GP had been unable to find anything wrong with him.

"I just wasn't feeling the greatest and had been back and forward to the doctor but all the blood tests came back normal," he says.

"Then I was out for a meal with Maureen and she noticed my hand shaking.

"I had noticed it before but, being a typical man, decided not to do anything about it.

"The GP thought it was just a benign tremor, but Maureen had private healthcare through work, so she decided I would see a specialist."

After seeing a neurologist, Patrick went for a number of tests - but he still had no idea what was wrong with him.

"I didn't know anything about Parkinson's at this stage, so I had no idea that could be causing the tremor," he says.

"During one appointment, I asked him to be honest with me and tell me if he had any idea what was wrong.

"He told me he was 98 or 99% certain that I had Parkinson's and that they needed to do one final test to confirm it 100%.

"He was pretty upfront about everything and that's when the penny finally dropped.

"As soon as he said Parkinson's I decided I didn't want to read anything, I specifically stayed away from Google.

"Maureen knew I was having the tests at the time, so I had to tell her what he had said and she went straight on the internet and I think it was the worst thing she could've done.

"When you look on the internet you never see the best case scenario, just the worst possibility, so it definitely made it harder for her.

"As well as that, I was going through it, I was living it, there was nothing I could do, whereas she was on the outside watching someone she loved who was unwell and I think that is harder."

Patrick was also faced with the difficult task of breaking the news to his children.

"Of course, the only thing people really know who have Parkinson's are Muhammad Ali, who passed away on Friday, and Michael J Fox and they are both quite extreme cases so that was scary," he adds.

"It's especially scary for children, when they are seeing the likes of Muhammad Ali.

"It's even worse when the media say that he died from Parkinson's - he didn't die from it.

"He was a person who happened to have Parkinson's who died from something else.

"The important thing to remember is that everyone is different and everyone is affected differently and at a different rate.

"What is someone else's Parkinson's is not my Parkinson's."

Patrick chose his moment carefully when it came to breaking the news to his family.

"I waited until we were having a meal - and then I told them I had Parkinson's.

"The first thing I said was that it wasn't fatal, that it wasn't going to kill me and then I asked them not to go on the internet.

"They took it very well and if they have any questions then they come to me."

Patrick has been living with his Parkinson's diagnosis for more than three years now. His tremor has become more obvious, particularly when he is tired or relaxed.

He also suffers from fatigue and has problems sleeping.

He has cut his working week from five to four days, taking Wednesday off from his job as a business analyst for BT.

And while he continues to train hard, he must always remember that rest is paramount if he wants to remain in control of the disease.

"The first question I asked the doctor was whether I was going to have to give up athletics but he actually encourages it," he adds.

"If I couldn't do that I think I would have to do something else, I like to be doing something.

"I also wanted to know whether it was hereditary but it isn't, so that was a relief.

"It's a bit of a lottery really."

Patrick adds: "The tiredness can be a problem. When I get tired I go down like a tree but I just have to make sure that I rest.

"The tremor is worse now but I'm not too conscious about it.

"I'm always meeting new people with my job and I can see people looking at me trying to work out what is wrong.

"They're not being cruel, it's just human nature, but if I am working with someone for a while then I tell them because it's not fair on them otherwise.

"I would tell anyone newly diagnosed not to be afraid to tell people what is going on.

"There's no easy way to work it into the conversation but if there is one thing I have learned since my diagnosis, it is the kindness of people."

Belfast Telegraph

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