Canandaigua, N.Y. — When Dr. Anthony Geraci began to have odd symptoms such as fatigue and stiffness several years ago, he dismissed them as simply signs of middle age.
“I figured I was in my middle 40s and that I needed to eat better and exercise more — just take better care of myself as I always urged my patients to do,” he said.
Geraci’s symptoms worsened and didn’t respond to his efforts, but he was able to continue to work as chief of emergency medicine at Thompson Hospital through remarkable effort and determination. Then, one day late in an Emergency Department shift, he noticed something about his handwriting.
“My writing showed micrographia — a characteristic small and compressed handwriting that is often present in Parkinson’s disease,” he said. “It was then that I finally put all the symptoms together and decided that it was time to see a neurologist.”
After a battery of tests, Geraci, 52, of Canandaigua, was diagnosed at 48 with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive disorder of the central nervous system that affects the coordination of movement. Symptoms often include a tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity and difficulties with balance and gait, as well as reduced facial expression.
Geraci’s Parkinson’s disease is the “young onset” type, similar to that suffered by actor Michael J. Fox and athlete Davis Phinney. While medications were initially effective in controlling the symptoms, the medications eventually lost their effectiveness and he was unable to do many daily activities.
“In retrospect I can trace symptoms back to my early 40s,” Geraci said. “Unfortunately, within three years of diagnosis the medications were no longer working. I could not get out of bed or dress independently. I was humbled to have to ask complete strangers to help me in restrooms. It is testimony to the innate goodness of people that no one ever refused to help or made me feel bad. My mind was still working well, but my body was failing, locking me in it.”
Later in the day when the medicine kicked in, Geraci could do a few routine chores until the medicine would suddenly wear off, and then he again became immobile.
“I wasn’t living. I was just existing,” he said.
Geraci had always been a very active cyclist, logging between 3,000 and 5,000 miles a year. With the rapid progression of his symptoms, he couldn’t balance on a bike and also was unable to continue working.
In October of 2011, Geraci underwent six hours of awake neurosurgery to place two electrodes deep in his brain. These were connected to a deep brain stimulator – a device like a pacemaker that constantly sends impulses to the movement areas of the brain affected by Parkinson’s.
What happened next is described by Geraci as a “miracle:” “Once the stimulator was turned on, I could again dress myself, and my movement returned and became more fluid. Not like before Parkinson’s – it’s a progressive disease even with the deep brain stimulator and it will continue to get worse. But for now, I’m back living life.”
Although difficulty keyboarding and speaking have kept Geraci unable to return to work at Thompson, he’s back on a bicycle, although far slower and able to do only a few miles at a time.
On June 3, he will travel to Boulder, Colo. to cycle in the Road to Victory Bicycle Classic, a fundraiser for the Davis Phinney Foundation. This foundation supports people with Parkinson’s to live their lives fully by making “every victory count.”
It is a 40- to 60-mile ride. That used to be the typical training ride distance for Geraci, but it will be the farthest he’s ridden since his diagnosis.