For 12 outstanding years in the NBA, former Miami HEAT Brian Grant was known for his hectic pace and tenacity as a power forward or center. Sometimes he shrugged off injuries and maneuvered his 6-foot-9-inch frame to block shots or jump for rebounds.
But his fights on the basketball court would pale compared to what awaited him shortly after he retired from the NBA. One day in 2008, a neurologist in Portland, Oregon told him that he had Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD), which occurs in people under the age of 50. He was 36 years old at the time. Parkinson’s was diagnosed with “Tremor Dominant”. But even in his game days, there were signs of what was to come.
(Watch Now: Hear from former Miami HEAT star Brian Grant, Justin Sporrer, MD, director of functional neurosurgery at the Miami Neuroscience Institute of Baptist Health, and Sameea Husain Wilson, DO, director of movement disorder neurology at the Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital Video by Carol Higgins.)
“My journey actually began when I was traded to the Lakers,” recalls Mr. Grant. “I noticed that I couldn’t jump off my left leg as well as I used to. And then I came to Phoenix, retired, and had depression for nine months that I later found out that many Parkinson’s patients had gone through because of the loss of dopamine in the brain. And that’s how I got to this point. And then I moved back to Portland in 2008 and got diagnosed. “
Mr. Grant interviewed Baptist Health to publicize Parkinson’s disease and medical advances in the treatment of tremors and other physical symptoms, as well as non-movement-related problems, which can include anxiety, depression, and cognitive problems. Parkinson’s patients are increasingly seeing improvements in these symptoms at the Miami Neuroscience Institute and the Marcus Neuroscience Institute (April is Parkinson Awareness Month).
“Miami will always have a special place in my heart,” he says. The memories of his days in South Florida playing for HEAT are still reminiscent of that, and he has a lot of fans here. During his NBA career, he also played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
“I am a believer … and that is what I was dealt with”
Upon diagnosis, Mr. Grant realized that his life and career after the NBA would take a dramatic departure from what he had dreamed of – a career as an NBA commentator on camera.
“I had dreams and aspirations to be a commentator for ESPN, TNT or something like that,” he says. “But I was quickly shown that this would not be an option for me as I do not have the mental ability to step in front of people – trembling and trembling – and be able to report what needs to be reported.”
His calling had changed suddenly at a young age. “You know what? I’m a believer and it was in God’s hands. And that’s what I got dealt with. And I think I got through it because he knew I could handle it.”
Mr Grant would use his new platform to get the message across that Parkinson’s disease can affect young people. And that victims of this insidious and still mysterious disease can lead meaningful, productive and active lives.
Upon diagnosis, Mr. Grant befriended Michael J. Fox, the most famous actor diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (aged 30), and Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who died in 2016 after decades of fighting Parkinson’s.
The Brian Grant Foundation was founded in 2010. Their website states, “While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, exercise, diet, and a supportive community can all help alleviate symptoms, maintain overall health, and prevent other serious illnesses.” And now it’s Mr. Grant a newly published author who recounts his journey in the new book Rebound: Soaring in the NBA, Battling Parkinson, and Finding What Really Matters. For people with Parkinson’s disease, exercise and monitored physical condition are critical to maintaining balance and mobility, or just keeping up with normal activities of daily living.
“I know there is a platform just because I’ve played in the NBA, but this platform is a lot bigger because it not only deals with the patients, but also with carers, friends and family of people who work with Parkinson’s, “Grant said. “I’ve written a book and it’s a glimpse of Parkinson’s, but it’s also a glimpse of a lifetime of ups and downs. Just because we’re diagnosed with Parkinson’s doesn’t mean we won’t go through things or problems. We have other areas of our lives to do our business. And sometimes that can be difficult and sometimes we don’t do it well, but anytime we can stand up and turn things around.
Still mostly a mystery, but Parkinson’s is on the rise
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain. Its cause remains largely a mystery. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medication and surgery – often to control tremors, which can be debilitating. Parkinson’s on its own isn’t fatal, but complications can be serious. About one million live with Parkinson’s disease in the US and about 60,000 are diagnosed each year.
“We know that many people will develop Parkinson’s later in life, but we have some pretty obvious examples of people who develop it earlier in life,” explains Dr. Justin Sporrer, director of functional neurosurgery at Baptist Health’s Miami Neuroscience Institute. “The best known is probably Michael J. Fox. We see these cases where people get symptoms in their thirties and forties, sometimes even earlier. “
It’s important for everyone to understand that adults under the age of 50 are increasingly being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease because “catching symptoms as early as possible is the name of the game,” said Sameea Husain Wilson, DO, director of movement disorder neurology at Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, where she specializes in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Seek medical help as early as possible
“It is very important to see a movement disorder neurologist as this is where we can help with this emotional journey as well,” explains Dr. Husain Wilson. “And we can help with depression, anxiety, and other psychological traits that can be associated with the disease. We can help patients cope better with them and develop a skills and coping mechanism so that they understand that they are not alone – and that they now have a new family. “
Dr. Sporrer adds that the overall incidence of Parkinson’s disease is increasing significantly, and “we’re not sure why that is exactly.”
“There can be environmental factors. It can also just be an indication of an aging population. Regardless, it is increasing and more and more Americans need treatment, ”says Dr. Sporrer. “I think that the role of the doctor is very important not only as a lawyer but also as a treating unit, but that it is a team effort that extends from the laboratory to the doctors to the patients. And we work as a team. “
Mr. Grant is now part of this “team” as an advocate of inspiring Parkinson’s patients to be as healthy as possible despite physical challenges. Dr. Husain Wilson stresses that when it comes to treating Parkinson’s disease, “there needs to be a village” that can include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and a support network of friends, family and other patients battling the disease.
Mr Grant says he is confident that medical advances could reduce Parkinson’s symptoms to the point that the disease will be eradicated for future generations.
“Even if we don’t find anything in my life, I hope the work (Baptist Health) is doing will be there for my children when they develop Parkinson’s,” said Mr. Grant. “I don’t know anyone in my family who has had it, but I find it scary to think that one of my children will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“Not that they can’t handle it, but I just want them not to have to go through this. With your hard work and the things you post there, you may be the one to discover cures so my children never need to know about this disease. “