Dave Scheer, 60, loves to hit the links, drop a hook in the water, and spend time with his wife, 4 children and 5 grandchildren. Until his retirement in late 2016, he served a 600-employee, 30-location truck parts and services company as president and CEO.
Unless he tells them, people he meets often don't realize Dave has Parkinson's disease.
The condition emerged more than 14 years ago, when Dave noticed muscle stiffness and a tremor on the right side of his body. He saw several doctors, including neurologist Arthur Dick, MD, of The University of Kansas Health System, who recognized Dave's need to see a movement disorder specialist. He referred Dave to colleague Rajesh Pahwa, MD.
"Dedicated movement disorder experts offer the experience and focus to provide an accurate diagnosis in the early stages of a disease," says Dr. Pahwa, program director of The University of Kansas Health System's nationally recognized Parkinson's Disease Center of Excellence. "Movement disorders like Parkinson's disease are progressive and advance over decades. Early, accurate diagnosis is crucial to providing proactive care that maintains a patient's functional capabilities rather than reactive treatment offered only after the patient has deteriorated."
Following evaluation, Dave began a regimen of medications to control his symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. With regular monitoring and adjustment by Dr. Pahwa and his care team, Dave had success for 7 years.
"But overtime, those medications became less effective," Dave says. "My 'off time' – when symptoms worsen before the next dose of medication kicks in – increased, and the tremor became quite troublesome."
During this period, Dave was nearing his 20th year leading the truck parts company, where he had begun his 40-year career filling orders in the warehouse. An active leader in the business and in the community, he often traveled and fulfilled numerous public speaking engagements.
"The symptoms could be very aggravating during those moments," Dave says. "The tremors could make it appear that I was nervous and uncomfortable. My stamina was limited. I would get very sleepy from the medications and nearly nod off in meetings."
It was time to explore new options in Parkinson's disease management. Dave's care team, invested in his outcomes, offered a promising approach.
Dr. Pahwa proposed an innovative treatment option, deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy. This treatment entails surgically implanting a device that delivers electrical stimulation to areas of the brain that control movement. By stimulating these areas, DBS blocks the nerve signals that trigger the involuntary movements of Parkinson's disease.
"Dave was a very active person who worked long hours at a high-profile job," Dr. Pahwa says. "DBS would give him more symptom control with less fluctuation and unpredictability, allowing him to continue performing his professional responsibilities. This is a powerful example of a positive outcome made possible by continuity of care over time. We were able to treat Dave with a progression of medical and surgical options to best meet his objectives."
Dave had his first DBS procedure – an implant on the left side of the brain to control the right side of his body – 6 years ago. After surgical healing and device activation, he noticed an immediate difference. About 5 years later, he had a second DBS procedure to bring symptom control to the left side of his body. Neurosurgeon Jules Nazzaro, MD, at The University of Kansas Health System performed both surgeries.
"Dr. Pahwa knew I ran a company and was a public speaker, and he wanted to keep me working as long as I could," Dave says. "DBS is often presented to older patients, but Dr. Pahwa thought the time was right for me. The surgery brought remarkable results. I have good symptom control, no tremor, no off time and reduced meds. I'm very glad Dr. Pahwa recommended this and glad I took the recommendation."
"Patients are different and have unique views on how they want to approach disease management and what they want to accomplish," Dr. Pahwa adds. "It is always our goal to keep patients as functional as possible through individualized care plans."
The improved symptom control allowed Dave to continue serving successfully in his career. In fact, since his Parkinson's disease diagnosis, Dave's professional performance earned him a number of industry accolades, including Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award and selection as a Truck Parts and Service Hall of Fame inductee.
The next chapter
Dave is now retired and enjoying life. He continues to golf and fish and is building a new home with his wife, Nancy. Fine motor skills can present a challenge – for example, Dave now uses a voice-to-text program instead of a keyboard – but few limitations prevent him from doing what he wants to do.
One new passion Dave developed following his diagnosis is Rock Steady Boxing, a noncontact, boxing-based fitness program designed to build physical and mental strength for those fighting Parkinson's disease. Dave works out at the premiere Rock Steady-certified gym, In Your Corner.
"This is a serious workout, great for stretching and improving coordination," Dave says. "I believe this has helped slow the progression of my disease and put it on hold for now. I have seen dramatic improvement in others who started Rock Steady from a much worse position than mine. Another In Your Corner fighter needed help getting out of his car and a walker when he started, and now, 8 months later, he's walking everywhere and has greatly improved strength and energy."
Dave appreciates the commitment and expertise of The University of Kansas Health System's movement disorder care team and offers advice to others on similar journeys.
"I have a lot of confidence in my doctors, who have watched me very closely through the years," he says. "Trust your doctor. Know your options. Do your best to stay active. There is a lot of fear associated with Parkinson's disease, but it is not a death sentence. It's challenging, but you can live a relatively normal life while managing Parkinson's disease."