NORMAN — Nov. 1, 2011, is a day that Nicole Jarvis, M.D., will never forget.
It was on this day that Jarvis, who was only 38, was officially given the diagnosis of Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. Now, at 40, Jarvis juggles her illness, her obstetrics and gynecology practice in Norman, her family — which includes 5-year-old identical twin boys — and her illness.
“Parkinson’s is not only an old person’s disease. The average age of people who have Parkinson’s is over the age of 60 and people picture a 70-year-old grandpa at the mall shuffling along. I just turned 40, I was diagnosed when I was 38, there is a patient in Tulsa who is 18. There are lots of people who are young that have Parkinson’s disease,” Jarvis said.
When Jarvis was first diagnosed, she was very ill and it took her doctors about six months to figure out which medications would work best.
“By late spring, I was feeling a lot better, and over the summer is when I knew I needed to do something,” Jarvis said.
Something Jarvis knew she needed to do was bring attention to and raise money for her illness. With 15,000 Parkinson’s patients in Oklahoma, Jarvis knew she wasn’t alone, but still she wasn’t able to find an organization in the state that was dedicated to finding a cure or raising money for Parkinson’s.
“I looked into multiple foundations, but I settled on the Michael J. Fox Foundation for two reasons. For one, their mission statement is that they hope to put themselves out of business by finding a cure. And they spend 88 cents out of every dollar donated straight to research,” Jarvis said.
Fox, who has a decorated television and film career, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 29. Fox, for the most part, has now dedicated his life to bringing attention to Parkinson’s.
“We’re so lucky to have him as a spokesperson for our disease because he is the most upstanding citizen and he’s a father. He has brought awareness to it,” Jarvis said.
And Jarvis is hoping to bring some of that awareness to Norman. Jarvis officially launched The Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation Inc. on Facebook on Sept. 1.
“I’m trying to approach it like I want this to be something that puts Norman on the map. This can be something that we do as a community that is different than what other communities do. We want this to be something that Norman can be proud of,” Jarvis said. “We have to have research to have better treatment and, of course, my main goal is to find a cure.
“There are developments in treatments that can help people, but you have to have money to do all these clinical trials. People don’t realize how much money it costs to get a cure but to also get all of these treatments.”
In December, The Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation hosted a winter gala at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. The silent auction and seated dinner sold out in six weeks.
“We raised $115,000,” Jarvis said, and all of the money was donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
One thousand six hundred Team Fox members raised money for the foundation. Out of those teams, The Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation Inc. finished 12th place for the money they raised during the gala, and the team was invited in April to the Michael J. Fox Foundation Team Fox MVP Awards Dinner in New York City.
Even though Jarvis got to meet Fox at the awards dinner, she doesn’t plan to stop there. She’s already started planning the second annual Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation Inc. Winter Gala for Parkinson’s Research on Dec. 12 at Embassy Suites.
“My goal is to surpass the $115,000 that we raised in 2012, and I hope to raise at least $150,000,” Jarvis said.
This year, Jarvis plans to donate 10 percent of the money raised during the gala to the Parkinson’s Foundation of Oklahoma.
“They don’t fund research or treatment, but they provide services to patients,” Jarvis said.
So far for this year, Jarvis said, The Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation Inc. has raised almost $20,000.
“The thing about Parkinson’s, when you go around to tell people about it and you look normal, they are like, ‘What’s the big deal? Why do you need to raise money for that?’” Jarvis said. “It’s not just shaking and shuffling. When my medicines are not working, yes, my hands will be shaking and I will have a tremor, which means I can’t do surgery, which that is my job.
“But I also can barely walk, my leg will be dragging like a dead fish, my arm won’t move, my head can’t turn to the right, I’ll have nausea. People don’t really picture it like you are really incapacitated. The most terrible spells don’t happen every day, but some variation of that happens most every day. Parkinson’s is a disease of what they call on and off.
“You’re trying to be on all the time, but you’re not. So when you’re off, you are going to have some of those symptoms. You don’t know what symptoms you’re going to have or how bad it is going to get. And it’s sort of problematic when you’re a full-time mom and running a full practice. It impacts pretty much every day and all aspects of the day.”
To donate to The Nicole Jarvis, M.D. Parkinson’s Research Foundation Inc., call 701-2424, mail a check to 3201 W. Tecumseh Road, Suite 220, Norman, OK 73072, or visit the foundation’s Facebook page.