Going under the knife

In the Sunday Los Angeles Times Magazine, Joel Havemann of the LAT Washington Bureau writes about his 14-year battle to manage Parkinson's disease and, finally, to undergo intricate surgery to install electrodes in his brain (and batteries under the skin of his chest). A note with the story from bureau chief Doyle McManus says:

This is a story about a miracle of modern medicine, and about the quiet heroism of anyone who endures chronic illness.

Three things that Joel Havemann, the author of this article, is too modest to say about himself: He's one of the best-loved people in his workplace, the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times, because he's both hard-working and easygoing, tough and gentle at the same time. He's very good at what he does, which is helping newspaper reporters find good ideas and turn them into clear, engaging stories. And, improbably, he's an accomplished gambler; his idea of a perfect weekend, when his children aren't playing soccer, often involves a casino with blackjack tables.

For almost 15 years, Joel's family and co-workers got used to living with a man who was slowly wasting away. His face grew gaunt. He ate gigantic bowlfuls of cut-up fruit—which also helped optimize the effect of his medications—but continued losing weight. He stole away for midday naps, but still tired easily. His gait became alarmingly unsteady. He sometimes crashed into filing cabinets. (We grew accustomed to the noise, but it frequently startled visitors.) Despite all that, he insisted on putting in a full workday, and on attending every school play and soccer game as well.

Joel's surgery didn't cure his disease—it wasn't that kind of miracle—but it worked some wonders nonetheless. He's no longer colliding with filing cabinets. He's gained a pound or two. His face has filled out. He has his smile back. To those who love him, that's a pretty nice miracle right there.

Three days before the surgery, his insurance company was still trying to deny coverage, ruling if he could work then he didn't need the operation. The company ultimately relented. Havemann is also the author of A Life Shaken: My Encounter with Parkinson's Disease, published in 2002.

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