Living her best life despite Parkinson's diagnosis

Each year, hundreds of North Alabamians with Parkinson’s disease visit the Huntsville Hospital Parkinson’s Care Clinic for physical, occupational and speech therapy and other outpatient services designed to slow the progression of the nervous system disorder. This is the story of one of those patients …

At age 84, Charlie Jean Cole still enjoys driving around Huntsville by herself, still does a little cooking, still enjoys hunting for bargains at local thrift stores.

Charlie Jean’s level of independence is impressive – especially considering that she has been living with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade.PCC patient Charlie Jean Cole

Her daughter, Sherry Lyle, credits the Huntsville Hospital Parkinson’s Care Clinic with improving not only Charlie Jean’s health but also her mental outlook. She began visiting the clinic in early 2022 for physical, occupational and speech therapy.

“I’m 100 percent certain that without the support from the clinic staff, she would not be doing this well,” said Sherry. “The care is awesome but so is the camaraderie.”

Open since 2017 and funded in part by a generous grant from the Parkinson’s Foundation, the HH Parkinson’s Care Clinic is the only place in North Alabama where patients can work with an interdisciplinary team of physical, occupational and speech therapists, registered dietitians and exercise physiologists under one roof. Last year, the clinic had more than 5,000 patient interactions between its two locations (HH Medical Mall in downtown Huntsville and the Madison Medical 1 building on the Madison Hospital campus).

Charlie Jean, a retired banking officer who spent most of her life in Fort Smith, Ark., was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012 but had few obvious symptoms. That changed in the summer of 2021, when Sherry noticed Charlie Jean dragging her left leg while walking.

Charlie Jean’s primary care physician in Arkansas sent her to the ER, where tests revealed blood pooling in the frontal lobe of her brain.

Following surgery to drain the blood, Charlie Jean decided she needed to be closer to family. Sherry and her husband, Charles Lyle, offered her a spare room at their home in Monrovia.

“Her Parkinson’s symptoms were showing up more often,” Sherry recalled. “She didn’t have the typical tremors – it was more that she was just moving slower, and her thought process was slower as well.”

Charlie Jean’s neurologist, Dr. Belinda Savage-Edwards, referred her to the HH Parkinson’s Care Clinic for help.

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, regular physical, occupational and speech therapy is thought to slow the progression of symptoms. Sherry says that has certainly proven true for her mother.

Along with occasional therapy sessions at the Madison clinic location, Charlie Jean attends a weekly LOUD Crowd® class at the Madison Wellness Center. The LOUD Crowd® program is designed to help those with Parkinson’s preserve their voices.

“My mom has made new friends and gotten to know other people who are living with Parkinson’s,” said Sherry. “I really can’t sing the clinic’s praises enough.”