Marathon Mom Defeating Parkinson’s One Mile at a Time

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Rhonda Foulds at the finish of 118th Boston Marathon

This wasn’t her first marathon but crossing the finish line at this year’s Boston Marathon was a dream come true for Rhonda Foulds. Maybe it was because, like the city of Boston and the other runners, she too has overcome numerous challenges.

It was just 15 years ago, at the age of 35, that her life changed forever when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and never thought she’d run again.

“I was taking 33 pills a day, which made me sick, and I had to start using a wheelchair because I kept falling,” Foulds said. “I was a mom to three little boys and knew I couldn’t continue to live this way.” Soon after, Foulds met with Dr. Michael Desaloms, chair of neurosurgery at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and discussed the possibility of undergoing for a surgical procedure to treat her Parkinson’s called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).

During this procedure, small electrodes are placed deep into the brain. Each electrode or lead is connected to a centrally located device, known as a neurostimulator, which sends electrical impulses through each lead thus blocking out the signals that cause rigidity, tremors and slowed movement.

“Because of her age and being in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s we were optimistic about her outcome with DBS,” Desaloms said. “Though this is not a cure it can significantly improve these common symptoms associated with Parkinson’s and can lower daily medication use.”

Two weeks after her surgery she was able to walk without the assistance of wheelchair.

“I didn’t fall or trip once. He truly made my life livable again,” she said.

But the challenges that Parkinson’s threw at her were not over. Three years after DBS surgery while working outdoors at her home she fell off a ladder, hitting her head and breaking the electrical leads.

“It took three more surgeries to put the leads back in place,” Foulds said. “The process was tiring, but I was certainly glad to be at Texas Health Dallas and have no regrets.”

It was after these procedures that she decided to put on her running shoes again. Even before her diagnosis Foulds always had a passion for the outdoors and running. She’d take her children to the park and they’d have races or just go on a walk.

“Right after my last procedure I was walking with my youngest son and he asked, ‘mom, when is the last time you ran?’ I told him I really didn’t know,” Foulds recalled. “So he says let’s just start out slow and run to the next light pole — so we did and he encouraged me to keep going.”

Since that moment she has signed up and trained for race after race. She finishes one and immediately signs up for another.

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Rhonda’s finisher medal.

“She is truly a remarkable woman and an inspiration for me,” Desaloms said. “She reminds me that I really don’t have any excuses when it comes to exercise.”

“I now run about five miles a day, five days a week and it feels great,” Foulds said. “It takes the focus off of Parkinson’s for me.”
She’s crossed the finish line in numerous cities but was determined to go back and finish what she started last year in Boston.

“The whole city really loves the runners and there were so many people cheering, you would forget about the hills,” Foulds said with a smile. “I started out just wanting to run but I finished as a Boston marathoner.”

For more information on Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders at Texas Health Dallas, visit TexasHealth.org/MovementDisordersDallas.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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