The symptoms started out subtly. Soon after giving birth to her oldest son Caleb four years ago, Kim Morgan, now 37, began to notice small oddities. Her handwriting was shrinking and her foot started cramping frequently during long walks. A young, active instructor at Pure Barre Memphis and former personal trainer, Kim figured these strange quirks were part of her adjustment to motherhood and kept on as usual.
However, Kim’s symptoms began to worsen two months after the birth of her youngest son, Carson, in 2018. “The right side of my body just felt stiff constantly,” Kim explains. “I’m right-handed, but I started noticing that I was defaulting to my left hand for everyday tasks like eating and putting on makeup.” That’s when she realized something was seriously wrong.
This realization was the beginning of a six-month ordeal filled with visits to countless doctors and a desperate search for answers. “A lot of doctors thought I was suffering from postpartum depression and were hesitant to do the MRIs and EMGs that I knew I needed,” Kim says. “I really had to advocate for myself and learn that just because one doctor tells you something, doesn’t mean you have to stop searching for answers.”
An answer finally came thanks to Dr. Azar at Campbell Clinic. Kim credits him for taking the time to really listen to her story, and he ultimately encouraged her to visit the Mayo Clinic. There she received a diagnosis within 30 minutes: early onset Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is a progressive nervous system disorder that primarily affects movement, and currently there is no known cure.
Kim’s immediate reaction to the news was, surprisingly, relief. “It might sound crazy, but after searching for answers for so long, we were just glad to finally know what was wrong,” Kim says. “And Parkinson’s is not a death sentence. I was tested for a brain tumor and ALS at one point, so knowing that I still had a chance to live a long, full life and to be there for my kids was the biggest relief.”
Kim’s doctor immediately took to creating the best treatment plan to slow down the progression and keep her as comfortable as possible. In addition to a small dosage of daily medication, her doctor recommended she exercise every day to keep the disease’s development at bay. “I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in December 2018, and I have worked out every single day since January 1, 2019,” Kim says proudly. “Working out has always been important for my physical and mental health, but now I’m even more motivated to stay active.”
Kim’s current fitness routine combines Pure Barre workouts and daily cardio. Pure Barre offers a total body workout focused on low-impact and high-intensity movements that improve strength and flexibility. “When people try my Pure Barre classes for the first time, they’re often surprised by how hard it is,” Kim laughs, “but those small movements really work your muscles.” For cardio, she recently started using a VersaClimber, a total body take on the StairMaster that provides a unique vertical workout by engaging all major muscle groups.
Despite Kim’s positive attitude and commitment to her treatment plan, there’s no denying the toll that a neurodegenerative diagnosis can take on a young woman. “Sometimes when I’m working out, I feel bad that I’m missing out on time with my kids,” Kim admits. “I think a lot of moms struggle with that guilt and feel bad about taking time for themselves. But I have to think about the big picture and remember that daily exercise will give me more time with my kids in the long run.”
Kim’s family has been an immense source of strength throughout the past year. “My kids keep me going, and my husband is just such a positive person,” Kim says. “As soon as we got back from the Mayo Clinic, he started building me a home gym upstairs.” She’s also found solace in prayer, and feels that her relationship with God has strengthened thanks to this experience. “When we were waiting for answers, I prayed and prayed that I would be able to be there for my kids and see them grow up,” Kim explains, “and even though it didn’t happen in the way I expected, God definitely answered my prayers.”
Kim describes her current physical condition as being at 90% thanks to a combination of medication and daily exercise, a true testament to her dedicated efforts to slow down the progression of this disease. “On my most recent virtual doctor’s visit, he said that he would never know that I have Parkinson’s,” Kim says proudly.
Even with everyday ups and downs, Kim has made peace with her situation. She says that a friend recently diagnosed with Leukemia gave her some sage advice. “She told me not to wake up every day thinking about the fact that I have Parkinson’s,” Kim says. “You can’t let your diagnosis define you.”
Visit Kim’s website at: https://ahealthydoseofstyle.com/
By Lucy Harrison
Photo by Tindall Stephens