"The Astronaut's Secret" on Fox
A new test helps diagnose Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative condition characterized by tremors in the extremities that affects more than a million Americans.
There is no cure. But that doesn’t mean Parkinson’s is a death sentence.
Just ask Rich Clifford, who had no trouble climbing onto the platform of a medical imaging device, after receiving an injection of a new pharmaceutical called DaTscan.
After all, Clifford is the same guy who clambered all over the Mir space capsule after it docked with the International Space Station in a six-hour spacewalk in 1996.
Back then, only a handful of people knew what the DaTscan brain images show so clearly today: Rich Clifford has Parkinson’s Disease.
One of the few who did know, was Clifford’s neurologist, Dr. Joseph Jankovic, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
“I never felt that his Parkinson’s interfered in any way with his functioning, either on earth or in space,” said Dr. Jankovic.
These days, Rich Clifford – and the DaTscan – have starring roles in The Astronaut’s Secret, an upcoming documentary film about the spacewalker’s Parkinson’s diagnosis.
“Back in 1994, when Rich complained about having problems with his right shoulder, he went to the flight surgeon at NASA,” explained the film’s director. “And he said, ‘He needs to go see a neurologist.’ That neurologist happened to be my father.”
Before he was a filmmaker, Dr. Jankovic’s son – Zach Jankovic – kept the secret too. But now he wants his documentary to spread the word far and wide about Parkinson’s – and the importance of early diagnosis.
“We know that in Parkinson’s Disease, there is a deficiency of (the neurotransmitter) dopamine,” explained Dr. Jankovic. “But until now we have not had the chance to actually find out how much dopamine deficiency a patient with Parkinson’s Disease has.”
That’s what DaTscan does. And by quantifying the level of dopamine, it also helps new patients accept their diagnosis and move on.
“I think some people are really looking for some kind of diagnostic tool,” said Kathleen Crist with the Houston Area Parkinson Society. “It is difficult for people to go to the doctor’s office, walk across a room, be pushed on, pulled on, tugged on, and then told that they have this life-altering disease that is going to change everything for them.”
The Houston Area Parkinson Society – or HAPS – was an early supporter of the film, which is now in its final round of fundraising. Zach Jankovic is aiming for completion by the end of the year.
“It’s a very inspirational story,” said the younger Jankovic. “It tells you that even if you get diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. You can still reach for the stars.”
For more information on The Astronaut’s Secret, click here: