LOWER PROVIDENCE – Parkinson’s disease has been compared to a crook who suddenly slips in and slowly proceeds to hijack your ability to move and lead a normal life. But sitting across the table at Panera Bread from John Baumann you’d never guess that he was ever robbed of anything 11 years ago. The Cornell Law School-educated attorney credits his victory over the chronic and progressive neurological disorder that impairs or kills neurons in the brain to a promising drug called Azilect, a positive attitude and the nutritional and exercise regimen created by his wife, Bernadette (Esposito) Baumann. Bernadette, who grew up in East Norriton, is a Bishop Kenrick High School graduate. The couple arrived in town this week from their home in Kentucky to host a Parkinson’s Awareness Day on Sunday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tony G’s South Philly Pub & Eatery, 1991 W. Main St., Jeffersonville. Donations from the event will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
“I was a lawyer for 25 years and I loved it but when I was 41 years old I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” noted John, now 52. “It was earth shaking to me to all of a sudden be a man labeled with Parkinson’s. How would I earn a living until I retired? I was able to do my job for seven more years, but in 2008 I made the decision that I couldn’t do my job anymore at the level where I needed to be, so I made the decision to do something more purposeful with my life.”
That new earnestness led him to write a book, “Decide Success – You Ain’t Dead Yet” (JK Success Press) and travel the world spreading his message of triumph as an inspirational speaker. “I wrote a book on success, not just for people with life changing events like Parkinson’s, but for students and professionals, or even someone that just wants to learn how to play golf,” John said. “Everyone has life changing events. You can’t go through life without them. But I wanted to write this book to help people get through them with the 12 action steps I describe in the book.”His plan of action takes the reader along on his journey from a life as a high-powered lawyer to a “Proud Person With Parkinson’s.””
For me to be in this shape, I attribute it not only to the medication, but also to my own attitude and, over the last year, I transformed myself with the help of Bernadette.”Bernadette had been living in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, taking a break from her career in Human Resources when she met John, who was vacationing on the island, last January. Their whirlwind romance quickly led to marriage, Bernadette said.
“When I met John I didn’t know much about Parkinson’s,” she admitted. “I thought of Michael J. Fox. John had a little tremor and shuffle when he walked, but he was nothing like what you’d see in some other people with the disease.” She said she’d always been drawn to inspiring people, and the lawyer from Kentucky was no exception. “He’s definitely one of those people. Being a spouse of someone that has any kind of disease and being a caregiver, just goes along with the territory. He’s like any other guy – who just happens to have Parkinson’s.” Bernadette’s longtime passion for nutrition and fitness led her to investigate a holistic approach in dealing with John’s Parkinson’s. “I read that exercise is the only thing that can reduce the symptoms, because it is a symptomatic disease,” said Bernadette, who explained that pesticides, toxins and metals are suspected of causing Parkinson’s. Once she helped him ditch his toxic diet of preservative- and hormone-laden food, and embark on a vegetarian lifestyle, she said she started seeing results practically immediately.John’s doctor even reduced the dosages of his medicines. While there is still no cure for the disease, medications like Azilect, which is in a class of drugs called monoamine oxidase (MAO) type B inhibitors, and levodopa-carbidopa, work by increasing the amounts of certain natural substances in the brain. “John had a little bit of a shuffle when we met and would space out sometimes,” Bernadette said. “He might not have been as sharp as he was when he was a high-powered attorney, and that’s why he stopped doing it, but he’s an extremely smart guy. I alleviated his stress as much as I could, and alleviated the toxins, and got him to exercise more. Before me, he was just kind of doing his own thing.” John calls it no less than a complete transformation.
“My first priority was that I had to make a living. If I didn’t take my medication I’d be a wreck,” John said. “But all the medicine does is mask the symptoms. What the exercise, nutrition and attitude does is give you a better quality of life.” A catch phrase he likes to use is “once you’ve met one person with Parkinson’s you’ve met one.” “It’s not like you’ve met them all, because every person with Parkinson’s is different in their progression and symptoms,” John noted. “So if you take two people with Parkinson’s, one takes medication and that’s all they do. No exercise, bad attitude, woe is me. And they don’t eat right. They’re not going to have a good experience with Parkinson’s. Whereas, if you take the bull by the horns and decide to transform yourself – and I was lucky enough to meet Bernadette – you can lead a full life with this disease.” Bernadette was looking forward to all her old friends from the area meeting her husband and gaining at least a little understanding about Parkinson’s. “Michael J. Fox, who got Parkinson’s when he was 29, has brought so much attention to it,” she said. “Pope John Paul had it. Muhammad Ali has it. So John considers himself in a class with some pretty amazing people. It’s a very complicated disease, but there’s a lot of research going on and there is hope.”
For more information, visit www.JohnBaumann.com.