To meet Mauricio Sanchez, a fit, poised and engaged man of 39, the struggles of the last decade might not easily surface from behind his brilliant eyes. Though confident and resilient, even he can't help but get emotional when recounting a life-changing development that would test his body, mind and spirit for years to come.
At the age of 29, Sanchez began experiencing problems with his right hand, everything from brushing his teeth to taking his wallet out of his pocket. Eventually, he also developed tremors, cramping, and soon dragged his right foot behind him with a limp. He went to his primary doctor, who told him to try a glass of wine to relieve the stress that was likely causing the symptoms. An office assistant in the Radiation and Oncology department at Torrance Memorial, he soon found these issues worsening and getting in the way of his regular tasks of writing and typing. All tests to this point had come back negative. When his primary doctor finally saw the tremor in his right foot, she sent him to a neurologist in San Pedro.
"I had this feeling inside of me that it was Parkinson's," says Sanchez of the time leading up to that visit. While the doctor suspected he had Parkinson's disease, he dropped a second bombshell, the likelihood he also suffered from dystonia, a neurological movement disorder causing his muscle contractions and pain. He was not even 30.
On the recommendation of his doctor, Mauricio scheduled a F-Dopa/PET scan. Denied by his HMO the authorization to have the scan based on his previous tests results, he finally switched to a PPO at the first opportunity and scheduled the scan. His results revealed a bilateral decrease of dopamine of the brain, more on the left side than right.
"When the doctor gave my wife and me the news, I felt like my life was ending," he shares. When the couple drove to Torrance Memorial and told his director and supervisor, they immediately offered Mauricio their compassion and support. "I am lucky to work in a place that offers such support to their employees."
With the support of his wife, two kids and co-workers and friends, Sanchez eventually began a new regiment of drugs that, in his words, "make him a totally different person." He works out regularly with weights and on the treadmill, walks with his two dogs Dash and Dolly and continues to work at Torrance Memorial. He recently started a support group at the medical center for South Bay residents with young onset Parkinson's and welcomes guest speakers and family members to the sessions.
"I owe them my life," Sanchez says of Torrance Memorial. "Now they've given me the opportunity to start the support group." He remember when the calls started coming from other patients with Parkinson's, many he had never even met, who wanted someone to share their experiences with. "There are a lot of young people in the South Bay who have gone through what I have or even worse," he says. "That made me feel I was not alone."
As the drugs he currently takes are unpredictable and require more dosage as time progresses, Mauricio will undergo DBS implant surgery at the end of the year, a procedure that will leave him a neurostimulator to help relieve symptoms. "I'm a fighter," he says. "I'm like the Energizer Bunny. I just keep going."
The Young Onset Parkinson's Disease Support Group meets the third Saturday of each month from 2-4 p.m., at Torrance Memorial.