In 1973, Renee Le Verrier was a 12-year-old girl playing with neighborhood friends. “Then the next thing I knew, I was on the neighbor’s driveway on my back and couldn’t get up,” said 52-year-old Le Verrier in a telephone interview.
“I later learned I had an arteriovenous malformation in my brain (which caused a stroke). It affected my right temporal lobe and paralyzed my left side.”
After having brain surgery and two years of physical therapy, she still had muscle weakness. As she grew older, Le Verrier eventually moved to Massachusetts and had a career as an editor with an educational book publisher and worked in that industry 25 years.
“Then in my early 40s. I began experiencing symptoms similar to my stroke, except it was on my right side,” she said. “My right arm was stiff. I went to seven neurologists before finding out what was going on. In retrospect, I was losing my sense of smell, had bilateral shoulder pain, and my arm was stuck when I walked. It wouldn’t swing. I also had balance issues. I’d be standing at the kitchen counter and start tipping over.”
Her neurologist diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease. The National Institutes of Health defines Parkinson’s disease as a disorder affecting “nerve cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain controlling muscle movement.” Symptoms often include trembling, stiffness in limbs and truck, slow movement, and poor balance. Talking, swallowing, and sleep can be affected.
To help combat limb rigidity, she began taking yoga classes, and eventually became a yoga teacher helping people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, stroke survivors, amputees, and people with arthritis.
She said, “Yoga helps with flexibility and relieves some rigidity, which helps my walking gait and balance. When going through yoga teacher training, my whole focus was on translating what I was learning to helping people with movement issues.”
Last September, Le Verrier acquired a service dog, who helps her when she has walking and balancing problems. Besides leading yoga classes, she writes yoga books for people with movement disorders and children’s books, including one for children with family members that have an illness.
She said, “It sounds like a bumper sticker, but it’s true. Parkinson’s is a word, not a sentence. Everyone has some (weakness) to work around in life, and there are ways to work around having Parkinson’s disease.”