April is Parkinson’s Awareness month and thanks to one Lincolnite, Linda Schmechel, Parkinson’s Desease (PD) testing options in Lincoln have improved in the past year. On October 25, 2018 Linda Schmechel was the first known person to receive a DaTscan™ test in Lincoln. DaTscan™ is a drug that is administered prior to a SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) scan to help a radiologist in the evaluation of adult patients with suspected parkinsonian syndromes (PSs). Studying this scan, along with a patient’s changes in functioning, may help physicians to determine if a patient’s symptoms may be related to Parkinson’s Disease. In Schmechel’s case, her scan was read by a radiologist who found it abnormal, which suggested her symptoms may be related to parkinsonian syndromes.

Parkinson’s Disease is a disease widely known and typically associated with tremors and shuffling. Schmechel was experiencing the lesser known symptoms of the disease such as coordination and balance issues when she visited with her primary care provider in 2016. Her doctor was the first to suggest the chance of PD to Schmechel. Looking for answers, she attended medical conference on Parkinson’s Disease and learned that there is much debate on the best way to diagnose. She heard that DaTscan™ is now commonly used to help differentiate between parkinsonian syndrome (PS) and essential tremor (ET). She then met with a Las Vegas neurologist who diagnosed her with left hemiparesis movement disorder. He stated that only with an abnormal DaTscan™ imaging test, and other evaluations, would he be willing to confirm a diagnosis of PD.

As a past patient of Advanced Medical Imaging (AMI), Schmechel reached out to the imaging center to see if they offered the scan in the spring of 2018. AMI told her they didn’t currently offer DaTscan™ but were very interested in helping local patients get the answers they need. In October of 2018, Schmechel became the first known patient to receive a DaTscan™ imaging test in Lincoln. Since then, AMI has continued to perform this test on patients, which has helped provided their local healthcare professionals with additional useful diagnostic information. Currently, Advanced Medical Imaging is the only location in the state, west of Omaha, to offer this test.

“I was disappointed and stunned,” Schmechel recalled. “I cried and retreated for a couple of days. People who knew I was having the test would call, but I didn’t feel like talking.” A stroke and Stage 4 cancer survivor, she remembers telling herself it was time to “face it and handle it.” She now takes medication for PD but says “it hasn’t improved my walking or balance. I can’t walk for long distances or bend over to pick something up. I live alone so it’s a challenge.” Even with all of the symptoms she has tried to keep a positive perspective. “So many young people in their twenties are being diagnosed. I feel blessed to have been functional my whole life up until now.”

When asked what advice she has for other people going through a PD diagnosis Schmechel says “First, learn all you can about it and then get second opinions. Good healthcare providers welcome that. It helps to get a more specific diagnosis.” Because there is so much to remember at these appointments, she strongly recommends that people “take a family member or friend into your appointment. Anyone you trust. Have them take notes. Sometimes they will have good questions or remind the physician of something that you did that you forgot or were too embarrassed to mention.” As far as resources go, Schmechel recommends the Michael J. Fox foundation’s website because of the clinical trials they have coordinated and their online resources. “Parkinson’s research is in the place where cancer was 20 years ago,” says Schmechel. “It has gotten better. Much more than ten years ago.”

“Linda’s story is a great example of self-advocacy,” says Nichole Malmkar, Nuclear Medicine Technologist at AMI. “By getting multiple opinions and doing her own research she actually informed us of a need in Lincoln. It is awesome to think how one woman’s drive to find the best care is now helping many people in our community.” Patients interested in finding out if DaTscan™ could be helpful with their diagnosis should talk to their neurologist or primary care provider. More information is also available at AMImaging.com/DaTscan.

Image courtesy of GE Healthcare.