UK Parkinson’s research offers hope, promise

Standing at the pulpit, leading a congregation in song, Bill Crawford felt a familiar, foreboding numbness in his toes.

Within seconds, those toes curled down in his shoes like a bird clamping onto a wire. Pain spread through his feet and up his legs, twisting them to one side. He knew what came next: Uncontrollable muscles cramping and twisting his body and neck.

Trying to stop this “full-body charley horse,” Crawford laid down near the piano as the congregation kept singing.

Such episodes were an all-too-common part of Crawford’s life with Parkinson’s disease until last year, when an experimental procedure at the University of Kentucky gave him back control of his body. The technique, part of a first-ever clinical trial, involves implanting pieces of a nerve from near a patient’s ankle into the brain during a neurosurgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation. It’s showing promise against the devastating movement disorder that proved the toughest foe for the late boxing legend and Louisville native Muhammad Ali – and millions of others.