As a nurse and the child of a woman who had young onset Parkinson’s Disease, Bryan Hill knew there was a good chance that he and his sister could develop the condition as well.
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Still, when the signs started to show, he was completely unaware until his wife, Julia Horner, noticed. Even then it took about six months of denial before Bryan could face what was happening.
“I am not really moving the left side of my body,” Bryan said. “My left arm is very stiff and I have a little twitch above my lip. I probably would have never noticed.”
Getting this sort of news is never easy, but for Bryan, the timing felt especially devastating.
“It was awful,” he said. “It was like my world was coming down on me. I’m this young, 30-year-old person. It was a month before our wedding and I’m about to get married and starting this exciting chapter. I get this diagnosis that like, ‘Wow, this really will alter the way I live my life.’ And it has.”
After getting diagnosed, Bryan said he “shut down” for about a year. But with the help of his medication and rigorous exercise, he began to have hope for the future. Not only did moving make his body feel better, but it also helped to slow the disease.
“If I’m not moving I don’t feel good,” he said. “It’s definitely got blood flowing, releases dopamine, it’s just, it’s everything for me.”
Still, it took Bryan four years to feel comfortable telling the world about his diagnosis. But once he and Julia found out they were having a baby, they decided to let it be known so they’re son, Forrest, wouldn’t have to keep such a huge secret.
“The support that was given to us was just unbelievable,” he said. “It was more than I could have anticipated and predicted.”
Working with his Parkinson’s Disease isn’t easy, but Bryan is grateful for the progress he’s been able to make thanks to his supportive friends and family as well as the treatments now available for his disease, all of which weren’t available to his late mother.
When she was diagnosed in her early 20s, the best they could do for her was to give her an experimental brain surgery they said would give her about 10 years to raise her kids and send them to college, something that turned out to be true when she passed away a decade ago at 57-years-old.
“A lot of doctors didn’t know what they were treating,” he said. “That whole era was a way different experience than I feel than what I’m experiencing now. People like Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, the people who are big public figures who have had it and educated the public about it.”
Once Bryan began to get better control of his life again, he set his eyes on a lofty goal: Competing in American Ninja Warrior.
Preparing for this intense competition wouldn’t be easy, but a popular contestant who also has Parkinson’s, Jimmy Choi, was all the inspiration he needed to take the leap. Bryan even reached out to Choi, and the two of them became fast friends.
“There’s no way I would be on ‘American Ninja Warrior’ if it wasn’t for Parkinson’s, which is a weird thing to say,” Bryan said. “It motivates me to get up every day at 5 a.m. and do an hourlong workout. Parkinson’s is the driver in my motivation to keep moving because the movement is so important for my body and the disease process.”
As tough as it is to navigate life with this disease, Bryan views it as “just a little blip” in his road, and one that has given him an entirely different outlook on life.
“It really made me discover what I really care about,” Bryan said. “I benefited so much from hearing others speak openly about their bravery, really talking about their struggles openly. I want to give back what I benefited from others and hopefully raise awareness of Parkinson’s.”
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