This story is to introduce Michelle Terrill Heath’s weekly column and blog, stories to encourage and support those living with incurable illness.

 by Michele Potter

2013
Nine years with Parkinson’s

Andy and Michelle met in Aspen, when she was  a 17-year old ski instructor. Andy and his friend spied her and drove her to work in his vintage Porsche. The rest is history, as they say, but in this case, an incredibly intricate history which belies the veneer of beautiful jet setting people who gad about in Aspen in Porsche convertibles.

They are still together 45 years later. Living in Taos since 1982, they have traveled the world –places like Tahiti, Hawaii, India, Catalina Island, Jackson Hole, and Telluride. They’ve run marathons and even the Hawaii Ironman, and sailed their boat from Guatemala to Florida. Over the years, they raised two kids in a house truck that Andy built, spending half the year in Taos working at Taos Ski Valley and the other half on the road, selling their bronze jewelry at art fairs. They home-schooled their two kids, even opening a school at the ski valley. The family was  always on the go, and Michelle’s job as a massage therapist took her back often to her hometown of Chicago until they moved there full time for four years when their daughter Alana was offered a ballet scholarship.

Then their world fell apart. Around 2004, it began innocently, with just a trembling finger. Next, Andy could no longer hold a welding torch. Eventually, Andy’s shaking was so bad it was like there was an earthquake inside him–an apt metaphor for a terrifying lack of control. He could not eat or make it to the bathroom without help.

It was Parkinson’s, in this case thought to be a byproduct of his exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. There is no cure. For nine years they tried every conceivable therapy from mainstream to alternative.

At supper with them outside the Gallina Canyon home they built, I look at Andy’s hands, which are now steady. Andy whispers to me (losing his voice was one symptom): “None of the alternative medicine worked.”

But Michelle, my fellow writing buddy, argues the point, “Not true. Alternative therapies kept us learning and staying sane until we found something else. ” That something else was brain surgery. Coming out of 12-hour brain surgery, Andy wept. He was still shaking.  

“No, no, you’re better,” said the doctors. “We just can’t turn on the right channel yet.” He has, essentially, a remote controlled brain.

During those seven intense years of being disabled, they did what no sane person would likely do. Instead of staying home and getting comfortable, they went to India, several times in fact, to help at an orphanage. Andy designed and built a 125′ suspension bridge over a 55′ deep gully, so the orphanage could grow more food. “People in India don’t have the same disdain for physical abnormality,” says Michelle. “They accept difference as a part of life.”

Michelle has written a book called Your Wildest Dreams: A Parkinson’s Love Story, as well as a blog titled, “A Way Through.” Her website offers a free downloadable booklet, “Ten Tips For Caregivers.” Because of their own learning curve, Michelle wants to encourage other people with challenges to get back to the life they love. Her weekly column will appear in this paper and her blog can be found on her website.

Michelle says: “After a day spent stationary biking, walking in the forest, reading and doing some household chores, sometimes I find Andy just looking out at the land, and I’ll ask him, ‘Are you bored?’ He shakes his head–nope.  He’s ascended to this place of contentment. Can you imagine how lovely to reach such a place of peace?”

2019 Andy well again after DBS surgery

Michelle’s website is www.michelleterrillheath.com

Email her at michelleterrillheath@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “This story is to introduce Michelle Terrill Heath’s weekly column and blog, stories to encourage and support those living with incurable illness.

    1. Thank you so much, Michele….we are sisters in writing, encouraging and in many ways. Your words mean a lot to me.

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