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Douglas Murphy Inspires By Example With A Heart For Parkinson's Disease

Douglas Murphy has Parkinson's and yet is a pillar of inspiration. You would not have expected that from someone riddled with disabling diseases and setbacks from early childhood.

It all began when Dr. Samuel Newman entered the waiting room after a phone consultation with a pediatric specialist in New York.

Douglas Murphy as a young boy
The Young Doug

"The diagnosis is rheumatic fever," he said to the anxious parents of six-year-old Douglas Murphy.

With those words, Doug started his lifelong journey of overcoming physical problems through faith, determination, and a desire to conquer.

Now at 68 years and with Parkinson's disease in addition to rheumatic heart disease, he says his cup remains half full.

The Miracle Of Parental Love

After the pediatrician's announcement to his parents, the trek they took was difficult, yet it was also rewarding.

Rheumatic fever can cause serious heart valve problems, as well as other difficulties that are rather troublesome to youngsters who don't understand why they are forbidden to do many of the normal things their siblings and peers are allowed to do.

Douglas Murphy as a teenage boy
The Teenage Doug

Doug was no exception.

Dr. Newman told his parents that it was up to them whether their son lived beyond his teens. They always loved him and wanted the best for him whether he understood it or not. Without his caring parents, Doug believes he would have died along the trail.

Not long after the diagnosis of rheumatic fever, he came down with scarlet fever. Both had come from an initial streptococcus infection, usually referred to as strep throat. They left him extremely ill with sore throat, high fever and swollen joints.

Understandably, he was too young to comprehend the implications of his condition, but as he grew older the reality of not being normal became clearer to him.

Ever grateful to his parents' support, he says, "They had various ways of reminding me of this throughout my childhood and into my adult years. They always loved me and wanted the best for me, whether I comprehended that or not."

Hard Lessons And Achievements

Rheumatic fever took a toll on his life in both his early and later years. He began taking penicillin during his early teens to prevent strep throat, which could have caused further heart valve damage. When he was 24, he stopped the penicillin on his own without his doctor's knowledge.

Shortly after that, he had another severe case of strep throat, which may have contributed to further heart valve damage. The following year, aged 25 and less than a year after marrying his wife Phyllis, he had his first heart surgery. It corrected his badly damaged mitral valve but not the slightly damaged aortic valve. When he was 33, his doctor stopped the daily penicillin.

Common sense dictates that given his seemingly painful life situation, Doug should have been a dejected human being with low self-esteem and severe depression. Quite the contrary! His type A personality kept him pushing and working toward various goals, despite his physical limitations.

In fact, he was the first person on either side of the family to graduate from college. But once was not enough! He continued with his formal education and graduated two more times, earning two undergraduate degrees and two graduate degrees.

It's such a great example of what hard work and determination can enable us to accomplish.

Uncertainty And Challenge

Doug was frequently hospitalized during his childhood and was constantly in and out of doctors' offices. He regularly took oral medicines and received so many injections that his backside often felt like a pincushion.

From the time he was a young man, Doug has been under the care of cardiologists and family doctors. Throughout the years, they all told him that he might eventually have heart valve replacement surgery, but they could not give him any time frame. He lived in constant uncertainty.

The two main symptoms of rheumatic heart disease – fatigue and shortness of breath – finally slowed him down enough that his cardiologist said it was time to stop working.

Despite not wanting to hear that, in August of 2002 Doug realized it was true and submitted to the specialist's opinion. He retired with disability insurance at the age of 57. However, when he reached 65, the monthly payments stopped. That opened the door to another challenge.

Doug Murphy with his sweet wife Phyllis
Doug and his Wife Phyllis, Driven by Faith

When a heart surgeon informed him and his wife that he needed a double heart valve replacement at the age of 61, Doug asked him what would happen if he chose not to go through with it. Without hesitation the doctor answered, "Probably within the next five years you will be homebound waiting to die." Yet another challenge!

In November of 2006, he was admitted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC for the heart valve replacement surgery. Doug had done thorough research on mechanical heart valves and his surgeon allowed him to choose the ones he preferred.

What he chose was used more in other countries and had been on the market in the USA for a short time. They were made from a different material and are quieter than most. They had a good track record and were being promoted more in America because of certain advantages over other valves.

The replacement of his mitral and aortic valves was successful. Hence, advanced technology played an important role in his decision and he is now ticking his way through life, albeit more quietly than some.

Challenge And Purpose

How could it be that after all these tribulations yet another physical hurdle awaited him? In 2009 Doug was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD). "I want you to learn more about this disease than I know," said his neurologist with little or no hesitation after his diagnosis. Aha! Yet another challenge!

Why does he keep receiving these health-related challenges? According to Doug, that is the wrong question. He says the right questions to ask are, "HOW can I accept this challenge?" And, "HOW can I help others travel this road?"

He left his doctor's office determined to meet that challenge one way or another. And he's glad he did. In his own words...

"It is so easy to ask the why questions. Why did I have rheumatic fever, and why did I have damaged heart valves? Why do I have PD? Why me, Lord?"
"I think the best questions are the how questions. How can I manage this challenge? How can I help other people who are experiencing the same diseases? How can I determine my purpose in life, even if it takes me years to discover it?"
"We can find the answers to the how questions only when we are willing to accept the challenges, but we are unlikely to discover the answers to the why questions, especially if we ask them first."

For the last four years he has read about, studied and observed Parkinson's, learning everything he could about this enigmatic disease.

In February of 2010, he began leading a monthly PD support group.

In September of 2011, he began giving awareness talks on PD. Although he gives most of the talks alone, sometimes his neurologist joins him.

In yet another "how" step, Doug and his community started a Parkinson's Disease fund that they hope to make regional.

It is a universal tragedy that millions of people around the world live and die without ever having found their purpose in life. With his new heart (at least two new heart valves), Doug has found that purpose in helping others with PD.

He actually thanks God for his PD, because it has inspired him to focus more on others and less on himself. From the rheumatic fever and heart disease, he learned valuable lessons about suffering with patience, endurance and determination, though some of those lessons were clearer only after the passing of many years.

Beating The Odds And Inspiring

The mitral valve correction Douglas had in 1970 lasted longer than most experts would predict. The best that could be expected was 10 to 15 years, so he was told. His lasted 36 years.

According to his current cardiologist, that is rather remarkable. How long the new valves will last only God knows. The manufacturer of the valves and the surgeon who did the procedure told Doug they would outlive him.

Consequently, Douglas does not believe that there is such a thing as a foreseeable future. He makes no predictions and only says, "I simply want to go on being active for as long as I can help others who are on the same journey."

Although he has had other physical problems through the years, heart problems and Parkinson's are the two giants covered in this brief narrative.

In fact, Doug has had 17 surgical procedures, including six that required general anesthesia and more than one day and night in hospital. While he did not choose any of the conditions he has had, they have all been a part of the plan for his life and have not robbed him of the joy and pleasures that have accompanied him on his journey.

To be clear, many days were tough, rugged and difficult according to him. But he recalls a gospel singer urging him to think about that line from an old southern woman, "Son, if the mountain was smooth, you couldn't climb it."

Now we go back to the title of this article "A Heart for Parkinson's Disease." His cardiologist told him numerous times that he would never work again. Living with PD and the heart issues confirms that he was right.

He requires a lot of sleep and needs to rest during the day, sometimes more than once. Furthermore, he takes various medicines four times daily. But with his sweet wife Phyllis' help and by God's grace, he intends to keep doing what he can for the causes related to Parkinson's.

Doug Murphy with his sweet wife Phyllis
Doug Murphy with his sweet wife Phyllis

In the second paragraph of this story, Doug mentioned his cup as half full. He seeks to correct that by declaring that it is neither half full nor half empty. Truly, "my cup runs over" (Psalm 23:5). He is indeed a blessed man and he believes it is because he has "a heart for Parkinson's disease."