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By Samantha York (email@example.com)
CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WJAC) - Celebrating 43 years of marriage this week, William and Barbara Davies have another milestone coming up. It's been almost 11 years since Bill was diagnosed with Huntington Disease.
"It's a neurological disease that I inherited from my father," Bill explains. "The movements are horrible."
His wife, Barbara, continues, "We did not know it was in Bill's family at all. We were able to look back and see that his father had it, his brother had it and died from it."
An incurable disease but not all hope is lost. Only the second patient with Huntington Disease she's seen in her career, Geisinger Palliative Medicine Physician Dr. Nicki Vithalani is helping William Davies treat his case by focusing on his symptoms.
"Typically, this only starts to show itself when someone is in their 40s or 50s. Oftentimes, they don't even know that it's coming," Dr. Vithalani says. "People start getting uncontrollable movements throughout their body. It's hard to sit down or function or work."
Dr. Vithalani's approach to treating Bill's symptoms is a method that Barbara says has made all the difference in the world. "It's life-changing for him, to see him be able to be calm and to sit and to laugh and be happy," Barbara says, adding that they want to raise awareness about the disorder and help other families who may be going through a similar battle.
Prior to seeing Dr. Vithalani, Bill had blood work and an MRI done of his brain, which showed he had mini strokes. Barbara explains the disease breaks down the nerve cells in the brain, "Basically, the brain dies."
She describes Huntington Disease as a combination of Parkinson's, Alzheimers and Schizophrenia, "To see him always struggling, saying, 'I'm so sorry I have Huntington's,' and I would say, 'It's not your fault.'"
Bill's case is one of 300,000 cases worldwide. Huntington Disease is a hereditary progressive brain disorder that affects three in 100,000 people. The disorder causes uncontrolled movements and loss of thinking ability. Those with the disease typically live for about 15 to 20 years after the onset of symptoms.
Diagnosed in 2009, Davies experienced some tell-tale early signs, including involuntary movements, anxiety and difficulty making decisions. However, his wife explains his symptoms began showing nearly eight years before his diagnosis. As the disease progressed, so did the uncontrolled movements. They often threw Davies with such force, causing him to fall. He also experienced severe choking.
After treating this with muscle relaxers, paired with anxiety medications, Davies feels as close to himself as he has in years, "I feel like I was normal."
Dr. Vithalani recalls, "I went from seeing William, who could barely sit down in a chair or sit in the office, to being able to have a full conversation with him sitting."
"He's like a different person," Barbara explains, holding his hand.
Spending over four decades years together, the Davies are no longer focused on counting the time; rather, they are finding ways to make the time count.