Pocopson woman battling Parkinson’s on her bike

Oct. 5 benefit planned for Malvern to raise awareness and tout the value of exercise


Chris and Jodi Cianci of Pocopson have been using bike riding and exercise to help her battle Parkinson’s Disease, The couple plans to hold an event in Malvern on Oct. 5 to raise awareness of the value of exercise for Parkinson’s patients.

POCOPSON — It’s the crack of dawn and township resident Jodi Cianci, 52, is on a stationary bicycle pedaling like her life depends on it.

Actually for Cianci, with Young Onset Parkinson, it does.

Can stalling the progression of Parkinson’s disease be as simple as riding a bike? Yes, according to the most recent research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and local researchers at the Exercise Neuroscience Lab at the University of Delaware.  Pedaling a bicycle can actually change the life of someone with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s true and I know it first hand,” said Cianci, a local attorney who said she believes she developed symptoms over seven years ago.  Like other Young Onset Parkinson’s patients, she was misdiagnosed for years.  She was first told the symptoms she experienced including the inability to use her right hand (i.e., writing and typing) were from a car accident.  But, she pursued second, third and fourth opinions until a DATSCAN confirmed low levels of dopamine in her brain, indicative of PD.  She was officially diagnosed one year after she was married.

“I was shocked.  I thought it was an older person’s disease. And this is no way to start a marriage,” Cianci states.  “One doctor told me to go on Levodopa, the gold standard for treating PD.  But the side effects are considerable including Dyskinesia.”  Dyskinesia is the uncontrolled flailing of the arms and legs.  She declined the medicine and with the help of her husband, Chris, a Sports Medicine Chiropractor in Lansdale, PA & Newark, Delaware, things began to look hopeful.

They started a journey to find how they could fight Parkinson’s. The couple met with Dr. Jay Alberts at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where he conducted research on biking, the brain, and Parkinson’s. Evidence showed a 35% reduction in symptoms of those with PD by the simple act of pedaling a bicycle at 80-90 rpm for 45 minutes, three times a week.  Further, new research shows, it may even slow the progression.

The ironic part of this story is that Chris Cianci was an avid cyclist for more than 25 years and knew exactly how to help Jodi.

“He set up his road bike on a trainer and made me pedal, fast, three time a week,” Jodi Cianci said. “He would watch my legs move and tell me to go faster to get my cadence up to 80 rpms.  Without a cadence monitor he would know just how fast I had to go to meet Dr. Albert’s protocol.  There were many days I would ride that bike with tears streaming down my face.  But my husband won’t let me give up—keep pedaling, he would say, forty more minutes.”

After only six weeks of cycling, Chris Cianci was the first to notice a return in her fine motor skills. She was able to use her right hand again and her once small handwriting (micrography) looked as legible as it did 15 years prior to her diagnosis.

“I can type with my right hand, again!”  she exclaims.  Further, her neurologist has seen no progression in her disease.

Now the couple wants those affected by this disease to know that they too can pedal past Parkinson’s. Chris has started a nonprofit called Shake It Off.  On Oct. 5, they are hosting a benefit bike ride called PD500 Rock N’ Roll Ride & Fun Day at the Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern,  to raise awareness of PD and the need to exercise.

Over one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a chronic, degenerative, neurological disorder whose symptoms can progress from mild shaking to complete physical incapacitation. In the United States 60,000 new cases of PD will be diagnosed this year alone. Parkinson can strike at any age. One of the youngest diagnosed was only 15 years old (Juvenile Parkinsonism).

There is no cure for this neurological disease, but with breakthroughs in research we may be getting closer than ever to slowing the progression. Chris Cianci said, “Our job is to hold off the progression of PD, and cycle, while researcher’s do their job on curing PD.” For more information, visit www.shakeitoff4pd.org.

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