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Spratt 'didn't want to raise alarm' about Parkinson's

U.S. Rep. John Spratt said he has all but known for two years that he has Parkinson's disease.

It was in December, when a neurologist at Duke University put him through a battery of tests, that he got an official prognosis. And it was this week that Spratt decided to go public with the news.

"I didn't want to raise alarm about something which really wasn't anything to be alarmed about," the 67-year-old York Democrat said Wednesday in an interview.

A day after making the disclosure, South Carolina's longest-serving congressman pledged to show his 5th District constituents that he isn't slowing down.

"Part of the solution is to let them see me out and about, doing the job I've always done," he said. "I haven't changed my schedule, my lifestyle or my work habits. And I don't intend to."

Stay active, experts say

If Spratt is like as many as 1 million Americans thought to be living with Parkinson's, he should be able to maintain his current pace, according to interviews with a local neurologist and others familiar with the disease.

"It's usually very slowly progressive and responds to treatment pretty well," said Dr. Allan Ryder-Cook of Rock Hill's Metrolina Neurology. "I don't really see it being an issue for his continued service, at least for the next several years."

A Parkinson's support group meets the third Wednesday of every month at Rock Hill's Chandler Place retirement home.

Keep busy, coordinator Valerie Badanich tells participants.

"The more active they stay, the better," Badanich said. "With Parkinson's, you tend to get rigid. A lot of times, you don't have full range of motion in the joints. It's important to exercise to keep optimum mobility."

For patients whose symptoms emerge later in life, the disease can gradually take a toll. Spratt can expect severe impairment in functioning by his late 70s or early 80s, Ryder-Cook said.

People in advanced stages are unable to perform daily movement functions, such as getting out of bed unaided and driving, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

"I'm sorry for him," Ryder-Cook said, "but on the other hand, it sounds like he's going to continue to do what he wants for some time to come."

Spratt made an appearance Wednesday at Williams & Fudge, where employees celebrated his role in keeping separate the Perkins student loan program from changes recently approved by Congress.

Collecting Perkins loans is a key job for Williams & Fudge, a 225-employee accounts payable agency headquartered in downtown Rock Hill.

"We used a very sophisticated line of argument," Spratt told a gathering of employees. "And it goes like this: If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

It wasn't hard to notice Spratt's right hand shaking as he chatted with people, especially when he held his arms straight.

Speaking with The Herald and Andrew Kiel of WRHI, Spratt joked the tremor seems to get worse when he's talking to reporters.

"If affects the way I look and maybe move around," he said. "It doesn't affect my energy level and my ability to do the job."

Busy season awaits

Spratt faces a busy schedule through November. The race against Republican challenger Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land shapes up as the most competitive contest in years in the 5th District, which stretches across 14 counties, including York, Chester and Lancaster.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Spratt will serve on a bipartisan commission formed by President Obama to study the federal deficit.

Things were not as hectic when Spratt's daughter, Sarah, began urging her dad to see a neurologist. Now a psychiatrist in Boston, Sarah studied neurology for a year in medical school. She noticed the shaking.

"I kind of sloughed it off," John Spratt said.

The prodding continued until last year when Spratt's daughter, Susan, got him an appointment with Dr. Marc Stacy, her colleague on the faculty at Duke University Medical Center.

Tests were done. A diagnosis followed. Medication was prescribed.

Spratt said little has changed.

"He said I wouldn't even treat you, except for the fact you're in public life and this may become noticeable."