News Releases

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Isakson: Parkinson's Diagnosis Won't Slow Down Run for Re-election in 2016

Neurologist says Georgia senator 'fully capable' of maintaining rigorous schedule, serving in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today released the following statement regarding his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease:

“Over 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s and I am one of them. I first went to see a neurologist in 2012 for stiffness in my left arm. I continued seeing the neurologist regularly to try to figure out the cause, and in 2013, I was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s.  I am in the early stages of the disease, and my main symptoms are the stiffness in my left arm and a slowed, shuffling gait. The recovery from the back surgery I had in October 2014 also has affected my gait. I have undergone rigorous physical therapy; I do exercises every morning and evening; and I take two Parkinson’s medicines.

“While I am facing this health challenge head on, I have wrestled with whether to disclose it publicly. I recently shared the news with my three grown children and my senior staff a couple of months ago. Their support, along with the steadfast support of my wife Dianne, helped me to take this step today. In the end, I decided I should handle my personal health challenge with the same transparency that I have championed throughout my career.

“My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate. I am serving on five Senate committees and am the only Republican serving as chairman of two Senate committees.  I am busier and have more responsibility today than ever before in my political career, and I couldn’t be happier about that.  I remain devoted to public service, to my state and to my constituents. I am eager to take my record of results to the voters of Georgia as I run for re-election in 2016.”

Isakson’s treating neurologist, Thomas M. Holmes, MD, issued the following statement regarding Isakson’s diagnosis:

“I have been seeing Senator Isakson as a patient since November 2012. He first came to see me with a symptom of rigidity in his left arm. After several additional visits, I diagnosed him as having Parkinson’s disease in August of 2013.

“My most recent assessment of Senator Isakson was on May 27, 2015. Using physical examination and several accepted Parkinson's disease rating scales, I have concluded that Senator Isakson is in Stage 1.5 of 5 accepted stages of Parkinson's disease. This staging is indicative of his mild symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Senator Isakson has been treated with medication since August 2013 to assist his body's naturally occurring dopamine and to limit symptoms of Parkinson's disease. In addition, I have Senator Isakson doing daily exercises every morning and evening, and I had him undergo a rigorous physical therapy regimen tailored to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

“Senator Isakson has been dedicated to performing the physical therapy and maintaining the daily exercise routine, and he has been compliant with his medication treatment. He has continued to maintain his rigorous Senate schedule without difficulty since 2012. I believe he is fully capable of continuing to perform his duties as a U.S. Senator, and I believe he is fully capable of running for re-election and serving for another term

“As a practicing neurologist, I have treated many patients with various chronic neurological diseases, and I encourage all them to pursue their livelihoods with vigor and enthusiasm.  With this in mind, I have encouraged Senator Isakson to do the same.

“If there are any questions that I can answer, as Senator Isakson's treating neurologist, please feel free to contact me by phone at (678)-872-0200.  Messages left at this number will be reviewed and answered in a timely manner by myself or my staff.”

A pdf copy of Dr. Holmes’ statement can be accessed here.

Please find below answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson's disease is a chronic movement disorder and it is progressive, meaning that symptoms progress over time. More than 1 million people in the United States are living with Parkinson's disease. The cause is unknown.  There is presently no cure, but there are treatment options to help manage symptoms, including physical therapy, exercises, medication and surgery.

How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

There are no standard diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s such as a blood test or an MRI. To diagnose Parkinson’s, the physician takes a careful neurological history and performs an examination.  The diagnosis rests on the clinical information provided by the person with Parkinson’s and the findings of the neurological exam.

How long has Senator Isakson had Parkinson’s?

Senator Isakson has had symptoms of Parkinson's since November 2012, and he was officially diagnosed in August 2013.

How many stages are there of Parkinson’s and what stage is Senator Isakson in?

There are five stages of Parkinson’s, as defined by the modified Hoehn and Yahr staging scale that is commonly used. Senator Isakson is in Stage 1.5 (or between Stage 1 and Stage 2) as of May 27, 2015, the date of the most recent assessment of him by his neurologist.

How fast does someone with Parkinson’s progress from stage to stage?

Every patient is different, but the predicted progression for someone of Senator Isakson's age (70 years old) would be 5-6 years per stage.

What symptoms does Senator Isakson have?

Senator Isakson first went to see the neurologist with a symptom of stiffness in his left arm. That symptom and a slowed, shuffling gait are Senator Isakson’s two main Parkinson’s symptoms. Every Parkinson’s patient has different combinations of symptoms. The most commonly known symptom of Parkinson’s – tremors – is one that Senator Isakson currently does not have.

Does Parkinson's cause cognitive impairment and if so, does Senator Isakson show signs of it?

Parkinson's patients can experience cognitive impairment -- most commonly, memory issues -- in the later stages of Parkinson's. Senator Isakson is in the early stages of Parkinson's and his neurologist has seen absolutely no evidence of cognitive impairment.

What treatment is Senator Isakson using for his Parkinson’s?

Senator Isakson is using a combination of two Parkinson’s medications plus a daily regimen of exercises that he does every morning and evening. In May 2015, he also completed a rigorous, four-week physical therapy regimen tailored to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Senator Isakson had back surgery in October 2014 – was that related to his Parkinson’s?

No. The back surgery in October 2014 was to remove a small, benign cyst at the base of his spine that was causing pain. The recovery from the back surgery has added to the slow, shuffling gait when Senator Isakson walks.

Has Parkinson’s prevented Senator Isakson from doing his job as a U.S. senator?

No. He has continued to maintain a rigorous schedule. Since January 2015, Senator Isakson has been serving on five Senate committees (Finance, VA, HELP, Foreign Relations and Ethics) and he is the only Republican serving as chairman of two Senate committees (VA and Ethics).  He has more responsibility today than ever before in his political career, and remains devoted to public service, to his state of Georgia and to his constituents.

Will Parkinson’s keep Senator Isakson from running for re-election in 2016?

No. Senator Isakson announced in November 2014 that he is seeking re-election in 2016 and he is aggressively running and fundraising. He remains passionate about his public service and about the job that the Georgia voters have entrusted to him. Senator Isakson’s doctor has stated publicly that he believes Senator Isakson is fully capable of performing his duties as a senator, of running for re-election in 2016, and of serving another term.

Why did Senator Isakson disclose that he has Parkinson’s?

Senator Isakson wrestled with whether to disclose it publicly. He shared the news with his three grown children and his senior staff in April 2015. Their support, along with the steadfast support of his wife Dianne, helped him make the decision to disclose. In the end, he decided to handle his personal health challenge with the same transparency that he has championed throughout his career.

Have there been other members of Congress who have shared that they have Parkinson’s?

One that we know of was U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, a Democrat from Illinois, who served from 1983 to 2007. In 1995, Evans shared that he had Parkinson’s, and he was re-elected to the House five more times after that before retiring in 2007.

There are many House and Senate caucuses for many issues – is there one for Parkinson’s and if so, is Senator Isakson part of it?

There is a Congressional Caucus on Parkinson’s Disease. Senator Isakson has been a member since 2005 and a Senate co-chair since 2009 – long before he was diagnosed in 2013. Currently, the two Senate co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus are Senator Isakson and Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Has Senator Isakson worked on any legislation related to Parkinson’s?

Yes, Senator Isakson has cosponsored annual resolutions recognizing April as Parkinson’s Awareness Month each year beginning in 2010 – before he was diagnosed in 2013.  Senator Isakson also is also the lead sponsor of a bill to create registries to enhance research on Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He was an original cosponsor of similar bills introduced in 2009 and 2011.