As the executive director for International Outreach Ministries, Michael McCarty of Brandon helps support 101 missionaries in 22 countries around the world.
The job comes with plenty of travel, and McCarty has to routinely fly across continents.
But navigating a room full of people made him nervous.
“I had balance issues which made me prone to fall (or think I was falling) easily,” he said. A tumble after waking up disoriented and wobbly one night even left him with a dislocated rotator cuff in his left shoulder.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine years ago, McCarty thought that was the sole cause of his unsteadiness. So five years ago, he turned to Methodist Outpatient Therapy in Flowood to try a therapy known as LSVT BIG.
During the intense program, he learned exercises that address Parkinson’s-related problems with walking speed, balance and trunk rotation.
“It helped tremendously,” McCarty said. As did Rock Steady Boxing, another type of Parkinson’s workout.
“But part of the problem of traveling is you get out of the habit of exercising,” he said. So after a fall while in Cambodia last year, he returned to Methodist for a LSVT BIG refresher with physical therapist Karen Klein.
The program combats problems such as a shuffling gait, slow movements, loss of trunk rotation, rounded posture and muscle rigidity.
McCarty excelled in the program. But he couldn’t seem to shake bouts of dizziness. He said when he turned his head, “the world would go upside down.” He was particularly fearful of falling backwards or toppling onto one of his 10 grandchildren.
Already, he’d altered his routine to limit his risks. “I did a funeral for a friend recently, and the visitation room was full of people. I found a corner and stood still,” said the former pastor at New Covenant Church in McComb.
Suspecting a vestibular problem, Klein thought fellow Methodist physical therapist Lana Bernier could help. Bernier is certified in the rehabilitation of the vestibular system, which includes organs involved in balance, posture, movement and spatial orientation.
Bernier needed to pinpoint which inner ear organs and systems were causing McCarty’s movement-related dizziness. So she began by administering a balance exam known as the Mini BESTest.
“It’s well researched for use with Parkinson’s disease patients,” Bernier said. “It helped me design treatments to work on his reactive balance and postural stability.”
Like many Parkinson’s patients, McCarty had a problem whenever he did an additional activity while walking.
“People may get to where they are able to move fast and look safe,” Berrnier said. “But once they have to talk, they have to stop. They can’t multi-task.”
So Bernier had McCarty practice combinations of activities that impacted his body’s visual, inner ear and postural systems.
On a recent therapy day, he answered questions while doing sit-to-stand exercises and manipulating a weighted ball with his eyes closed. Another time, Bernier kept throwing a towel for him to step over as he paced on a treadmill, while answering questions.
All the activity has been an adjustment for McCarty. “I didn’t grow up as a jock,” he said. “I didn’t look forward to that stuff. For me, good exercise is cutting a steak, not lifting weights.”
But he embraced the work in order to expand his capabilities. And he’s proud of his progress.
“I mentioned to my wife the other day that for just a minute every now and then I forget that I have Parkinson’s,” he said.
Bernier credits such improvement to McCarty’s willingness to go all in on his therapy. “He comes in with a goal in mind and just actively works with me, breaking it down to meet the goal. We figure it out, step-by-step together.”
“I wasn’t sure it would make much of a difference,” McCarty said of both his LSVT and vestibular therapy. “But it has just been excellent. It’s head and shoulders above what medicine alone has done for me. I wish there was a way I could come once a week from now on.”
In addition to certified vestibular rehabilitation therapist Lana Bernier, Methodist Outpatient Therapy has 13 therapists trained to lead LSVT BIG in clinics in Flowood and Ridgeland. Call 601-936-8889 for more information.