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Movement disorder clinic brings hope to patients

April 20, 2019 GMT

For New Mexico residents suspected of having conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders, seeing a specialist for diagnosis and treatment often means months of waiting.

Santa Fe resident Jamie Koch learned in 2017 he had Parkinson’s disease. When that happened, he found out that in New Mexico, monthslong waits for a specialist to confirm a diagnosis are common and that surrounding states such as Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma all had movement disorder centers, but New Mexico did not.

The former University of New Mexico regent received treatment and is battling his disorder, but he didn’t want other people to have to wait months just because they couldn’t find a way to obtain immediate treatment. Using the knowledge he had as a former state legislator and former state Democratic Party chairman, Koch and other advocates successfully petitioned the Legislature to ensure that more New Mexicans could receive the treatment they need.

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Now, because of funding from the Legislature and support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, UNM Health Sciences Center will become better equipped to treat Parkinson’s and other conditions — Huntington’s disease, dystonia, ataxia, restless legs syndrome and more — through a comprehensive movement disorder center. The complex could be up and running by late summer or early fall 2020.

In 2018, the Legislature passed a memorial urging UNM Health Sciences Center to explore the creation of a movement disorders center. This year came funding to design and build what will be a 16,000-square-foot center, all with bipartisan support. The state spending bill set aside some $3.5 million for the project, with UNM pledging to match those dollars.

Currently, patients who believe they might have certain conditions get on a six- to nine-month waiting list, unless they have the time or money to travel to see specialists in other states. Follow-up appointments also can take months. Because these conditions are progressive, the sooner the treatment begins, the sooner the symptoms can be stalled.

In a center dedicated to treating these conditions, resources will be consolidated. A center also can attract new practitioners; right now New Mexico has only about three movement disorder specialists and a possible patient roster of 10,000. Koch, in his letter advocating for the center, believes that number is just a baseline and that many more patients live in the state. The 10,000-patient number “does not include those persons who are treated by private practitioners since they do not report to the data base; thus, the potential number of Parkinson’s and other movement disorder persons to use the center will be significantly higher,” Koch wrote.

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Not only will a center dedicated to treating such disorders be able to attract grant money; with it, patients can participate in clinical trials, perhaps leading to cures. This center, the joint project of so many, will mean a better outcome for ailing New Mexicans, less stress on their families and hope for lives conducted with reduced pain and suffering.

All involved in finding the money and getting this legislation passed — and soon, the clinic built and operating — deserve our gratitude.

Correction

An editorial published Thursday (“On Guadalupe Street, fighting spirit needs a hand,” Our View, April 18) had the incorrect date for the opening of the New Mexico School for the Arts in the former Sanbusco Market Center. The campus will open in fall 2019, not fall 2020 as the editorial incorrectly stated.

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