In his widely acclaimed book, Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson's Disease, Beltway Boys co-host Mort Kondracke offers a touching, even tragic look at his wife Milly's devastating battle with the disease.
Milly's condition is deteriorating rapidly. She can barely speak and uses a computer to communicate. She can't walk. Swallowing is getting increasingly difficult and within one year or so she could be forced to nourish herself via a feeding tube.
Kondracke and Milly have been married for 33 years. They have two daughters, but Kondracke said throughout their marriage, Milly carried the burden of raising the girls while he toiled at his career.
When Milly grew ill, Kondracke realized it was time for him to take the reins of looking out for the family. He said it was important to him to tell the naked truth about his own behavior to effectively communicate Milly's strength.
"I don't know that I'll ever write an autobiography or a biography of Millly ever again. I figured I may as well tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as I saw it about myself and about the transformation that took place. Millly was the stronger person in our family. As Parkinson's Disease has diminished her at least physically, I've had to physically take up the slack and it's changed my life and made me a stronger person," he said.
A columnist for nearly 40 years in Washington, Kondracke said that he debated whether to use use his journalistic reach to shed light on funding for public health research.
"Well, for one thing I'm a columnist. I don't have to, you know, report things straight. I'm expected to have opinions about things. And I was a little conflicted about whether to inject my personal situation and my personal cause, which was getting a cure for Parkinson's disease, into my journalism. Then I figured that if I disclosed what my interest was that I could do it. So I did," Kondracke said.
But Kondracke said he soon realized that he had to expand his cause to draw attention to the plight of Parkinson's sufferers.
"I've been writing columns and speaking out to increase the funding for Parkinson's research. And then in addition, I discovered that just doing Parkinson's was not going to work... that the way to do this was lift all boats by doubling the NIH budget, the National Institutes of Health budget across-the-board. So I started campaigning for that. That is actually happening. The Parkinson's budget has doubled as well but it's from a very low base. So, it's still needs more."
Kondracke's fight has landed him in the middle of the debate over stem cell research, which many religious groups and some bioethicists oppose. But, he argued, stem cells could be the answer to most neurological disorders.
"Theoretically, and in animal models, these stem cells can be converted into brain cells or spinal cord cells or heart cells or skin cells for severe burns, for pancreatic cells to produce insulin. So I think that the pro-life thing to do is to use these cells rather than throw them away," Kondracke said.
"I pray every day for a miracle that something will come along. There is lot of interesting, fascinating research on the horizon but it's always just on the horizon," he said.
Kondracke's book, Saving Milly: Love, Politics and Parkinson's Disease, is on sale now.
To purchase a copy of Saving Milly, go to: www.publicaffairsbooks.com
Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson’s Disease (with a Forward by Michael J. Fox; Published by: PublicAffairs; ISBN: 1-58648-037-5; Publication date: June 12th, 2001; Price: $25.00US/$37.95CAN; 288 pages)