November 17, 1995 in Nation/World

Reno Says Parkinson’s Disease Won’t Affect Job Attorney General Is Diagnosed With Progressive Neurological Illness

Chicago Tribune

Attorney General Janet Reno revealed Thursday that she has Parkinson’s disease but said it would not affect her ability to do her job.

After noticing a tremor in her left hand, Reno saw a neurologist and was diagnosed with the disorder last month. She takes medication daily to keep her left hand from shaking and has no other symptoms often associated with the disease, such as stiffness and difficulty in walking.

“Neither the disease nor the medication should impair my ability to do the job, and I intend to keep on doing it,” said Reno, 57, in her weekly news conference.

“As I grow old and become a very old lady, I may find limitations in mobility, limitations in muscle responses, but I feel fine now.”

Parkinson’s disease, which affects more than 1 million people nationwide, is a slowly progressive illness that causes cells in the middle of the brain to degenerate and die. Its symptoms include tremors, muscle stiffness and loss of balance.

Dr. Jonathan Pincus, who diagnosed Reno with the disease, said her medication, Sinemet, will mask the shaking of her left hand and any subsequent symptoms that could develop in the next five to 10 years.

“She asked me whether it would impair her ability to perform her duties as attorney general, and I said, ‘No way,”’ said Pincus, who chairs the neurology department of Georgetown University Medical Center. “You would not know she had Parkinson’s disease unless she told you.”

Sinemet works by converting into a chemical known as dopamine in the brain. People with Parkinson’s disease cannot produce enough dopamine naturally, resulting in symptoms such as tremors. Reno is taking the medicine three times a day before meals.

Pincus said she may have to increase her dosage in years to come, but that Reno’s prognosis over the long term is “excellent.”

People who begin with tremors in one extremity and who respond well to treatment “have absolutely the best prognosis of all,” he said in a press conference at the hospital.

Reno said she first noticed her hand shaking slightly in the late spring, but thought nothing of it. She decided to see a doctor when it didn’t go away. By the time her internist referred her to Pincus in October, she strongly suspected she had Parkinson’s.

She said she has read that stress exacerbates the symptoms of the disease, but said, “One of the things I noticed is during the Waco hearings I didn’t see it shake at all.”

Reno came under attack in congressional hearings this summer for approving a deadly FBI tear gas attack on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Reno said the White House was “very supportive” upon learning she had the disease. She and President Clinton had a “warm and spirited discussion” this morning, a White House spokeswoman said.

She said she had no intention of leaving her job, and saw no reason not to return for another four years if Clinton is re-elected.

“If I didn’t think I can do the job, I would be the first person to tell him,” she said.

Reno also said she plans to continue her personal activities, such as walking a 72-mile trail, from Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, Md., in installments.

“I’ll continue to take my long walks; I don’t feel like I have any impairment,” she said. “I feel strong, and I feel like moving ahead.”

She recently went on a 17-mile walk, and said she hopes to walk another 20 miles in two or three weeks.

“I put on my floppy old hat and I don’t look like an attorney general at all,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email