Cindy McLaughlin: Hearts that Care

  • Friday, March 28, 2014

Husband, father, and 103.1 WRIX sports talk host Zach Lentz with his three young daughters talks about his disease.

In 1997, when the late country music legend Johnny Cash revealed to the world that he had Parkinson's disease, Joal Ryan, a celebrated author and journalist wrote, “The normal way of doing things would be to write that Johnny Cash is battling Parkinson's disease. Except this is the Man in Black we're dealing with here.”

“Maybe it should be noted that Parkinson's Disease is battling Johnny Cash,” she concluded.

A man and his disease

It isn't his music, the booze, or his outlaw image for which Johnny Cash should be remembered.

Rather, Johnny Cash should be famous for his attitude towards the prognosis associated with Parkinson's, a progressive, debilitating brain disorder with symptoms that include body tremors, slowed movement and poor balance.

“It ain't funny,” Cash said to the Flint, MI audience gathered to watch him perform as he nearly fell from from the stage and fumbled his guitar while trying to regain his composure. As the crowd laughed uncomfortably, he announced he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's.

In total silence, they listened as he said, “It's all right. I refuse to give it some ground in my life.”

There is no known cure for Parkinson's disease, although the effects can be moderated through medication. It's slow damage causes the brain cells that control muscle movement to wither away.

Cash knew it. But he fought it, just like he fought his addictions. Even though he stopped touring, he didn't stop fighting.

Neither will 30-year-old Zach Lentz.

A lover of all sports, particularly football, baseball, basketball, and golf, Lentz is a sports talk host on 103.1 WRIX in Anderson.

As a child, he moved often with his parents and younger brother. His father, a pastor, eventually located his family in the upstate and the two sons were drawn to Clemson University.

With a good foundation as a child, Lentz learned early in life the power of perseverance.

As he puts it, “there is no giving up.” That's what Zach Lentz has in common with Johnny Cash.

That, and a diagnosis.

Parkinson's Disease

Complications from this disabling and crippling disease, that commonly strikes after the age of 60, is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States according to The Center for Disease Control. Known for its subtle and gradual symptoms, it is often hard for doctors to diagnose and patients often ignore the signs or attribute them to the effects of aging.

Johnny Cash was 65 when he was diagnosed.

Sadly, Zach Lentz is only 30. He's married. He has a job. He and his wife have 3 young daughters, ages 6, 3, and 17 months.

And, now, after too many doctors, too many tests, and months of denial, he also has Parkinson's disease. Fortunately, he has something else. He has the power of perseverance. He's using the lessons learned as a child.

Parkinson's disease is battling Matt Lentz.

“As a child the one main thing that I learned was to be proud of who I am and not let anything stand in my way. I can conquer anything life throws at me,” he wrote.

Which includes putting on his clothes. He admits he has had to do away with vanity because everything has become about functionality.

He wears what he can put on. “Buttons are difficult,” he says.

Still winning

According to the website, Parkinsons.org, younger adults can also suffer from the disease. “When a younger person gets Parkinson's, it is often due to that person's genes,” it states.

Actor Michael J. Fox, the most famous face of Young-Onset Parkinson's disease, was 30-years-old when he was diagnosed.

Like Zach, he was young, he was married and he had children. He was working on a weekly television series called Spin City.

Michael J. Fox changed after his diagnosis as he learned to live with the effects of the disease. He abruptly retired from acting. He wrote a book. He became a relentless advocate for research. And he became a fighter.

Parkinson's disease is battling Michael J. Fox.

And in 2014, 23 years after his diagnosis, Michael J. Fox is winning. Even though “The Michael J. Fox Show” was recently cancelled by NBC, the affable “Family Ties” actor is still eager to share his talents with us.

Johnny Cash, who died from diabetes in 2003, is still winning this year. His latest album, Out Among the Stars, was released this week. Even in death, he is sharing his extraordinary talent with us.

The ‘on' times

And nine months into his battle, Zach Lentz is winning.

Sure, he admits, he has changed a lot. “I cherish the ‘on' times,” he says. “The times I can function, do the things I want to do.”

He knows those times are limited so he tries to make the most of them. He is learning to live with the effects of the disease.

He sometimes struggles to help his wife around the house or play with his girls. He gets tired much quicker now.

He paces himself and remembers he was taught to believe that there is no such thing as giving up. “There is always a way to break through any obstacle or trial.”

“It ain't funny, but it's all right. I refuse to give it some ground in my life.”--Johnny Cash, October 25, 1997.

For more information on Zach's battle with Young-Onset Parkinson's disease or the fundraiser to help him get the brain surgery suggested by his doctors to limit the tremors associated with the disease, visit YouTube.com/Zachlentz or www.gofundme.com/zachneedsdbs.

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