Hilary Vanderliek, 27, started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease at age 12 and was diagnosed in her mid-20s. (Hannah Earhart photo)

Young onset Parkinson’s diagnosis ‘a blessing in disguise’

Hilary Vanderliek, 27, started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease at age 12

Hilary Vanderliek began showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when she was just 12 years old.

While growing up in Langley, she told Peace Arch News Saturday, her parents noticed her symptoms before she did.

“I believe they noticed poor co-ordination/balance, and that I would trip over my feet or shuffle a bit when I would walk,” the now 27-year-old said.

At age 14, Vanderliek was diagnosed with Dopa-Responsive Dystonia, which presents symptoms similar to that of Parkinson’s disease.

“I’ve learned that this is quite common for patients in my age range, as symptoms present themselves similarly,” she said.

It wasn’t until Vanderliek was 24 that she learned she had Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD).

“I had been expecting the diagnosis,” she said. “I cried when my specialist first shared the results of my PET scan. However, my mentality quickly shifted to: who can I connect with, and help, and get help from?”

After her diagnoses, Vanderliek started to have “intense” anxiety and panic attacks, both symptoms of the disease. Shortly thereafter, she connected with the Parkinson Society of BC (PSBC).

“I was so desperate for help when I came across free counselling services with PSBC, and the only way that they can offer such important programs like it is by fundraisers and donations like the Parkinson SuperWalk,” she said, noting the upcoming White Rock event scheduled to take place next month at Kintec (15185 Russell Ave.).

Like many others with Parksinson’s disease, physical activity plays an important part of Vanderliek’s life. Now a Vancouver resident, she trains CrossFit five times per week, and documents her journey online via Instagram.

The social-media platform has helped her connect with other people with Parkinson’s around the world, and she has inspired others to stay active.

“CrossFit has given me the strength to push through things that I wouldn’t be able to because of the strength and endurance I’ve built,” she said.

Vanderliek said the biggest challenge with the disease is medication fluctuation.

“On a daily basis I probably spend like two hours just laying on the floor waiting for my symptoms to pass. Not all at once, but in 30-minute increments,” she said.

“But if I can push through a workout, I will.”

She said she considers herself at an advantage because of her early diagnosis, compared to a senior who has been recently diagnosed, but “stuck in their ways.”

“I just choose to see my diagnosis as a blessing in disguise. Without it, I likely wouldn’t have taken the time to learn how to best take care of myself.”

When asked if there was something she wants others to know about the disease, Vanderliek referred to the ‘iceberg’ theory.

“The part that you can see that’s above water was labelled tremors. The part below the water represented what people don’t know about Parkinson’s disease. In my case, that would be discomfort, extreme stiffness and panic attacks.”

Last year, Vanderliek shared her story at the White Rock Parkinson SuperWalk. She plans to attend the event again this year.

Registration for the White Rock event can be done online at www.superwalkbc.kintera.org, or on location (15185 Russell Ave.) the day of the event, Sept. 9, beginning at 9 a.m.

This year marks the third time a SuperWalk has been held in the city. The past two walks, in total, have raised more than $60,000.


For Hilary Vanderliek, physical fitness – including CrossFit – helps her manage her health issues. (Hannah Earhart photo)

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