CHAMPs > Parkinson's CHAMP

February 2012 - Team Bettina enters the Neuro Film Festival


In April 2006 a friend of mine asked me why I was so nervous all the time. I said, “Why would you say that?” He pointed at my hand and said I was always tapping my finger. I shrugged and chalked it up to my new computer mouse. I was a journalist, so when I wasn’t writing notes longhand, I was typing.

I saw a doctor who diagnosed carpal tunnel and then sent me for some nerve testing. I wore a brace, but that didn’t stop the movement. And I noticed that when I wasn’t tapping out random Morse code, the twitch took up residence in the muscle between my thumb and index finger.

I went to see a neurologist, but he specialized in older patients – I was only 34 at the time. “Parkinson’s is a disease of stillness, not movement,” he said confidently. But he and his partner stood staring at my hand for a long time.

 It was my acupuncturist who finally said I had to push to see someone at the National Institutes of Health. She said she had never treated anyone who didn’t show signs of improvement – and I was steadily getting worse.

On January 8, 2007, a team of neurologists watched me wave my arms, stand on one leg and write my name over and over again before they declared I had Parkinson’s disease. This year I passed the five-year mark of that life-changing moment and I can’t say I’m any less stunned.

Soon after my diagnosis I was told there was a six-month wait to see a neurologist at Georgetown (I live in the Washington, DC-metro area). So rather than sit and wait for that appointment I started to get busy with projects and one of them was to find a great fundraising opportunity. It took me one five-second Google search to find the Unity Walk and I am so happy I did!

I launched Team Bettina (slogan: “Can I Get Fries With My Shake?”) and have participated with a fantastic group of supportive friends and family every year since then. I think we raised just shy of $5,000 in 2007 and hit a record (for us) $13,000+ last year. I’m hoping to push beyond $15,000 in 2012!

As my tremors have gotten worse, the hobbies and things I used to enjoy have become more difficult, so I have had to adjust. I’ve been a pianist since I was five years old, but sometimes playing my grand piano requires a tremendous physical effort – which is how I discovered composing (on an electronic keyboard with more responsive keys). My handwriting is terrible now, so I use dictation software to “write” and software that allows me to customize the cards and letters I used to make by hand.

I’ve also become enamored of photography and film making (tripod required to steady the camera, of course!). Last year was the first time I entered the Neuro Film Festival, which I think is an excellent way to raise awareness. It provided me the opportunity to show, rather than just tell, people how difficult it can be on a daily basis. But also how you can find humor in even the toughest times.

This year I approached the film from a kid’s point of view – I have lots of friends with children who are aware of my Parkinson’s but may not completely understand, or may even be a bit afraid. “Everything Moves” is dedicated to them.

For more information on the festival, please go to

On February 7, you can vote for your favorite movie (the site will ask you to register). There are a number of excellent entrants who talk about Parkinson’s. And be sure to watch my film at: or on my YouTube channel: BreakfastandBrains.

Bettina Chavanne
Team Bettina