John Ball: Americans for Cures Parkinson’s Disease Ambassador

By Terri Somers

John Ball was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was 39. Parkinson’s destroys the brain’s ability to produce dopamine, which controls communication between brain cells and is responsible for the control of fine motor function.

It’s an incurable, progressive neurodegenerative disease of the nervous system that ultimately robs people of their ability to move, talk and swallow.

Given the prognosis of the disease, a friend suggested Ball relax and find a comfortable, peaceful way to live out his life.

Ball, however, had a different idea. He put on his running shoes. And when he was 51, he started running marathons. During the ensuing 20 years, he ran 25 marathons and two half-marathons.

“Turns out if was probably the best thing I could do for myself” said Ball, who’s now 72.

Marathon running has led the Whittier, California resident down many unexpected paths late in life. He’s become a widely respected author, coach, lobbyist, fundraiser and advocate for stem cell research, which many in the Parkinson’s community believe will lead to a cure for the disease.

An estimated 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease. About 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and that number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected, according to the Parkinson’s disease Foundation.

Ball, like other Parkinson’s experts, believes that success for at least one stem cell therapy is just around the bend.

“If you’ve been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s congratulations because you will probably live long enough to see a cure,” he said.

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