Local minister finds the good in surprise diagnosis
PHOTOS BY JOSHUA BERRY
Mike Winkler, minister of the Madison Church of Christ, intentionally parks as far away as he can from Huntsville Hospital. There to visit the sick, he uses the two skywalks to enter the main building. As he leaves, he checks his phone to see his step count. It reads a little over 3,000 – 7,000 more to go before day’s end.
Winkler aims for five miles a day. Walking, along with taking medication and reducing stress, is what his doctor recommended to ease his journey with Parkinson’s disease. The doctor’s instructions were to walk 10,000 steps a day. “I try to get as close to that number as I can six days a week,” Winkler said. “The exercise is important because it helps me maintain my flexibility and balance, strengthens my core and reduces stress.”
Winkler underwent a colonoscopy in July 2017 and was prescribed a larger prep than normal because of previous issues with the test. After the test was completed, he started experiencing tremors in his upper lip and right hand. “Our first thought was that the prep contained gluten. I am gluten intolerant, so that must be the cause of the tremors,” Winkler said.
With the question of the tremors answered in their mind, Winkler and his wife, Pam, took a trip to Montana to visit family. While there, he contracted a cold, and his voice became weak. After several weeks of not being able to get strength back in his voice, Winkler decided to visit his family physician to ask for an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. “She did some simple tests in her office and suggested I might need to see a neurologist instead,” Winkler said.
A few weeks later at 62 years old, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“The first thoughts were shock and disbelief. I was concerned about the long-term effects of the disease,” Winkler said. “However, after the neurologist gave me the diagnosis, he proceeded to reassure me I could have a long and productive life if I would be a cooperative patient and follow his directions.”
Winkler began doing research on the disease, as he had little knowledge of it prior to his diagnosis. With his brother and son-in-law being surgeons, he sought their advice for questions to ask his doctor. By his next visit, he had five pages of questions. “He answered every one of them,” Winkler said. “My doctor has been a great encourager.”
With his questions answered, Winkler said he knew it was time to tell his congregation of more than 1,000 about his diagnosis. He met with his elders first and then made the announcement at a Sunday service. “The elders and members were extremely supportive when given the news of my Parkinson’s diagnosis,” Winkler said. “The prayers that have been offered to God on my behalf from the Madison Church of Christ family have been and are so encouraging and uplifting. It makes my Parkinson’s journey so much easier to bear.”
Winkler said the Parkinson’s diagnosis has also helped him be more empathetic with others who are dealing with various challenges. “I think you need to walk in someone’s shoes sometimes to really understand what they are dealing with,” Winkler said. “My diagnosis has also helped me realize the impact that prayer and encouragement can have on others as they are dealing with difficulties.”
Winkler marks verses in his Bible with different colored highlighters, a certain color marking passages of encouragement – passages like Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him.” “Parkinson’s is not fun, but in a way a lot of good has come from it,” Winkler said. “Knowing unequivocally that God is in control and that he willingly bears all of our burdens makes this Parkinson’s journey bearable and purposeful.”
Winkler knows the disease does not define him – something his doctor continues to instill in him. He said he loves his work in the ministry more than ever, finding a renewed sense of teaching and encouraging – with the daily determination to get in his steps, set his timer for his medication and remember that God is in control and carrying the load.
Winkler said he is willing to give advice to those walking in his shoes as Parkinson’s patients.
“Remember your life is not over just because you have Parkinson’s. Diligently follow your doctor’s guidance and find someone to lean on when you get discouraged because you will get discouraged,” he said. “Most importantly, partner with God through prayer and reading the scriptures for comfort and encouragement. Remember that God can take the challenges of our lives and use them for good.”