Maryland FEMA worker Speaks Out On PD
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|Tue, 03-13-2012 - 11:45am|
Daniel Fruik doesn’t have any regrets about his 24-year career in law enforcement, even though he believes it is responsible for the diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease he received last summer.
“I wanted to work in law enforcement since I was 14,” said Fruik, 45, of Cumberland, who has worked as a military police officer and correctional officer and is now a program analyst for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“That was my choice. I’m not blaming the military. I’m not blaming the Bureau of Prisons. I’m not blaming the federal government.”
But Fruik, who takes medication three times a day to control tremors, wants the state to acknowledge that Parkinson’s disease is one of the disabilities that police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers expose themselves to because of the type of work they do.
He wants Maryland to pass a law that requires “exposure related Parkinson’s disease” to be treated as a line-of-duty disability so that those afflicted are eligible for the highest level of disability benefits. Indiana passed such a law in 2009.
“If Indiana can do it, then we can do it for the state of Maryland,” said Fruik, who plans to contact state legislators after raising local public awareness about the disease.
A neurodegenerative brain disorder, Parkinson’s disease causes tremors and stiffness, which leads in advanced stages to rigidity, limited movement, speech problems and loss of independence in activities of daily living. The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but scientists believe specific genetic mutations likely play a role, as does exposure to environmental triggers, including toxins or certain viruses.
In Indiana’s law, exposure-related Parkinson’s disease refers to Parkinson’s disease that is “caused by a toxin or head trauma,” and efforts to pass it were led by Indianapolis area firefighter Gary Coons, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at age 33.
On average, a person doesn’t contract Parkinson’s until their late 50s.
Coons, who was exposed to paint chemicals and debris from burning metal during a fire investigation, began researching Parkinson’s disease and found a 1990 study by the Neurotoxin Institute that documented 10 times the incidences of Parkinson’s disease in firefighters than in the general population.
Fruik, who doesn’t have a history of Parkinson’s disease in his family, believes that his illness is related to his years in law enforcement. His symptoms began in 2005, when he noticed slight tremors in his chin and right pinkie.
“In 12 years as a correctional officer, I went to the hospital six times after responding to minor brawls, big brawls,” Fruik said. “You get banged around ... That’s the nature of the beast. That’s part of the job.”
After several years of neurological tests, Fruik was diagnosed at West Virginia University Hospital on Aug. 24, 2011.
“How I cope with the fact that I have Parkinson’s disease, I would like to do something special with it,” said Fruik, who wants to share his story with the community and other law enforcement officers. “I don’t want to sit and dwell on it.”