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Highlights | A nurse’s Parkinson’s story 

  • Bryan Hill tells the story of his early onset Parkinson’s disease (EOPD) diagnosis. 
  • Fitness training helps him manage symptoms.  
  • He was invited to compete in season 14 of American Ninja Warrior.

As a post-transplant coordinating nurse, Bryan Hill is no stranger to motivating others to fight against what hurts. When he slowly started developing symptoms of early onset Parkinson’s disease, he struggled to come to terms with the reality and isolation that comes with the diagnosis. So he turned the set of skills he uses as a nurse into a way to help him manage the disease. 

In his own words, Bryan tells how he uses his family, and fitness, to keep pushing through.

A family history of Parkinson’s disease

Bryan knew there was a possibility of developing early onset Parkinson’s disease due to a family history — his mother was diagnosed with it in her early 20s. She lived with Parkinson’s for 37 years. 

“I was diagnosed two months before my wedding at the age of 31,” says Hill. “My wife and I kept my diagnosis between the two of us and close family and friends until seven months ago. During those years, I struggled with depression and an overwhelming sense of isolation.”

Motivation and mindfulness

In addition to his experience in helping others in the ICU manage the pain they experience after transplants and other post-operative care, Hill also saw his family as a reason to keep pressing toward a full life despite his diagnosis.

 “About a year into my diagnosis, I started mindfulness therapy and changed up my workout routine to HIIT style training to slow down my Parkinson’s disease’s progression,” Hill says. “Both of these things help tremendously in my fight against PD. My career as an ICU RN and rapid response RN at UW Medical Center has also given me a great set of tools for managing a chronic illness. Most importantly, the knowledge in pharmacology has been key in managing the ever-changing medication cocktails. The stress of the pandemic and trauma of seeing the tragedy first-hand has definitely made managing my PD more complicated.”

Working out and speaking out

With the support of his family and his community, Hill began to share his journey from coping with the diagnosis to using fitness as a way to manage the disease.

 “My wife and I made a deal to publicly disclose my diagnosis when our son was born so he didn’t have to carry around the burden of carrying our secret,” Hill says. “So I told the social media world my story and the love and support I received in return was heartwarming. The response I received sparked a fire in me to give back to the PD community.  

“I was posting a photo one day and noticed the fundraiser button. I clicked it and 30 days later I raised over $5,000; well surpassing my goal of $250. My goal of the fundraiser was to shed light on just how important exercise is for people with Parkinson’s disease and to show that we can still function like everyone else. So I worked out a lot and made a bunch of videos to raise awareness for EOPD.”

From nurse to American Ninja Warrior

After speaking publicly about his life with Parkinson’s disease and the impacts that exercise has on his daily life, Hill caught the attention of fitness superstar Jimmy Choi, who influences others to use fitness to manage the symptoms of their Parkinson’s disease. 

“Jimmy’s honest and humble approach to speaking so publicly about his Parkinson’s disease is something I admire,” Hill says. “During my fundraiser, Jimmy reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in continuing the ‘[Parkinson’s disease] warrior’ tradition. I gladly accepted his offer. Over the last seven months I have been grinding. Multiple flights to meet Jimmy to train, tons of social media promotion, submitted my American Ninja Warrior video, and I even managed to raise another $14,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. All the hard work paid off when I got ‘the call’ for season 14 of American Ninja Warrior, and an invitation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation MVP Gala in Manhattan. Now the real work begins.”  

Hill recently completed filming and competing in San Antonio for the month of May and is awaiting results to see if he qualified for the June filming and competition. “I’m beyond excited to represent the Parkinson’s disease community and Seattle as I show the world my disability is my strength.” 

Hill says that his wife and his son are what keep him fighting each day. The UW Medical Center staff also continue to cheer him on, from doctors to nurses and care teams. 

“I have a lot of joy and positives in my life,” says Hill. “Parkinson’s disease is just a small part of the puzzle.” 

Photo Caption: from left to right, the featured image shows Jimmy Choi and Bryan Hill, as posted on Bryan’s Instagram account.