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Local Doctor Reflects On Muhammad Ali's Advocacy For Parkinson's Disease Patients

Fabian Bimmer / AP

Former heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali waves to the audience after receiving the "Bambi Trophy" during the Bambi Media Award in Hamburg, northern Germany, Thursday evening, Nov. 27, 2003.

Fabian Bimmer / AP

As preparations continue for Muhammad Ali's funeral Friday in Louisville, Kentucky, Sacramento's medical community is reflecting on how the athlete and philanthropist helped champion the fight against Parkinson's disease

Dr. Norika Malhado Chang is a UC Davis Medical Center neurologist who specializes in Parkinson's.

"Muhammad Ali's prominence, being a prominent figure really brought significant awareness to a disease that a lot of people didn't know much about," says Chang.

Chang says before Ali, people used to think Parkinson's only affected the elderly or non-athletes, or that it confined patients to wheelchairs.

"For so many years he really demonstrated that is not the case and this is a disease that can affect anyone," she says. "But with proper treatment and management, (you) can live ... very satisfying lives."

Chang says in particular, Ali's commitment to exercise showed that various types of physical activity can help slow down the progression of motor symptoms in Parkinson's.

"One of the things that Muhammad Ali contributed significantly to is our understanding of the benefits of exercise," she says. "As an athlete Muhammad Ali was very committed to physical activity." 

Ali was diagnosed with the disease in 1984 at the age of 42.

Hear live coverage of Ali's memorial service on Capital Public Radio, Friday starting at noon.