Richard Matranga: Living with Parkinson’s

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2014 22:20


In his early 50s, successful attorney and winemaker Richard Matranga began to notice a slight shuffle in his gait and a small tremor in his left hand.

Two years later, a neurologist diagnosed Parkinson’s disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain and over time robs sufferers of their ability to move and enjoy some of their passions in life. For Matranga those included the practice of law and a love of wine and music. As a young man he played keyboard professionally before earning a law degree from the University of Santa Clara.

He served as chief legal counsel for the City of Sonora for 29 years and as Angels Camp’s city attorney from 1995 to 2012. In 1986, he established the award-winning Sonora Winery & Port Works. The advancing Parkinson’s curtailed his winemaking in 2010, and he retired from his law practice three years later. Now 64, Matranga continues to enjoy playing keyboards and has begun to write about his life, including his toughest challenge: Parkinson’s.

By Richard Matranga

The list of symptoms that Parkinson’s disease brings to the table is formidable. Known long ago as the “shaking palsy,” it generally features a tremor in at least one of your limbs, a shuffling gait – often mistaken for being drunk in public – and generalized stiffness and rigidity.

As I was sitting here yesterday, shortly before my tremoring right hand grabbed my left arm and in a split second threw me to the floor, I took time to reflect.

I pondered whether the “Parkies,” an ever-growing group of boomers by virtue of demographics, will ever fess up and give constipation and drooling their rightful place on the Top 10 list of Parkinson’s symptoms. Could constipation ever move higher than number two on the list?

Philosophical inquiries aside, one in 100 people over the age of 60 will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the United States this year, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. It is estimated that about one million people in the U.S. have the disease, and the number is expected to double by 2030.

But back to falling: Somewhere in mid-air, this morning’s developments crossed my mind, not the least of which was some cutting-edge research shared on the worldwide web. An article first published by Health and News Daily reports scientists’ findings that the first changes occurring at the cellular level in the detection of Parkinson’s disease are not occurring in the brain, as originally hypothesized. The first detectable changes actually occur in the colon.

Now this is big news in a world where all of the attention has been focused on the brain. And while it suggests that maybe our brains are not located where originally thought, the inquiry merits being moved up from the rear.

Anyway, as my frame collided with the floor, always there to break my fall, I realized how thankless I have become. I should feel fortunate that someone stuck in the bowels of a medical research lab who has been the butt of the research community for years may have backed his or her way into a cure for the shaking palsy.

I began the process of lifting my rigid 200-pound carcass up and slipped on what seemed like a bunch of ball bearings. Turns out it was the other contender for the top spot on my symptom list – drool.

As I again hit the floor, I felt thankful that it was always there for me, unlike most of my friends. I can’t blame them, really, for leaving me by the side of the trail as they move on to explore things in life they know my body no longer allows me to do. Though I have learned to fall like a professional, I think I heard one of them say recently, “If we wanted a stunt man, I would have invited Richard.” Many people simply can’t handle the progressive nature of the disease, and it is too painful for them to maintain a relationship.

Since the diagnosis hit me like a lead pipe 10 years ago, I have gained a completely different perspective on life, coming to terms with the fact that the only thing we can be sure will happen is change, including the loss of friends.

Though the average age of Parkinson’s onset is about 60, I was diagnosed at 54, nearly two years after I began to notice the first symptoms, a slight shuffle in my gait and a tremor in my left hand. Through my sister, an R.N, I found a neurologist familiar with the symptoms of the disease. It took him less than five minutes to confidently advise that I was about to embark on the challenge of my life. Three glasses of port later, I began to accept the assignment.

rmAmong other changes in the years since, I have become more reluctant to pass judgment on others. Perhaps more importantly, I have done my best to look at the funny side of this disease and share that with my family and friends who have chosen to endure the tragedy with me.

I have also made myself available for whatever research study may come my way. And I am ready to participate in the discovery of a cure, no matter how insignificant or silly the underlying study might seem. Arguably, the discovery of many cures may have come hundreds of years earlier with more support for medical research.  Modern antibiotics came along about 3,000 years after the Egyptians were making a poultice out of moldy bread. Who would have guessed?

If you are a card carrying Parkie, or if you are dealing with MS or some other malady that seems to be hitting today’s boomers, please consider participating in the latest medical research studies out there. Some of the studies involve minimal risk and can actually be completed over the phone.

I have had the opportunity to participate in several research trials that have had different levels of risk. One involved a spinal tap. The most recent study involved depositing some saliva (as you know, Parkies are good at this) in a plastic tube and participating in a DNA analysis to determine more about the role genetics plays in the disease.

Leave the spinal taps to guys like me. But consider adding purpose to your own life by helping others increase the quality of theirs. The Michael J. Fox website ( contains a wealth of information about hundreds of ongoing studies at universities and research facilities nationwide, and will even track studies and periodically email patients about those that may be of interest.

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation also has an excellent website ( containing a wealth of cutting-edge information and free webinars on issues that affect Parkinson’s patients on a daily basis.

Someone once asked me about how I was going to deal with life after the diagnosis, and I distinctly recall my defiant and dramatic response. I blurted out, “I’m goin’ down in flames!”

Sounded great … until I tripped and fell into the burn pile.

Email Matranga at, or read more online at his new blog, – and yes, there’s a story behind that name.

Parkinson’s Resources

Amador County: Parkinson’s Support Group Group being organized, call Laurie Webb, RN, at Amador County Senior Center, 223-0442.

Calaveras County: San Andreas Movers & Shakers Meets first Tues. of month, 9:45am-noon, San Andreas Library, 1299 Gold Hunter Rd. Barbara Pollard, 754-5360.

Mariposa County: Care Givers Support Group  Meets second and fourth Tues., 10:30am-noon, John C. Fremont Home Health and Hospice, 5108 Highway 140, Mariposa, 966-3800.

Tuolumne County: Neurological Support Group Meets third Wed. of month, 1-2pm, Sonora Regional Medical Center, Conference Room 3, 1000 Greenley Rd., 536-5046.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
By Guest Contributor September 15, 2014 22:20
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