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My neurologist explained to me that I had what’s known as ‘early onset’. I was 55 at the time, I’m now 58, and it was further explained that what I had was ‘the Parkinson’s you want if you’re going to get Parkinson’s’.


Its main symptom is tremoring and it can be controlled to a certain extent by drugs or by surgery.


Traditional brain surgery  to control tremor is known as Deep Brain Stimulation, a rather scary prospect. In nearly all cases, the surgery is performed while the patient is awake. When I researched a new type of brain surgery that didn’t require the patient to be awake, I paid close attention. It was only available in Melbourne.


This method, performed by Dr Girish Nair, a neurosurgeon, and Dr Evans, a neurologist, is based on a new technology using Abbott’s Directional Leads, whereby sleeping leads are placed in the brain. Directional Leads give the surgeon more chance of being very accurate in locating the areas of the brain they need to target to adjust the tremor. It was a really influencing factor in me going for it.


The surgery was quite invasive. The surgeon drills through the skull and makes the adjustments they need to over a four-hour surgery. I now have leads in my brain and a lead going through the back of my neck to a battery inserted just under my chest.


The signals are operated on an iPad and powered by the battery. The iPad can adjust the level of stimulation and therefore the level of tremoring in my feet and hands. The patient can control it themself, but the neurologist has a bigger range of control at his fingertips.


I’ve only adjusted it once so far. I’d rather get advice from the neurologist beforehand. But, when I go back to Melbourne later this month, we’ll be doing more finetuning and go from there.


This is still pretty much an experimental surgery. It doesn’t cure Parkinson’s, but it attempts to control tremors, which it’s done pretty well for me. Considering that the reason I chose to have that surgery was because the tremors were stopping me from functioning properly – my hands and feet were trembling so much that it was keeping me awake at night – I’ve had really good results so far.





Going for the surgery meant going to Melbourne for six weeks. Apart from the success of the surgery, I was really amazed by a couple of other wonderful things that happened.


Early on, Brad Fisher from the AFL Players’ Association found out about my condition and contacted me to let me know that there was support available. As it turned out, it was support that I couldn’t have done without.


The cost of surgery and staying in Melbourne for six weeks, as well as the ongoing costs, have all been met by the Players’ Association, which has just been wonderful. Otherwise, I simply wouldn’t have been able to go through this process. Their support has been going, as well. I’ll be grateful to the AFLPA forever for what they’ve done for me and my family.


The other great thing that happened was that, while I was in Melbourne, a group of people from the Adelaide football community got together and gave my house a makeover. It was unbelievable.


There were a lot of people from clubs I played for or coached, but also many from clubs outside those I was involved in.


Just before I left for Melbourne, I had a couple of former football teammates visit me and ask, ‘Is there anything you want done to your house while you’re gone?’ I thought that was really nice of them and I said, ‘There’s a couple of doorknobs that need to be fixed, the gutter guard blew off in a storm and there’s a couple of bushes we wanted to get pulled out’. That was about it.


When my family and I came back home after six weeks in Melbourne, these amazing people had installed new blinds, new carpet, new built-in wardrobes, landscaped the front yard including automatic sprinklers, reverse-cycle airconditioning, freshly painted rooms, new shower screens and taps fitted, new doorways and a new kitchen – everything was done. It was really quite overwhelming. I’ll be eternally grateful for what they did. Bernie Conlen, 1983 WAFC premiership player and teammate, was the chief organiser and his contribution to the work is immeasurable.





The football community is amazing to be a part of. I’ve been very fortunate all my life to be associated with the game.


After my playing days ended in 1993, I stayed at the Crows as an assistant coach and, in 1997, worked with Malcolm Blight in the Crows’ premiership year.


Malcolm was a fantastic manager of people and always had a good game plan. The experience I had with him made me want to continue coaching.


I left Adelaide after that year and coached Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFL for two years and really enjoyed it, before heading to Glenelg and then West Adelaide.


There was a possibility of becoming an AFL coach, but it would have probably been a better move to stay in the AFL system, rather than take a step back. Still, I have no regrets because I thoroughly enjoyed coaching in the SANFL and being able to coach in my own right.


Most recently I’ve been coaching at St Michael’s College, where I also do some teaching. I missed a few games while I was away. But I’ve come back to coaching them since I’ve been back in Adelaide after my surgery.


It’s a great position to be in, with all that’s gone on with my health. My days of coaching at SANFL level or above may be over, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Please check out the Parkinson’s SA website in order to sponsor a 24-hour stationary bike ride being held at Adelaide Oval on Thursday, July 18 and Friday, July 19.  Ten teams are participating.


Mark Mickan – Parkinson’s SA Fundraiser will be held at the Adelaide Oval on August 9.


For details, click here.


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