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Peterson Achieving New Heights in Parkinson's Battle

Former Preds Assistant Coach Thankful to "See Results of Helping Others"

by John Glennon @glennonsports / jg1sport@aol.com

In the moments leading up to a recent Predators news conference, former assistant coach Brent Peterson strutted playfully in front of the assembled TV cameras.

Waving as he scooted from left to right and back again, Peterson lacked only a top-hat and cane to make the impromptu performance complete.

It's been just over half a decade now since Peterson underwent Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, a procedure designed to alleviate the Parkinson's Disease symptoms he began experiencing as far back as 2003.

In the five years since, his clenched right fist has relaxed, his gait has loosened and his mobility has increased. He takes only five pills a day, down from about 25 pre-surgery. In addition, Peterson's personality seems to have bubbled beyond some of its former boundaries as well, revealing - to the public, anyway - a livelier, more mischievous side.

All those advancements have helped Peterson - who serves as the Preds' primary radio analyst alongside Pete Weber - combat another brutal blow to the health of his extended family.   

More on that later.

But first let's focus on the process. Because the unlocking of Peterson, both in a physical and mental sense, hasn't come without its share of snarls and tangles along the way.

"This thing doesn't work"

In fact, only one year after the four-part operation - which involved placing electrodes in Peterson's brain and an electrode-controlling pacemaker near his collarbone - Peterson was convinced the process was a failure.

Sure, he was more mobile. Sure, the Parkinson's tremors had subsided and his rigid muscles had uncoiled. But Peterson didn't understand why he was too emotional sometimes, too often tired and ill as well.

"I was terrible for the first year. I couldn't do anything," Peterson said. "So I went back to [Dr. Tom Davis] and I said, 'This thing doesn't work. I want to take it out. You guys don't know what you're doing.'"

It took just five minutes of Davis turning off the remote device, which affects the electrodes in Peterson's brain, for extensive hand tremors and other Parkinson's symptoms to reappear. That re-affirmed to Peterson just how much of a difference the procedure really had made. Davis then used the remote to readjust the positioning of the electrodes in the brain, which helped relieve most of the other issues that had been ailing Peterson.

A similar scenario occurred just about a year ago, when Peterson said he felt too much energy in his head and too little energy in his body. He'd fallen sick too often during his first two seasons as a radio broadcaster, 2014-15 and 2015-16, which hampered his ability to deal with the long road grinds.

Another electrode re-adjustment, Peterson said, seems to have done the trick.

"This past year has really been the first year I've felt great," Peterson said. "I don't even bother touching my own (electrode) remote anymore.

"I still get tired. I still have Parkinson's. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it cures Parkinson's. But whatever it is, I'm on the right program."

Loosening Up

It's likely that Peterson's improved health is one of the reasons he's been showing the public a lighter and brighter side than he did back in his coaching days. Always well liked by players and those who knew him in his hockey career, Peterson smiles and laughs more than in the 13 seasons his focus was on improving the Predators.

"I think in the past, and even when I saw him in his days as a player in Buffalo, he was always that way with his teammates," Pete Weber said. "But yes, I do think he's loosened up quite a bit more in recent years.

"Where I really see that is on the road, where we tend to have dinners with sponsors a lot. I've seen him begin to like to tell stories. He's always had great stories, but I don't think he was as comfortable telling them before."

Peterson acknowledges he has a much better outlook on life overall since the surgery five years ago, saying he's now past the "woe-is-me" days that used to plague him.

But he also credits the gregarious, fun-loving Weber for bringing him new perspective as well.

The two even joke about Peterson's issues with a lack of balance, which is one of the Parkinson's symptoms that remains evident.

"He'll have some unexpected problems every now and then," Weber said. "So I've just told him that one thing he won't be doing in his career is becoming the next [dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov]."

Said Peterson: "Pete's been great, and he's really helped me. I think he's kind of shown me that you just can't be too serious about yourself. You have to have fun. This game is fun. What we're doing is fun. You have to enjoy it."

"He wants to be the rock"

Peterson's mindset has been put to the test in recent times by another significant medical blow to his family.

About six months ago, his son-in-law, Aaron Smith, was diagnosed with a fist-sized, Grade 2 brain tumor known as an Astrocytoma. Doctors removed much of the tumor during a 12-hour brain surgery a couple of months ago, but also had to take parts of his memory.

Smith, who has two small children - Brooklynn and Brady - with Peterson's daughter, Kristin, had to learn to speak all over again. He now faces chemotherapy and radiation treatments to combat what remains of the tumor.

"They came here for Christmas and that was really special," said Peterson, tears rolling down his cheeks. "It's been such a tough go for him, and he has an even tougher go ahead of him."

To help support Aaron and Kristin, Peterson's wife, Tami, spends much of her time with them in Kansas City, looking after the children. Peterson himself is taking care of a large portion of Aaron's huge medical bills, as well as leaning on his own personal struggles to offer encouragement to his son-in-law.

"I'm trying to be as supportive as I can," Peterson said. "I tell him that we all have our crosses to bear. I know it's a tough situation. But you've just got to keep moving ahead."

Said Weber: "Petey gets very emotional about that and understandably so. He wants to be the rock. He wants to be the steady one for his daughter because she has so much to worry about."

Peterson's desire to aid those around him has been evident for years in Tennessee.

In 2007, Peterson established the Peterson's Foundation for Parkinson's Disease to raise awareness of the disease. In 2011, PFP joined forces with the Predators to initiate fundraisers like Petey's Preds Party and the Predators Brent Peterson Celebrity Golf Classic.

Over the years, Peterson estimates the two groups have raised about $700,000 to help fight Parkinson's.

In the same way Peterson has seen his own life improve, he wants the same for others.

"I hope I've helped some people along the way," Peterson said. "Sometimes you can't always see results. But I think I have."

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