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Military veteran embraces ‘new service’ of helping others after his Parkinson's diagnosis: ‘There is hope'

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Military veteran embraces ‘new service’ of helping others after his Parkinson's diagnosis: ‘There is hope'

After 17 years of serving his country, Mark Kelm is now providing a different type of service: He’s advocating for others who, like him, are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Kelm, who lives in a small Minnesota town with his wife of 23 years and three children, was just 38 years old when he was diagnosed with PD, a nervous system disorder that causes tremors, stiffness, loss of balance and other movement issues.

He credits his military background for preparing him for this latest challenge.

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“I believe the times that I had in the military really prepared me to handle living with a disease like Parkinson’s — knowing how to adapt and overcome in any given circumstance,” he told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

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“And I think those life skills that I learned in the Army are still quite useful today.”

After 17 years of serving his country, Mark Kelm is now providing a different type of service: He’s advocating for others who, like him, are living with Parkinson’s disease. He’s shown in the family picture at left, center, plus on the right.  (Mark Kelm)

Surprise diagnosis

Raised by a police deputy and a nurse, Kelm said that for as long as he can remember, his life has been geared toward service.

Since enlisting in the Army Reserves in 1989, Kelp has served many years of active duty, spent time in the National Guard and held a role as a military chaplain.

In 2006, Kelm transitioned to a role as a chaplain for a federal law enforcement agency.

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Two years later, at just 38, he was alarmed when he started experiencing involuntary twitching. 

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“One muscle in my arm kept twitching, and it was causing my finger to twitch as well, and it just wouldn’t stop,” he recalled. 

That began Kelm’s journey toward a diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s, which he received at the Mayo Clinic’s neurology department in Minnesota.

“That was a pretty dark day — knowing that it’s a progressive, degenerative neurological disorder that currently does not have a cure or any disease-modifying drugs,” he said. 

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Mark Kelm on active duty

Mark Kelm, pictured at right, enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1989 and served for many years in active duty. (Mark Kelm)

“As a chaplain, I performed funerals for people who had died from complications of Parkinson’s. So I was very familiar with some of the end-stage aspects of the disease.”

Kelm started taking Levodopa, a central nervous system drug that helps to manage Parkinson’s motor symptoms.

“I believe the times that I had in the military really prepared me to handle living with a disease like Parkinson’s.”

For eight years, he “stayed quiet” on the disease. In 2016, he said, “It was affecting me enough that I no longer could hide it.”

That’s when Kelm retired from full-time work — but his next chapter was just beginning.

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New form of service

“After having my own little pity party after my diagnosis, I realized that wasn’t really helpful,” he said. 

Kelm’s older daughter, who was in high school at the time, immediately started researching his disease. She soon became involved with fundraising and awareness efforts through the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Mark Kelm chaplaincy

Kelm, at right, is pictured on a mission trip to Uganda in 1998 while he was serving as a military chaplain. (Mark Kelm)

He was so impressed by his daughter’s efforts that he decided it was time to “get off the bench and get back into the game.”

Kelm has since “jumped in with both feet.”

He became the national chair of the Parkinson’s Foundation People with Parkinson’s Council, which ensures that the perspective of people living with PD is integrated into the foundation’s program development.

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In 2020, Kelm helped create an annual Parkinson’s Awareness Day at Target Field, in partnership with the Minnesota Twins.

He has also organized events to raise funds for the Minneapolis-based Struthers Parkinson’s Center, and volunteers on the U.S. Department of Defense’s medical research programs for Parkinson’s.

“My service is connected to Parkinson’s now,” Kelm told Fox News Digital.

Mark Kelm with family

Kelm, at far right, is pictured with his family during a visit to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mark Kelm)

“It has been an absolute blessing, because it’s allowed me to meet people from all around this great nation and even the world,” he went on. 

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“It’s been very positive for me, and I’m very hopeful that there’s a lot of research being done right now.”

Kelm’s advocacy could also indirectly benefit his health, according to Dr. James Beck, PhD, chief scientific officer for the Parkinson’s Foundation in New York City.

“My service is connected to Parkinson’s now.”

“The symptoms of PD – slowness of movement, difficulty in movement, etc. – can shrink a person’s world,” Beck told Fox News Digital. 

“Mark’s effort to be involved and make a difference has helped him learn more about his own disease and to be a model advocate for his own care and health.”

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What to know about early-onset Parkinson’s

People who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s before age 50 are considered early-onset patients.

Just 4% of people are diagnosed before the age of 50 — and Kelm was one.

Early-onset patients are three times as likely to have a genetic form of the disease, according to Beck.

Mark Kelm at Twins game

In 2020, Kelm helped to create an annual Parkinson’s Awareness Day at Target Field, in partnership with the Minnesota Twins. (Mark Kelm)

“People with EOPD typically have a much slower rate of progression of their disease than those diagnosed at an older age,” Beck noted.

Younger patients, however, are more likely to notice stiffness earlier in the course of the disease.

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“They will often experience dystonia (e.g., cramping of a hand or toes) as an early symptom,” Beck said. 

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Patients with early-onset disease will also often experience levodopa-induced dyskinesia (involuntary movements of body parts) more frequently than those diagnosed after the age of 50, according to Beck.

Kelm said he does experience dyskinesia from time to time.

“At first, I thought, ‘I’m going to beat this,’” he said. “And after a few years, I started having some swallowing issues, which led to choking while eating.”

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Mark Kelm with wife

Kelm is pictured with his wife of 23 years, Beth Kelm. “She is the rock of the family. She does 99% of the work, and I go in for the 1% of glory.” (Mark Kelm)

“It was a wake-up call, and an awareness that I needed to do more to manage the disease.”

Coming to terms with his mortality was tough, Kelm acknowledged — but he found some comfort in knowing.

“I found peace in knowing that everything is going to be OK.”

“You don’t die from Parkinson’s — you die with Parkinson’s,” he said. “You die from complications of the disease, especially if you’re younger. And I found peace in knowing that everything is going to be OK.”

He added, “All of us are going to leave this earth one way or another. Some of us are given knowledge beforehand, while others are not.”

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The military-Parkinson’s link

There are currently more than 110,000 veterans with Parkinson’s disease who receive care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

In 2009, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report stating that there is “suggestive but limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War is associated with an increased chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.”

Mark Kelm active duty

Second from right, Kelm is pictured delivering tailgate Communion while serving as a military chaplain. (Mark Kelm)

As the Parkinson’s Foundation stated, PD is a “presumptive condition for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and certain other toxins during military service.”

Due to this designation, veterans with Parkinson’s who were exposed to these toxins are automatically eligible to receive health care and disability benefits from the VA.

Beck of the Parkinson’s Foundation said it makes sense that there could be a link between PD and military service.

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“Although I have not seen a report of a direct increase in PD after military service, given the environmental exposures of many of our service members – head trauma, solvent exposure, etc. – it would not surprise me to see a higher prevalence of PD among veterans,” he told Fox News Digital.

Kelm noted that although the U.S. veteran population is getting smaller, the Parkinson’s rate within the community is “increasing significantly.”

Mark Kelm with family

Kelm and his family are pictured at the Minnesota Twins game on Parkinson’s Awareness Day at Target Field. (Mark Kelm)

He told Fox News Digital, “I suffered two TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) in service, which the VA believes likely contributed to my Parkinson’s, along with chemical exposure.” 

The Parkinson’s Foundation partnered with the VA in 2020 in an effort to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for veterans with PD and their loved ones.

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Breaking the stigma

Many military veterans with Parkinson’s find it difficult to bring themselves to ask for help after so many years of supporting others. This was the case for Kelm after his diagnosis.

“As a chaplain, my job was for people to come to me — not for me to seek them out.”

“I was in a pretty dark place at first,” he recalled. “As a chaplain, my job was for people to come to me — not for me to seek them out.”

A doctor at Struthers Parkinson’s Center in Minnesota recognized that Kelm needed help and physically walked him to a psychologist’s office.

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“I sat down and started talking, and it really was my awakening — an awareness of how much I needed to listen to another person and have them sort through things.”

The psychologist helped Kelm realize that he could continue to serve others while also allowing others to serve him.

Mark Kelm

Second from right, Kelm is pictured during a mission trip to Uganda, during which the group helped to build a school for women. (Mark Kelm)

Over time, people in the Parkinson’s community began calling on Kelm to help others with young-onset PD who had recently been diagnosed.

“I want to reach out to as many people as possible and get them the help they need to live the best quality of life that they can,” he said.

“I want to let them know that there is hope. It’s not all darkness — there is light. They still have a lot of life to live.”

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Guided by hope and faith

During the harder days, Kelm finds encouragement and comfort in his faith.

“It’s the belief that no matter what happens, I don’t have to fear, because I know God is is with me,” he said. 

“I have hope that as my body becomes weaker, God’s strength will become more and more evident.”

“I have hope that as my body becomes weaker, God’s strength will become more and more evident.”

Kelm said he is also optimistic that headway is being made toward improved Parkinson’s treatments and a future cure.

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Mark Kelm

He is optimistic, said Kelm, that headway is being made toward improved Parkinson’s treatments and a future cure. “The needle’s moving in the right direction,” he said. (Mark Kelm)

He is encouraged by the increases in fundraising and research.

“I’m hoping that I get to live until I’m 80 and chase grandkids around. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to do the research, so that science can point us in the right direction.”

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For others who are newly diagnosed, Kelm urges them to seek help and build a network — which may include a counselor or therapist, religious leaders, doctors, physical therapists or a speech therapist.

“Allow others to help you,” he encouraged. “It’s hard at first. You might think you can fight the disease and manage the struggle on your own. But even Jesus had help carrying the cross.”

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For veterans with Parkinson’s, Kelm urges them to seek support from the VA.

Mark Kelm with family

“I’m hoping that I get to live until I’m 80 and chase grandkids around,” said Kelm, who is pictured with his family. “But for that to happen, we’re going to have to do the research, so that science can point us in the right direction.” (Mark Kelm)

“Look around, ask and talk to others, and you will find dedicated people who will allow you to flourish as you live with your Parkinson’s disease.”

Beck echoed the importance of being open about a diagnosis to “help bring Parkinson’s out of the shadows … It can be a difficult first step, but is worth it in the end,” he said. 

“Loved ones will often already know something is amiss. Sharing your PD diagnosis with them will often result in relief at knowing what is wrong, and the opening of tremendous support.”

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People can call the Parkinson’s Foundation’s free helpline at 1-800-473-4636, or can visit parkinson.org or parkinson.org/veterans for information about where to get support. 

Fox News Digital reached out to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requesting additional comment.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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Toddler milk is ‘potentially harmful,’ AAP warns amid calls for stricter regulations

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Toddler milk is ‘potentially harmful,’ AAP warns amid calls for stricter regulations

Toddler milk products have grown into a multibillion-dollar global business, despite warnings from health authorities that the benefits of this milk formula are unproven.

The products are marketed with claims of improving brain development or immune function, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warned in an Oct. 2023 report that toddler formula is “unnecessary and potentially harmful to young children.”

“For healthy toddlers without a specific medical diagnosis, there is no evidence of a need [for] or benefit from toddler milk,” Dr. Jenelle Ferry, a neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition and infant development at Pediatrix Medical Group in Tampa, Florida, told Fox News Digital in an interview.

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In spite of these warnings, toddler milk has grown into a $20 billion worldwide business, according to a recent report.  

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“It is disappointing that regulations have not been strengthened, given package claims and marketing messages that imply toddler milks are beneficial, or even necessary, for a toddler’s healthy growth,” Fran Fleming-Milici, PhD, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health at the University of Connecticut, told Fox News Digital.

Toddler milk has grown into a $20 billion worldwide business, according to a recent report, even as some say that “for healthy toddlers without a specific medical diagnosis, there is no evidence of a need [for] or benefit from toddler milk.” (Getty/iStock)

Infant formula vs. toddler milk

Most infants in the U.S. receive some or all of their nutrition from formula, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Standard infant formula can be supplemented with appropriate solid foods at around 4 to 6 months of age, ensuring intake of essential nutrients like iron, calcium and zinc, the AAP said in a previous statement.

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Infant formula is regulated under The Infant Formula Act, which requires that the products meet nutritional requirements as the only source for babies through the first 12 months of age, the statement added.

If a toddler beverage is intended for infants younger than 12 months, the product must comply with the FDA’s infant formula regulations in addition to all other applicable food regulations, an FDA spokesperson told Fox News Digital. 

Toddler milk

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warned in an Oct. 2023 report that toddler formula is “unnecessary and potentially harmful to young children.” Advocates for the formula, however, feel differently.  (iStock)

There are two different types of toddler milk on the market: transition formulas for infants and toddlers 9 months to 24 months old, and toddler milk for children 12 months to 36 months age, according to a previous research report from the NYU College of Global Public Health

Unlike infant formulas, toddler milks are not nutritionally complete, experts said.

“A healthy diet for toddlers would limit excess processed foods, salt and sugar.”

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Approximately 80% of toddler milks have higher sugar content than whole milk and 100% have less protein, the AAP stated.

After toddlers are weaned off breast milk or infant formula, Ferry recommends that they drink milk and water, with the majority of their nutrients coming from solid foods.

“A healthy diet for toddlers would limit excess processed foods, salt and sugar,” she said.

Regulation of toddler milk

“Toddler beverage products intended for children 1 year and older are regulated as conventional foods and must comply with the FDA’s labeling regulations,” an FDA spokesperson told Fox News Digital.

“This includes providing the Nutrition Facts label, specifically for children 1 to 3 years of age.”

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When it comes to marketing toddler milks, manufacturers must adhere to certain rules.

Toddler milk

Most infants in the U.S. receive some or all of their nutrition from formula, according to the FDA. (iStock)

“Manufacturers cannot make claims regarding disease conditions, but can use language relating to symptoms, even if they are not supported by evidence,” he told Fox News Digital in an email.

They can claim their product is lactose-free, for example — but cannot claim that it is helpful for lactase deficiency, he said.

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“Nutrient content claims or health claims are not allowed on food products intended specifically for use by infants and children under 2 years of age unless specifically provided for by regulation,” added the FDA spokesperson.

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“In general, the product labeling must be truthful and not misleading.”

Cross-promotion in marketing and packaging

Some experts warn that infant formula and toddler milk are often marketed and packaged in a way that may lead parents to believe they are the same in terms of nutritional content.

“The cross-promotion of toddler milks with infant formula … allows for the trust caregivers have for formula brands to be transferred to a product that is not regulated, contains added sugar, and is not recommended by the AAP,” warned Fleming-Milici.

Baby food

Standard infant formula can be supplemented with appropriate solid foods at around 4 to 6 months of age, ensuring intake of essential nutrients like iron, calcium and zinc, the AAP said. (iStock)

“Research shows that these messages lead caregivers to believe toddler milks are superior to their family meals and plain cow’s milk – which is much less expensive and is what experts recommend.”

A WHO report noted that “formula milk marketing, not the product itself, disrupts informed decision-making and undermines breastfeeding and child health.” 

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Showing parents educational videos to correct misleading marketing can help to reduce sugary drink consumption in the first few years of a child’s life, Fleming-Milici’s research found.

“Exposure to the videos significantly reduced positive attitudes toward toddler milks and fruit drinks, and reduced intentions to serve both,” she told Fox News Digital.

Potential nutritional benefits

Advocates, however, argue that toddler formula is helpful to many young children who don’t get the proper nutrients in their diet.

“In general, the product labeling must be truthful and not misleading.”

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“Research demonstrates that nutrient intake for young children often falls below adequate levels for iron, vitamins D and E, calcium, choline, potassium and fiber,” a spokesperson from the Infant Nutrition Council of America (INCA) told Fox News Digital.

INCA is a Washington, D.C.-based association of manufacturers of infant formulas and toddler milks, representing brands including Abbott Nutrition, Gerber Products Company, Perrigo Nutritionals and Reckitt Benckiser.

Powdered formula

Advocates argue that toddler formula is helpful to many young children who don’t get the proper nutrients in their diet. (iStock)

“For kids 12 months to 36 months who need nutritional support, toddler nutritional drinks have been shown to contribute to nutritional intake and potentially fill nutrition gaps, as recognized globally in the international Codex Alimentarius standard,” the INCA spokesperson added.

When children need extra nutrition because of a medical condition — such as failure to thrive or an intestinal or metabolic disorder — they should receive specialty liquid nutrition rather than products marketed as toddler milk, Ferry noted.

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A spokesperson from Nestlé, which makes a variety of powdered milk products for toddlers, said in response to an earlier Fox News Digital query that the company “seeks to provide a range of foods and beverages to support consumers at all stages of life.”

toddler playing with bead maze

“National health studies indicate that U.S. toddlers have nutritional gaps in their diet often related to picky eating,”  (iStock)

The spokesperson added, “Nestlé has consistent standards that apply to our responsible marketing for products intended for babies and young children. Those standards and practices fully comply with the WHO [World Health Organization] code and follow either local law or our own policy — whichever is stricter.”

A spokesperson from Similac also submitted a statement to Fox News Digital in response to an earlier query as well. 

“National health studies indicate that U.S. toddlers have nutritional gaps in their diet often related to picky eating,” the spokesperson said. “When they don’t do well transitioning to table foods, or won’t drink milk, our toddler drinks contain many of the complementary nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that they may be missing in their diet.”

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The spokesperson also said, “Toddler drinks may be an option to help fill nutrient gaps for these children 12 to 36 months of age. Abbott does not recommend or indicate its toddler drinks for infants under 12 months of age.”

Fox News Digital also reached out to other companies that make powdered milk products for toddlers.

Parents of young children should always check with their pediatricians for the best and latest nutrition advice.

Melissa Rudy of Fox News Digital contributed reporting.  

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health

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