Bruce Layne has met a number of challenges in his life. A one-time college dropout, he graduated from UNLV with a degree in economics in 1969. He went on to build a highly successful business and run for lieutenant governor on the same ticket as his boyhood friend, Gov. Bob Miller. Then came a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease for the longtime community leader and UNLV Foundation board member. Here Layne shares his approach to the disease and how it has changed his life for better and worse.
My life changed forever on April 26, 1999. I was working with a personal trainer, and she said, "I don't like the way you're carrying your arm, and I don't like your gait." She said I should see a doctor, so I did. He told me to walk down the hall and back. It could be one of three things, he said. Either I had a brain tumor, had suffered a stroke, or I had Parkinson's disease. I said, "Isn't there something else? Isn't there a choice 'D?'"
A neurologist confirmed that I had Parkinson's. For about a week or so I wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor. Then I decided, "I'm going to do something. I'm going to enjoy my life." It was a wake-up call.
I re-evaluated my life. I had already done so much, too much to list. I had started from nothing to build the biggest insurance agency in the state. I had served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. I ran, unsuccessfully, for lieutenant governor. I had a great family and tremendous friends. When I thought about my life, it was my family and friends I thought about. They had helped me become who I was. I would be facing this disease with them.
I have to mention my grandmother, Mimi. She taught me so much. I remember numerous times, her holding my hands, looking two feet from my face and saying, "You're special, Brucie." I've drawn strength from that all my life, especially now. She taught me to fight and struggle and work for a positive purpose.
I remembered my grandmother as I thought about my life as I struggled with Parkinson's. I sold my business. I traveled. I spent time with my family. I wrote a book with Jack Sheehan about my life. The book is titled My Gift, but it could just as easily be My Gifts because there are so many of them. They start with my grandmother and include my family and life lessons.
You have to have a sense of humor. You have to appreciate people, every day. I'm really big on appreciation; a terminal illness will make you that way. Myself included, we're all too appreciation-deficient.
I'm giving back to the community, as I always have, but more now. This year I started visiting schools. I talk to the kids and I support the teachers. I love it. I think it's the most important thing I've ever done. I'm excited because I'm just starting. I think I may have found what I want to do.
I know what's coming. I have a sense of humor about it, but Parkinson's is a nasty disease. It leaves you shriveled up in a wheelchair. I'm 60 now. I move more slowly than I used to. My hands have begun to tremble, and at times, yes, I drool. But I'm in pretty good shape for being seven years along this road.
I like to joke that the disease is en vogue. Muhammad Ali, Pope John Paul, Michael J. Fox — all the movers and shakers have it. We need to do more to battle Parkinson's. We need more education and more funding for research. All the proceeds from my book go toward research and to education.
My fight against the disease is personal and public. I feel like I'm spitting in the dragon's eye, and it makes me feel good.