It's Parkinson's, Playaz... Sharon Kha Raps for Awareness

Photo: Its Parkinsons, Playaz... Patient Raps for Awareness: Sharon Kha, 66, makes light of her diagnosis with raps designed to educate and entertain.

Think of the term "hip-hop star," and 66-year-old Sharon Kha is probably not the first person who would come to mind.

When she dons her sideways baseball cap and hangs an oversized plastic clock on a chain around her neck ... well, she still doesn't look entirely the part.

But Kha, a former vice president at the University of Arizona who in 2003 was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, has hit the YouTube music scene in an unusual way -- by rapping about her condition.

"Now, I know it seems incongruous that an old white woman would want to be a rap musician," she says in one of her YouTube appearances. "But I have attitude."

She then launches into her performance, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom also have Parkinson's -- a condition that leads to tremors and other involuntary movements.

"Well once you are a 'Parky' it's hard to relate.

People meet you on the street and they say you look great.

Well you're drooling,

And you're shuffling,

There's a tremor in your hand.

What part of great don't they understand?

The crowd chants along on cue. For a while, everyone enjoys making light of the condition which, according to the American Parkinson Disease Association, affects more than 1.5 million Americans.

Among these patients, Kha is a phenomenon -- a woman with Parkinson's who addresses the everyday challenges that the condition poses in lyrics intended both to entertain and raise awareness.

For Kha, the idea came to her while she was on a cruise she decided to take after she received her diagnosis. The onboard entertainment included comedians and rappers. As Kha watched, she said, she found herself trying to analyze what it was that made these acts compelling and humorous.

"It was being able to make fun of your frailties," Kha said she realized. She added that Parkinson's comes with its fair share of frailties.

During her walk the next morning, she began piecing together some rhymes that incorporated scientific terminology. The raps that she composed included mention of the four main symptoms of Parkinson's, available treatments and a call for more funding for research.

Rapping About Parkinson's Raises Awareness

"Everything was kind of built on solid scientific information," she said.

As she reflected more on the challenges she faced, her collection of raps grew. She started testing out her creations at Parkinson's patient support groups.

"I would practice the rap to see people laughed or got offended," she said. "After all, the chances are that people could get offended at a rap that made fun of Parkinson's symptoms."

But she said that the feedback to the raps has been overwhelmingly positive.

"They have just been delighted. They laugh," she said. "The raps are full of a lot of inside jokes that people with Parkinson's can respond to, but maybe other people wouldn't get the joke."

"She raps about the cotton in a medication bottle, and how difficult that can get for those with Parkinson's," said Tom Viviano of the Arizona Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. "The words in these raps touch people. I think it calms people's fears. The psychological component for Sharon and others is uplifting."

Kha has performed at the organization's conferences, at which 300 to 400 people with Parkinson's were in attendance, he said, and the reactions are "overwhelmingly positive," with many patients chiming in on Kha's cue.

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