Muhammad Ali's Daughter Writes Children's Book on Parkinson's

July 21, 2005 — -- Rasheda Ali and her children were visiting with her famous father, Muhammad Ali, when an innocent question sparked an awkward moment.

"Why is Poppy shaking?" her son Nico, now 4, asked.

Rasheda Ali was not sure how to explain to her toddler that his grandfather suffered from Parkinson's disease, a progressive nervous condition associated with the destruction of brain cells that produce dopamine. The incurable disease, which the World Health Organization estimates affects 6.3 million people worldwide, is characterized by muscular tremors, slowing of movement, partial facial paralysis and weakness.

"At the time I was off-guard and I didn't know what to say," Ali said. "So that inspired me to research, learn a little bit more about the illness, so that I can answer him correctly."

The result of her research is "I'll Hold Your Hand So You Won't Fall: A Child's Guide to Parkinson's Disease."

Nico and his brother, Biaggio, 6, designed the cover and Muhammad Ali wrote the foreward.

The book addresses 16 of the most common Parkinson's disease symptoms that frequently concern children who may not understand why their loved ones with the disease behave certain ways.

The first signs of Parkinson's disease that Rasheda Ali noticed in her father were a change in speech and a slight trembling of his hands.

"When I was about 11, we just saw Dad's voice soften and he would walk a little slower and then of course we would see the tremors," said Rasheda Ali, one of Ali's seven daughters. "But it didn't strike me as odd. I just thought my dad was getting older."

As the years passed, Parkinson's disease robbed Muhammad Ali of two of the greatest assets he relied on to win over the public as a young boxer -- his physical prowess and verbal sparring savvy.

But Ali has never relinquished his mental toughness.

"He has a strong mental ability and I think that's important with Parkinson's," Rasheda Ali said. "When you have an illness that is not treatable and there is no cure at this time, you have to mentally be prepared for that. It's going to be a long journey and my dad has such a strong positive mental attitude, and he shares that."

Muhammad Ali has shared his positive attitude as a humanitarian and a politician, most recently traveling with the United States entourage to Singapore as part of New York's failed Olympic bid.

Ali also shares his perspective with his grandchildren.

"When my kids draw and paint and color with their granddad, they almost create they're own universe when they're together and I think that's important," Rasheda Ali said.

She added the affection that is abundant within the Ali family is key.

"We hug and kiss a lot, and I think that's important with Parkinson's -- that you show your love and emotions nonverbally," Rasheda Ali said.

She said the most important message she hopes families take from her book is to never give up hope; the medical community continues to make breakthroughs all the time.

It is a message her father also shares.

Muhammad Ali writes in the book's foreward:

"What's important is to never lose faith."