Kansas City Star, Mar. 22, 2006

Eisenreich fighting the good fight against Tourette’s


When you think about someone with Tourette syndrome, you probably imagine someone jerking violently and barking unimaginable curses.

That’s too often the Hollywood version.

“That’s just rarely the case,” said former Kansas City Royal baseball player, Jim Eisenreich. “That probably applies to less than 10 percent of the people with Tourette’s. I don’t get angry with people who have that image of Tourette’s because I know people who unfortunately have those symptoms. But the vast majority don’t.”

Eisenreich falls into the other category of those afflicted: He displays troublesome tics at times, and occasional grunts that sound like someone clearing his throat. But for the most part, Eisenreich is under control and leads a normal, functioning life.

And that has been the message Eisenreich, 46, has been fighting to deliver to the public: With proper awareness and treatment, Tourette syndrome does not have to be debilitating to its victims.

That wasn’t always the case, of course. If you’re at all familiar with Eisenreich’s story, you know that half a lifetime ago for him, he was a hot prospect for the Twins with a bright future. But increasingly peculiar mannerisms were threatening that future.

One fateful night at Fenway Park, he had to pull himself out of a game, unable to control the tics and spasms that had seized his body, and unable to withstand the humiliation of being a spectacle.

The Red Sox fans laughed and jeered him as he scurried for the sanctuary of the dugout. It was horrifying to watch.

“At that point, I just felt like a prisoner in my own body,” Eisenreich said. “I knew I couldn’t get by any more with this thing I had.”

Finally, a few weeks later, after all the years of being taunted by schoolmates and fans, all the years of being told to simply calm down, and all the years of being misdiagnosed, Eisenreich received an answer at a hospital in Minnesota. He had Tourette syndrome.

“It was a relief to finally know I wasn’t crazy and that I actually had this disease,” he said. “But I didn’t really know what it was. I thought they told me it was ‘Tourist’s syndrome.’ ”

But Eisenreich researched all he could, and through years of trial and error with different medications and therapy, he fought his way back to the majors. First he played six years with the Royals, then he went to the Phillies, the Marlins, the Dodgers. He retired in 1998, a symbol of perseverance for those with Tourette’s.

He returned to the Kansas City area, where he has a home, a family and a mission to help others with Tourette’s through the Jim Eisenreich Foundation. This year he has teamed up with The Joshua Child and Family Development Center to put on the Tourette Syndrome Celebrity Golf Classic on May 1 at Falcon Ridge Golf Course .

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a cure for Tourette’s,” Eisenreich said. “But I think through the years we have developed such a better understanding of it. In my own case, I know what triggers the symptoms, and I generally know how to treat them without relying on any drugs.”

Even now, Eisenreich relies very little on medication — a slight sleeping aid at night.

“What I’ve learned is that if I’m well-rested the night before, I can have a good day,” he said. “Stress plays a major role in triggering the symptoms. But I try to eat right, stay in good condition and exercise. That’s how I can manage it. Everyone’s a little different, though, and that’s just part of what we’re learning.”