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Naomi Judd (Does She Had Parkinson’s Disease?)



The Judds’ loyal fans were thrilled to hear that Naomi and Wynonna are preparing to hit the tour circuit again for The Last Encore, an 18-city tour that begins the day after Thanksgiving. The mother-and-daughter team plans to introduce new songs while on tour, and Judd says they have been working together in the studio for several months in preparation for the event. It’s a long way from the Judd family’s first conversation about going to Nashville, but matriarch Naomi hasn’t forgotten those early days of small bank accounts and big dreams.

“It was the early 1980s, and the girls and I were washing dishes in this pitiful little house,” Judd recalls. “We had no money, and I was a single mom, but I looked at them and said, ‘Someday, I’m going to win a Grammy for writing a country song.’ Of course, they just burst out laughing, so now, we have these family jokes about it. Ashley will call and say, ‘I’m in Africa helping AIDS patients,’ and I’ll say,‘You’re where?’ Or Wy will call and tell me about something, and I’ll say, ‘You did what?’ With me, it’s them saying, ‘Uh-oh, Mom’s got one of her ideas.’”

Judd says she was raised in a “hardworking, blue-collar family.” Her father ran an “Art Deco gas station,” and his strong work ethic stayed with Judd even after the Judds’first song started climbing the charts.

“I was on my way to the hospital [where I worked as a nurse] when our first single came on the radio, and I remember I pulled over in a field to listen to it,” Judd says.“After it was over, I went on in to the hospital to do the ‘bedpan boogie,’ and I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t quit my day job even with the song on the radio because I was a single mom and had two kids to support, and show business is like the horse races — a real gamble. I also loved being a nurse and enjoyed the teamwork that went along with it.”

Judd says that going on tour requires its own type of teamwork. She recalls a conversation with Yo-Yo Ma in which the famed cellist told her that all “music is based on trust”and says she agrees one hundred percent.

“When I’m on stage, I trust that Wynonna is going to hit the right notes and that the drummer and bassist will give me the syncopation I need to get the right melody,” Judd says.“I wrote a song called ‘Love Can Build a Bridge,’ and one of the verses is ‘When we stand together, it’s our finest hour.’ I believe that applies to so many situations, and I’m looking forward to working with everybody on the tour. Our new music is very organic, and when Wy and I were in the studio, I told her that our roots are showing with the new material. She told me that I should get a bedazzler for the tour!”

The Last Encore tour will travel to 18 cities in just under a month, and a portion of VIP and Fan Package ticket sales will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a place both Judds hold dear. After the tour, Naomi plans to focus her attention in an entirely different direction —one that, like her music, evolved from her life experiences.


The Judds quit touring in 1991, when Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a chronic and potentially fatal liver disease she caught from an infected needle during her nursing days. After deciding to step away from the music industry so she could focus on her health and healing, Judd began learning more about how to best manage her disease, and she collaborated with medical professionals to develop her own health care and treatment regimen. The process had long-term implications for Judd’s professional interests, and it eventually led her to the idea of establishing a neuroscience institute in Franklin, Tennessee.

“I’ve identified the location and as soon as the tour is over, I am going to pursue this on a daily basis,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to travel and meet many geniuses in the medical field, and I want to bring those people together. One of the biggest issues to deal with when working toward medical advances in any area is collaboration, and I hope the clinic will help that occur.”


During her nursing career, Judd worked one-on-one with many patients, and she says that these patients continue to inspire her today. She adds that they also helped shape many of her ideas about pain after her diagnosis.

“When people ask me who my mentors are or who inspired me, it’s never a celebrity, but usually a patient,” Judd explains. “It might be someone who had severe burns or a terminal cancer patient. I spent the day at St. Jude’s recently, and those children are completely amazing when dealing with illness. They live completely in the moment. I remember one little boy saying that he didn’t like it when people stared at him because he’d lost his hair, but that was his biggest complaint. When I got back on the bus, I cried a long time. It was overwhelming, but inspiring.”

Throughout the year, Judd spends a lot of her time talking and working with individuals facing health challenges. After attending one gathering in New York City with Michael J. Fox and Katie Couric, Judd says she was struck by the similarities in their experiences.

“Katie talked about Jay, her husband who lost his battle with colon cancer, and of course, Michael has done remarkable things for Parkinson’s disease, and we were all on the same wavelength,” Judd explains. “It was like, ‘Okay, this is part of our life experience that we’re going to share.’ When you step outside of yourself, you realize that you are not alone. We’re all hardwired to be social, and our stories connect us.”


Both in her role as a nurse and as a hepatitis C patient, Judd studied pain and its effect on the individual. She says that she is fascinated by the brain and its connection to pain, and her personal treatment plan evolved from what she has learned.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

“Pain is a symptom that something is wrong,” Judd says.“It is necessary, and we have to acknowledge it, but we can’t put a metaphorical Band-Aid on it. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

“Your belief becomes your biology,” she explains. “There is a lot of emotional misinformation about how we’re sup-posed to be strong when it comes to pain. But I believe that we have to understand that pain is subjective, and doctors may not be able to measure it with a piece of equipment. I tell women that instead of looking for ‘Mr. Right,’ they should look for ‘Dr. Right’ when they are dealing with pain.”


Judd’s faith in a multifaceted approach to deal with health challenges began during her nursing career and evolved as she explored options for her own treatment. She saw the various ways different patients responded to different therapies, and she used the knowledge to create a pain management plan for herself that includes both traditional and non-traditional approaches. She laughs as she describes a routine that includes several integrative, and creative, therapies designed to reduce stress.

“Wynonna and Ashley think it’s hysterical, but I do meditation and deep breathing while I’m watching those forensic shows like CSI on television,” Judd says. “I’ll be watching autopsies or studying serial killers, and it will actually calm me down.

“I am also a big believer in massage,” she continues. “I have two masseuses. One guy is 6’6” and even works on horses, and I always kid him that he should only charge me a third of the regular price since I’m just this tiny hillbilly! Both of my masseuses give me exercises that I can do so that I’m not just passive about my health. For example, I know when I do something stressful that my shoulders are going to be up and tense, so when I come home, I work on relaxing them.”


In addition to her role as a Grammy-award-winning song-writer, Judd is the New York Times bestselling author of Love Can Build a Bridge and has written several other books, including Naomi’s Breakthrough GuideNaomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully and The Transparent Life. Judd’s humanitarian efforts include work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Partners Against Pain, River Cities Harvest, the Saint Louis University Liver Center, M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She’s a sought-after speaker for health care organizations and women’s groups, inspiring her listeners with her triumph over adversity.

A former member of health guru and medical doctor Andrew Weil’s board of directors, Judd constantly shares her belief in an integrative, holistic approach to medicine com-plemented by the latest technological advances. Through along list of professional and personal associations, she works to bridge the conversation between academia, medical communities and everyday people about health- and family-related issues.

“Dealing with illness effectively, and especially pain, really involves the spirit/mind/body connection,” Judd says. “I saw it so many times in the clinic. Pain immediately takes over your world, and everything else becomes filtered through it, so the minute I would see a patient in pain, I would always encourage them to ask for help right away. Even now, if my husband acts like he’s getting a headache, I immediately get him to take something for it.

“Pain is a person’s own deep issue, and it involves how people give themselves permission to express it,” Judd concludes. “Pain immediately takes over your world, and everything else is filtered through it, and it’s really time for the medical community to face reality and think outside of the box when it comes to pain.”

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.

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