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Actress shares her story about having CMT

May 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's essentially a movement disorder that slowly robs a person of their ability to use their lower legs and arms. You may be surprised to learn the actress, known to many of us as the original Catwoman, has this condition. But Julie Newmar has found a way to rise above it.Her feline voice, long legs and her cat-like moves catapulted Julie Newmar to sex symbol status. Her formal training as a dancer gave her the long, fluid gait many have tried emulate. But these days the actress spends most of her time behind a computer.

"Anything and everything I can do with a computer," said Newmar. "It became my stage. It became my theatre," said Newmar.

Newmar still moves with a dancer's grace, but her steps are a lot more stilted. She has Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome, a condition she's had since birth only recently her symptoms have become more pronounced.

"CMT has helped me learn to focus. It's made everything I do more important," said Newmar.

CMT is an inherited condition that affects 1 in 2,500 Americans. UCLA neurologist Perry Shieh says people with CMT start to lose function in their limbs and arms because the sheath that wraps nerve cells in these areas start to unravel.

"They compensate by lifting their legs higher than most people would," said Dr. Shieh. "That is what we call high-steppage gait."

In time, muscle weakness in the extremities will progress. There is no treatment or cure. Like many CMT patients, Newmar has special braces that help her walk more smoothly but she says hardly uses them.

"The fact that she started to develop problems in her 50s probably is an indication that she has a milder form of this disease," said Dr. Shieh. "This is not a life limiting disease."

And that's exactly how Newmar feels. She feels CMT opened up a whole new world of opportunities. She visits fans at comic conventions. She's an entrepreneur and is writing several books including one about the various roses in her garden.

"It's the kind of magic that you tell yourself, 'Go out and smell the roses.' That's probably where I am in life now," said Newmar.

Newmar eats well and exercises every day. She believes a positive attitude is the best way to deal with any ailment. Dr. Shieh says the most promising research points to a genetic therapy one similar to what scientists are working on to treat muscular dystrophy.


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