Alternative expertise: Business owner talks battling rare disease, finding success at Fort Harrison

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Doctors told Amanda Parker she wouldn’t live past 21.

At age 41, she’s thriving as the president and owner of Collective Alternative, a marketing firm based at Fort Harrison in Lawrence, which Parker began in 2008.

She manages an incurable and very rare blood disease, polycythemia vera. According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease causes bone marrow to grow too many red blood cells, causing the blood to thicken and move too slowly through the body.

“It’s a genetic blood disease where my blood reproduces too thick,” Parker said. “If you know anything about migraines, they’re clusters where your blood kind of clots together. I started having terrible migraines at age 15 and found out that I had experienced a couple of TIAs (transient ischemic attack), which are mini strokes. I was seeing a neurologist and eventually ended up with about 14 mini strokes by age 20. I was told I would have a fatal stroke by the time I was 21, and this past August, I celebrated my 41st birthday. Not too shabby for 20 years later.”

Recently, Parker said she began seeing a different specialist, who is using a more holistic approach to treat the disease. Her treatment changes as medical advancements are made.

“It’s exciting for me to see the changes (in treatment),” Parker said. “When I first started having migraines, it was something no one had really heard of. Nobody knew anything about them, and they barely had a name, let alone any type of treatment or medication.”

At the end of September, Eli Lilly received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the drug galcanezumab, a migraine preventative, which will commercially be called Emgality. It is expected to be offered free for one year to patients who need it and have insurance.

“That is so exciting to me because the medicines before have been designed or created for something else,” Parker said. “Like one of them was created for cerebral palsy, and it just happened to help with migraines.”

Parker’s career in marketing began at an agency writing commercials and is where she developed her passion to help others and small businesses.

“When I was attending Indiana University, I studied English, creative and technical writing, but what do you do with a degree like that?” Parker said. “Then, I went into an agency and started writing commercials for TV and radio. I quickly learned about media-buying and then client services, strategy and development and loved that, so I really focused on (strategy), came up the ranks on the agency side, and then I wanted to experience the client side. So, then I was the vice president of marketing for Hansen & Horn Homebuilders for five years.

“While there, I learned that agencies are great for big budgets, but they’re not great for mom and pops or small, local businesses that have no marketing knowledge, don’t have time for marketing, don’t event know what to do if they had time for it,” she added. “So, I wanted to go out and help them. (In 2008), with the economy the way it was, it was kind of a do-or-die atmosphere, so I really wanted to help and bring them a different side of expertise they didn’t already have. So, I focused on small and local, and we’ve been doing that since.”

Amanda Parker, right, works with Kristen Holcomb in the Collective Alternative office. (Photos by Sadie Hunter)

CHOOSING FORT HARRISON

Collective Alternative began in Amanda Parker’s home, but it has grown in the past two years.

“We worked out of my house for quite some time. My big thing about my (home) office was the dog bed and I always wanted to be around my dogs, and I didn’t think I could ever get a space where they’d allow my dogs to come,” Parker said. “Eventually, there were seven of us in my living room, and I knew I was going to need to make a sacrifice. So, we really looked for a place that fit us and found Fort Ben. The area was growing a lot and really making changes, and I’ve loved to see that growth over the past couple of years.”

Parker and her team moved into the building at 5665 N. Post Rd. in August 2016. Six months later, Parker would remove the wall to take over the suite nextdoor, and last month, the company took over the suite across the hall. Parker and her staff regularly bring their dogs to the office.

MEET AMANDA PARKER

Parker

Amanda Parker moved around a bit before settling in Lawrence. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Grissom Air Force Reserve near Kokomo. At the time of her diagnosis, she lived in Columbus, Ind., having moved there after her dad retired from the Air Force and began flying commercial planes for Cummins Engine Company, which is based in Columbus. She lives just north of her business and Fort Harrison, in the Lawrence Township area of Geist Reservoir. Parker is married to Ross, who she met while attending Indiana University in Bloomington. They have three dogs, who often serve as office dogs at Collective Alternative. Parker also recently has been named by Forbes, Fortune and Entrepreneur The Oprah Magazine and Entrepreneur magazines as a leading woman in business.

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