PPMI volunteer inspired by friend with PD

Man Helps Friend by Volunteering for Parkinson’s Study
By Sarah Hopkins

BUFFALO, N.Y.- When he’s dueling, David Wolf is smooth– graceful, even.

“I’ll come in and I’ll feel worn out, I’ll feel rotten,” said Wolf, who fences at The Fencing Center of Buffalo . “I’ll go into the cell, I’ll start fencing, and I’ll feel great.”

For any 51-year-old professional that would be a welcome feeling, but for someone who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease nearly four years ago, it’s even more so. And for David, like many Parkinson’s patients, processing the diagnosis itself was a challenge, leading to a struggle with depression.

“It is quite upsetting for patients, especially younger patients, who are right in the prime of their life,” said Dr. Thomas Guttuso, a neurologist who also teaches at the University at Buffalo. Dr. Guttuso has been treating Wolf since he was diagnosed in 2007.

The neurological disorder causes patients to suffer tremors and leads to difficulty with movement and coordination. Fencing– and medication–help Wolf with his symptoms– but there is no cure for the disease, yet.

Wolf’s friend of 15 years, Paul Cohen, was also devastated by the diagnosis.

“I was stunned,” said Cohen. “It was realizing my own mortality because Dave and I are very close friends and life being uncontrollably taken away from him.”

To pull his friend out of his depression, Paul started to organize trips. About once a year, the pair takes an adventure. It was during their first escape, to go white water kayaking, that something changed.

“He got a new lease on life, and he realized there’s still a lot to be done, and he could still do a lot,” said Cohen.

“Going anywhere with Paul is great, he just doesn’t worry about how things look or everything has to be perfect,” said Wolf.

But Cohen, who lives in Chicago, knew he couldn’t always be there. Since he couldn’t volunteer to drive his friend to doctors appointments, he volunteered for something else.

Cohen is taking part in a 5-year study sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation to help researchers measure the progression of the disease by finding “biomarkers.”

Once researchers know more about how the disease progresses, they will be able to create drugs designed specifically to slow the progression, said Dr. Guttuso.

“It’s the least I can do, because I have no family history of Parkinson’s and this is just a control group that I’m a part of an it’s nothing like Dave or any Parkinson’s patient is going through,” said Cohen.

Cohen will have to go through spinal taps, MRIs, Blood tests and a new type of brain scan that measures dopamine levels every six months. But he says for his friend, it’s worth it.

“I’m just shocked and humbled,” said Wolf. “When I first heard about it, I said, you don’t have to do this.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is still looking for volunteers for the study. Control volunteers must have no family history of Parkinson’s. Volunteers with the disease are also needed– but they must be in the early stages and not be taking any medication.

Click here to read the article and watch a segment with David Wolf, Paul Cohen and Dr. Guttuso.