USF prof teams up with actor Fox, golfer Simpson
Dr. Robert Hauser, recipient of a Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research grant, with actor and activist Michael J. Fox
LUTZ — Actor and activist Michael J. Fox said Friday he’s an incurable optimist.
Want proof? “I took up golf in my 40s, with Parkinson’s disease,” Fox said at a press conference in Tampa Bay, where he came to participate in the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am tournament.
“Make no mistake, I’m a horrible golfer,” Fox joked.
Just before teeing off Friday, Fox held a press conference with professional golfer Tim Simpson and Dr. Robert A. Hauser, director of the USF Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center of Excellence.
Dr. Hauser, a 2007 recipient of a Michael J. Fox Foundation grant, told the group there are reasons to hope in the fight against Parkinson’s, which affects about one million Americans.
“Although Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder, there have been really great advances over the past decade,” Dr. Hauser said.
Hauser spoke about some of his own research looking for ways to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier, before people begin to suffer problems with tremors, rigidity, and slowness of movement. Earlier diagnosis and treatment could help slow the progression of the disease, he said. He also pointed to the potential for genetic and stem cell research in understanding and treating the disease.
“Ultimately, though we really want a cure,” Dr. Hauser said. “The future looks very, very bright, but smart investigators can’t do it by themselves. Funding is just so critical to research.”
Dr. Hauser thanked Fox and his foundation for its work funding Parkinson’s research, and thanked Fox and Simpson for being “such an inspiration” to other patients.
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Fox made worldwide news when he announced in 1998 that he had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in 1991. Since then, Fox has continued acting, but also has become an outspoken advocate for Parkinson’s awareness and research.
At the press conference Friday, Fox praised Simpson, who has struggled with essential tremor, a neurological condition related to Parkinson’s. Simpson was able to return to professional golf after he had brain surgery four years ago to calm the involuntary movements. In 2006, he was named “Comeback Player of the Year” on the Champions Tour.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Fox said of deep brain stimulation, the procedure that Simpson underwent.
Simpson showed off the small bulge in his chest – “my deck of cards” – he called it, where the electronic device is implanted. An internal wire goes from that device into his brain, sending out signals that stop the tremors.
” I feel very blessed, Simpson said. “I feel I’ve been given a second chance through DBS surgery.”
Fox said his disease goes up and down, and he never knows whether he’ll have a good day or a bad day. But, he said, he’s learned to accept that. He’s grateful to be in a position to show people that it’s possible to have Parkinson’s and have a full, active life.
L to R: Dr. Hauser, professional golfer Tim Simpson and Fox
“One thing you don’t have a choice about right now – and we’re working on it – is that you have Parkinson’s,” Fox said. “You don’t have a choice about that. But around that non-choice, there are thousands of other choices that you still have. You’re still intact. You’re not ‘You minus that.’ You’re not defined by that. So that means you can go out and be a bad golfer if you want. It’s okay to be shaky. You can be shaky and still be steady.”
— Story by Lisa Greene, USF Health Communications
— Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications