Michael J. Fox surprises patients at Parkinson’s symposium

More than 80 Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers gathered in a Hyatt Tampa Bay conference room gasped when Michael J. Fox made an impromptu appearance at a symposium they were attending. The surprised crowd greeted the Emmy-award winning actor and outspoken advocate for Parkinson’s disease research with a standing ovation.

The April 14 symposium was hosted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) in partnership with the USF Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

Michael J. Fox (center) with Dr. Robert Hauser and the staff of the USF Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

Fox was in town to watch the 2011 Outback Pro-Am Golf Tournament, an event he has competed in as a celebrity amateur golfer in the past.  

At the symposium, MJFF co-founder Deborah Brooks discussed the drug development process and emphasized the urgent need for Parkinson’s patients to participate in clinical research. She also introduced a new tool called the Fox Trial Finder, a web-based search engine that MJFF is launching this summer to connect willing volunteers to clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Robert Hauser, professor of neurology and director of the USF Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, spoke about specific research opportunities available at the center. That includes the MJFF-sponsored Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, a landmark international study to find biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease.

USF Health’s Dr. Robert Hauser and Deborah Brooks, co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, addressed patients and caregivers.

Fox spoke briefly near the close of the symposium and stayed to pose for photos with the attendees.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at age 30, Fox last year swung by a MJFF-USF symposium attended by neurologists from across West Central Florida.

“It’s not time-neutral for us (patients),” he said to the physicians at that time. “That’s why everybody at the Foundation is so excited that, with your help, we can build the knowledge and tools we need to understand Parkinson’s disease and find better ways to treat it.”