University of South Florida

Motorcycle ride to benefit USF Parkinson’s disease center

The fundraiser teams patient with USF neurologist who studies new treatments for the neurodegenerative disease

Tampa, FL (Feb. 18, 2015) – The first time his right arm froze up, Rick Karczewski let it pass.

Then six months later on Memorial Day, driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle up Interstate 75 to meet fellow military veterans heading to Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, his hands began to cramp. “There’s something wrong with me,” he thought. Karczewski told his buddies he’d better head back home.

His doctor referred him to Dr. Theresa Zesiewicz, a neurologist at the University of South Florida’s Parkinson’s Disease and Ataxia Center. A battery of exams eventually confirmed his suspicions: he had Parkinson’s disease.

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USF neurologist Dr. Theresa Zesiewicz (on motorcycle) will participate in the motorcyle ride benefitting the USF Parkinson’s disease center named in honor of her mother, who died from complications of the neurodegenerative disease.  One of Dr. Zesiewicz’s patients helped organize the fundraiser.

Now 18 months later, Karczewski, 49, hopes to give something back to the doctor who sat with him during those first long visits talking through all of his questions, and who has continued to treat him ever since.

On Saturday, Feb.21, the inaugural Shakes, Rattles, Rides and Rods fundraiser will be held in Riverview, aiming to raise at least $10,000 for the Frances J. Zesiewicz Center for Parkinson’s Disease at USF, as well as the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

The Frances J. Zesiewicz Center was named in honor of Dr. Zesiewicz’s mother, who died from complications from the disease.

For Karczewski, the fundraiser and ride is a way for him to combine his passion for motorcycles with his desire to contribute to the center and respond to the disease in a positive manner that can help others.

“I’d rather be proactive instead of being down on myself that I have it,” Karczewski said. He added that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the two foundations, with most of that geared for the USF center to give back to Dr. Zesiewicz for everything she’s done for him. He recalled that for his first office visit with her, she spent close to 45 minutes talking with him.

“When she’s with a patient, that patient gets her time, no matter how long it is,” he said.

Dr. Zesiewicz empathizes with the pain and frustration of patients. She had been a USF fellow in Movement Disorders in the USF Department of Neurology for about a year in 1994 when she was out at a restaurant with her mother. As they were dining, she saw her mother’s hands shaking. “What’s that?” Dr. Zesiewicz asked her. She went on to diagnose her mother with Parkinson’s disease. Frances Zesiewicz died 16 years later in 2010, followed by her brother – Dr. Zesiewicz’s uncle – nine weeks later from the same disease.

“I have a personal stake in this disease,” Dr. Zesiewicz said.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that typically progresses slowly from slight tremors to impaired motor dexterity and life-changing problems, including alteration in balance and non-motor secondary symptoms such as depression and anxiety. At least one million people in the United States live with Parkinson’s disease. There is no known cure, though treatments such as medication and surgery are used to manage symptoms.

Dr. Zesiewicz is a tenured USF professor of neurology, as well as director of the USF Ataxia Research Center, the Frances J. Zesiewicz Center and Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease at USF, and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Administration Parkinson’s Disease Clinic.

Her research team has focused on motor and non-motor symptoms of neurological diseases and the testing of new medications to treat them, including currently a national clinical trial testing a powerful antioxidant medication in patients with Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare debilitating neuromuscular disease. This medication is also being tested in Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Zesiewicz hopes to use donations from the upcoming fundraiser for physical therapy and tai chi classes to help Parkinson’s disease patients develop core strength to counteract problems with balance that can set in as the disorder advances.

When she heard about Karczewski’s plans for the fundraiser and that he and his fellow organizers, wife and support team planned to steer donations toward the center named for her mother, she felt extremely grateful.

“They have just been fantastic in raising money and awareness for this disease,” she said. “They decided to do it and never looked back. They are giving and loving people.”

Karczewski organized the fundraising event with Mike Savidge, publisher of Go For A Ride Magazine, after discovering that Savidge’s wife, Charlette, also has the disease. The two combined forces to aid efforts to develop further treatments and a cure for the disease.

Karczewski, who started riding minibikes when he was 8 years old, said he realizes he probably only has another year left to enjoy his passion. He already has downsized from a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide to a Softail. He can ride only about 40 to 50 miles at a time before his body gets too fatigued and he has to stop.

But he always plans to play a part in the fundraisers, which he says will become annual events.

For the first one, he expects to put Dr. Zesiewicz on the back of his bike.   “I thought it would be kind of cool to have her riding with me,” he said.

The inaugural Shakes, Rattles, Rides and Rods fundraiser to benefit foundations working toward treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Hidden River Travel Resort, at 12500 McMullen Loop in Riverview.

The event, hosted by AMVETS Post 44, American Legion Riders Alafia Post 148, and Go For A Ride Magazine, will first kick off with a motorcycle ride. Riders should register at the American Legion Alafia Post 148 at 7240 U.S. 301 in Riverview between 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.

Requested donations to the event are $15 per person or $25 per couple. It includes food, entertainment, music, dancing, a live auction, vendors, and a grand-prize drawing.

All proceeds go to the Frances J. Zesiewicz Center for Parkinson’s Disease at USF, as well as the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

For more information, call Rick Karczewski at (813) 810-5001.

News release by Saundra Amrhein

Media contact:
 Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications or (813) 974-3303

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