Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Michael J. Fox has been a household name since the early 1980s, when he played the role of Alex P. Keaton on the hit TV series “Family Ties.” Nearly one-third of all American households watched his show every week. Fox followed this up with movie roles and another successful comedy series as an adult, “Spin City.”
Eleven years ago, Fox could no longer hide a secret he had been keeping for nearly seven years at the time: he was living with Parkinson’s disease. Upon going public, he received an outpouring of affection and support. Ever since, Fox has been a tireless advocate for medical research to find treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease, and has established a radically new role model for funding research through his Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research.
In addition, he’s continued acting despite being told he might be able to work for perhaps 10 years at the most. He received his 12th Emmy nomination in 2011 for his ongoing role as attorney Louis Canning on “The Good Wife.” Canning plays up his Parkinson’s type symptoms to engender sympathy from juries and judges to win his cases. “We wanted to have a character who uses his disability cynically,” says The Good Wife co-creator Michelle King in a Parade Magazine interview. Canning is back this year and is expected to continue on the show.
Fox has written two memoirs, “Lucky Man” in 2002; and “Always Looking Up: The Adventure of an Incurable Optimist” in 2009, both of which are best-sellers.
Fox has testified before Congress and has been a tireless advocate. The Fox Foundation has raised $285 million since 2000, the largest private funder of Parkinson’s research I the world in just over 10 years.
Fox has become the public face of Parkinson’s and focused attention on a condition that afflicts five million people around the world.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that results from degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain that controls movement. This degeneration creates a shortage of the brain signaling chemical dopamine, resulting in the impaired movement, twitches and tics of the disease. Parkinson’s disease was first formally described in a paper by a London physician in 1817. Descriptions of Parkinson’s type symptoms are in the first Chinese medical textbook published 2,500 years ago.
One half million people are affected by Parkinson’s disease in the United State. Fifty thousand more are diagnosed every year. As with other diseases that strike more frequently as people age, the number of cases is expected to increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages. The average age of onset is about 60, but so-called young onset Parkinsonians like Fox diagnosed under 40 are not unknown. Parksinson’s disease affects more men than women.
Seemingly many younger Parkinsonians are successful and driven personalities, like Fox. Like many of them, Fox was impatient with the slow progress of research. He established a more aggressive model of funding for his organization. Rather than waiting on full results of clinical trials, the Fox Foundation will fund promising research early and aggressively. Fox says his goal is to put his Foundation out of business in his lifetime, spending all of its money on finding a successful cure.
Another innovative tool developed by the Fox Foundation is the brand new online Fox Trial Finder. Recruiting participants for clinical trials is a challenge. Thirty percent of all clinical trials fail to recruit even one participant, and 85 percent of trials finish late due to trouble with recruitment. Less than 10 percent of Parkinson’s disease patients take part in clinical trials. The result: it takes more time to treatments and a cure. The Fox Trial Finder tool allows the one million people with Parkinson’s disease in the U.S. to sign up and find the right trials for them, putting willingness into action to get results.
Ever the eternal optimist, Fox is convinced that treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease are right around the corner. Until then, he says he has no regrets about the path his life has taken, and he says life isn’t a battle or a fight. In a recent interview for Parade Magazine, Fox said “I’ve always thought, ‘If being short is my biggest problem, then life is a bowl of cherries.’ I still feel that way now, no matter what I face. I really love being alive. I love my family and my work. I love the opportunity I have to do things. That’s what happiness is.”
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!