By Chris Jamele
April is a wonderful time of regeneration and promise. Of late, April has taken on an even greater significance for me, because it is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. My father’s 20-year battle with the disease deeply affected my family, and it gave an unexpected purpose to my energies. April is a remarkable time of discovery and optimism, elements that shape efforts by the National Parkinson Foundation of Western New York in raising awareness of the prevalence of this disease in our region, providing education about the affliction and recognizing the extraordinary daily battle that Parkinsonians and their care partners face.
Realizing that this is my seventh year with the NPFWNY, I began to find an uncanny correlation between Parkinson’s and the number seven. Seven is a bit of a magical number. Various parts of our lives, our beliefs and our world are intertwined with this digit. There are seven days in a week, seven continents, seven seas, seven wonders of the ancient world and seven colors in a rainbow.
The number has connotations both good and bad. In some games, rolling a seven with a pair of dice can be a winner. There are cultures that consider seven to be a lucky number, but there are also seven types of catastrophes and seven deadly sins. The significance of seven surfaces throughout mythology, religion, astrology, literature and more.
The odd coincidence of sevens in the chronology of Parkinson’s begins in 1817. That year, Englishman James Parkinson wrote “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.” After examining common traits in a variety of people, Parkinson categorized the symptoms now identified with the affliction bearing his name. Illustrating the painfully slow progress in understanding the disease, it took until 1957, nearly a century and a half later, for the onset of Parkinson’s to be correlated with the loss of nerve cells in the brain. That same year, the National Parkinson Foundation was established. In 1977, George Cotzias, the researcher who identified Levadopa, the current gold standard in medicinal treatment for Parkinson’s, passed away.
Jump ahead to 1987, and a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is introduced as the next big breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson’s symptoms, only the second major development in the treatment of the disease in 170 years. The year 1997 brings the formation of the Parkinson’s Wellness Group. The name is later changed to the Parkinson’s Association of Western New York, and it transitioned to NPFWNY seven years ago.
How might this string of sevens conclude? A leading Parkinson’s researcher recently mentioned to me that he believes a cure for this disease is finally just a decade away. That would make 2027 a very fortunate year for tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers and the millions across the nation who are affected by the disease. False hope? Maybe so, but in the battle with a chronic neurodegenerative disease, hope is not an ingredient of happenstance or dreams, it is the foundation of strength and persistence in the continuing fight against progressively challenging symptoms.
Please take a moment to notice the blue lights glowing around the area in recognition of Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Blue ribbon cutouts will be hung in local schools, stores and offices in support of our cause. Parkinson’s affects more of our families, friends and neighbors than you might realize. Become more aware. Visit our website, npfwny.org, and propel the hope for all Parkinsonians that they might not have to wait until 2027 to be whole again.