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Published: Sunday, 3/29/2009

Actor to speak in Toledo of father's fight against disorder

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robinson Pete Robinson Pete
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Holly Robinson Peete has fond childhood memories of her father, the original Gordon on Sesame Street.

"Your dad could not have a cooler job than going to work with Ernie and Bert," the actress told The Blade with a laugh in a recent phone interview.

Matthew Robinson, Jr., also wrote several episodes of Sanford and Son, and later became a writer and co-producer for The Cosby Show. The Philadelphia native was 46 when he was given a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, a debilitating disorder that shortened his career - and caused his death at age 65.

"He was an amazing guy who was really sort of cut down in the prime of his life," said Ms. Peete, who has been in several television series, including 21 Jump Street, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, and For Your Love. She added: "Parkinson's disease just came along and just walloped him."

Ms. Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, are to be in Toledo on Saturday to be keynote speakers for the 12th annual Parkinson's Disease Symposium. They are to talk about the HollyRod Foundation they started in Mr. Robinson's honor in 1997, five years before his death, to assist people afflicted by the disease.

Discussing the latest advances in treating Parkinson's disease is another focus of the symposium, which is being put on by the University of Toledo's medical school, the former Medical College of Ohio, and the Parkinson Foundation of Northwest Ohio.

Much has changed in the last

10 years with using medication to treat Parkinson's disease, allowing patients to continue working and otherwise go on with their lives, said Dr. Lawrence Elmer, neurologist with the Parkinson's disease and movement disorder program at the former Medical College of Ohio.

"It's just so satisfying for me to know that, even as people get into their 60s, 70s, and 80s, that this is not a life sentence," said Dr. Elmer, who is hosting Saturday's symposium.

Not all doctors are well versed on medications used to treat Parkinson's, Dr. Elmer said. But Dr. Elmer is working with other Parkinson's specialists and organizations nationwide to develop a program to train nurse practitioners and physician assistants so they can spread the knowledge in doctors' offices, he said.

Deep brain stimulation surgery is an option for patients whose Parkinson's cannot be controlled by medication alone, and other procedures are being explored, Dr. Elmer said. New physical therapy and other regimens also have been developed to help people with Parkinson's, he said.

"Their lives really are improving," Dr. Elmer said of Parkinson's patients. "Our goal not only is to improve their lives, but to improve the lives of their spouses, their children, their friends."

Ms. Peete said little information was available about Parkinson's disease when her father got his diagnosis in 1982. Using herbs, making dietary changes, and trying other treatments for symptoms were not discussed, the actress said.

HollyRod has raised more than $5 million so far to help people live with Parkinson's, Ms. Peete said. Plus, it has been able to get pharmaceutical companies such as Teva Neuroscience Inc., a sponsor of Saturday's symposium, to give patients samples of medications that typically would cost $500 to $900 a month, she said.

"I find some solace in the fact I was able to really help others," Ms. Peete said.

President Obama's decision to lift the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research gives hope to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease, Ms. Peete said. She said she also draws inspiration from others with Parkinson's disease, including actor Michael J. Fox and legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

"There's something about people with Parkinson's They have a real amazing demeanor about them," Ms. Peete said. "When I see the champ, I think of my dad."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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