The Fantastic Five Take PD Gladiators By Storm!

Next Generation of Doctors Learning About PD From You

Lean, young and confident, they strode onto the floor at Delgado Boxing in a (presumably) unintended V-formation, reminiscent of a tribe of newly-minted superheroes. But “The Fantastic Five,” as I have since dubbed them, are mere mortals seeking to understand how those of us struggling with our mortality can be guided to live better with our disease. They are five medical students at the Emory University School of Medicine—Lulu Belak, Sam Denson, Marissa Cheng-kuang Kuo, Parker Schwab and Emilia Varrone—who elected to observe the PD Gladiators program as their assignment in the school’s community learning and social medicine program for first year medical students. They are our chance to show the next generation of doctors that where pharmaceuticals hit a dead end, quality of life may still be enhanced at the intersection of hope and determination.

“Our goal as medical students is to gain insight into the lives of those we serve,” says Schwab. “We have been incredibly humbled and inspired by the individuals we have met thus far and hope to continue to learn from those within the Parkinson’s community. We believe there is tremendous value in learning from others and hope to elucidate the needs of those within the community so that we can provide assistance and become better future physicians.”

The students are required to complete 52 hours of service over the course of the current school year. The medical school would like them to be exposed to a variety of different populations, including people with disabilities of all ages. The program is mandatory for first year medical students, and many other community organizations are participating. Each student chooses a program that interests them, but each organization is limited to five participants.

For the Fall semester, the students are tasked with observing all aspects of their assigned organization and its patient population. Ellie and I prepared a one-hour “Intro to PD Gladiators” presentation, and we were surprised and delighted by our students’ level of interest. The orientation was interactive, and the group displayed sharp insight into the organization’s challenges, for example, our outreach efforts to convince both doctors and patients that the benefits of exercise on PD suggested by the research are more than theoretical. They also showed up at Delgado Boxing ready to work out and interact with members of both of the Saturday afternoon classes.

“Through this sort of initiative, doctors can become more active members of their community, and understand their patients’ experience beyond an exam room,” Belak said. “Greater involvement outside of the hospital may also help patients recognize their providers as true partners in their care. In doing so, community partnerships may help foster a special collaboration between physicians, patients, and community health organizations that can promote healing in an innovative way.”

While not even the Fantastic Five could literally see the Gladiators improve over the course of one boxing session, they did observe some of the benefits of PD-specific exercise classes that may not be apparent to our doctors. “I noticed that the participants are really dedicated to the classes and to each other,” Varrone said. “I see spouses, caregivers and their dogs stay and chat with one another during and after the classes. The community that surrounds PD Gladiators is clearly caring and supportive of one other and appears to be an invaluable resource for both the participants and their families.”

The group was also surprised by the role the instructors play in motivating the Gladiators. “We were incredibly impressed by the level of commitment and emotional investment the course instructors have in this program,” Kuo said. “Instructors at Delgado Boxing are intensely dedicated to and supportive of class participants. They provide an impressive amount of one-on-one attention to individual participants and make an effort to build personal relationships with each boxer. It’s quite evident that they greatly enjoy teaching these classes and they truly care about the health and well-being of each participant.”

In the Spring semester, the medical students will take what they learned in the Fall and propose a project to assist their organization achieve its mission. The Fantastic Five are still working out the details of their proposal for PD Gladiators, but they—like any good superheroes–are excited to make a lasting impact.

“As students of medicine, we all have a keen interest in data and know the power that carefully recorded information can have within the scientific community,” Denson said. “In our visits to the Delgado boxing classes, we’ve witnessed firsthand the impact that exercise can have on people with Parkinson’s disease, and we hope that, in the coming months, we will be able to collect data to support our observations. By measuring the effects that exercise can have on the course of Parkinson’s disease, we believe PD Gladiators will be better positioned to demonstrate the impact of these exercise programs to the larger scientific and lay communities. We hope that collecting and sharing this information will not only help PD Gladiators to grow but will ultimately improve the quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s disease across the greater Atlanta metro area and beyond.”

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