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Pounding the pavement for a Parkinson's cure

Hopkins' Pacing for Parkinson's volunteers celebrate their ninth year in the Baltimore Running Festival, raising more than $150,000 and showing no signs of slowing down
Posted November 8, 2017
Pacing for Parkinson's gathered nearly 300 runners and raised nearly $150,000 for Hopkins Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center as part of the 2017 Baltimore Running Festival. Pacing for Parkinson's gathered nearly 300 runners and raised nearly $150,000 for Hopkins Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center as part of the 2017 Baltimore Running Festival.

For one Saturday morning each October, nearly 300 people gather near a tent in downtown Baltimore, clad in brightly colored shirts bearing the name "Pacing for Parkinson's" (P4P). They then take off on different races — some for a 5K, others for a half marathon, full marathon, or marathon relay as part of the annual Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to training for their individual race, each P4P participant has spent months raising funds to support the Johns Hopkins Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

See more photos from the 2017 race on P4P's Facebook page

Celebrating its ninth year as an official charity team in the festival, P4P has raised more than $700,000 to advance research and outreach programs the center supports and evolved into a year-round volunteer-driven fundraising campaign. The second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States, Parkinson's disease (PD) affects more than a half-million Americans, with approximately 50,000 to 60,000 new diagnoses each year.

"There are more people out there with PD, or who know someone affected by PD, than you realize," says Don Long, P4P volunteer co-chair who joined the team four years ago after his mother, Wendy, was diagnosed.

"When we first found out about her diagnosis, we were in shock, and our family had a lot of fear — we really didn't know much about PD and its progression," says Long, a half-marathoner for the team. "This group has welcomed us with open arms and given us insight into how things may go."

"[Parkinsonics] is one example of how P4P's funds have translated an idea in a young neurologist's mind into a way people can benefit from services in our local community."
Arita McCoy, Hopkins Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center

The P4P Committee, comprising about 15 volunteers, handles tasks including securing sponsors, recruiting runners, and arranging race-day logistics with assistance from Hopkins' Department of Neurology staff. But the money raised, Long says, comes largely from P4P's legion of dedicated runners. Some have hosted fundraisers at local venues like Paulie Gee's pizzeria and Diamondback Brewing in the Hampden and Locust Point neighborhoods of Baltimore, respectively. One of the largest and most successful events, though, is held just north of the city and is hosted by Michael and Beverly "Bev" Bruno, of Lutherville, Md.

For the past 20 years, since Bev Bruno learned she had early onset PD, the couple have been fundraising in hopes to help find a cure. Their efforts started small, with Bruno and a few friends selling wristbands for PD awareness at a University of Maryland symposium about the disease, raising about $1,000. For the past several years, the couple have hosted a large party for as many as 550 people that features silent auction items, food and drinks, and dancing — with all proceeds directed to P4P.

"I know that someday, maybe not in Bev's lifetime or mine, there will be a cure for this," says Michael Bruno, who gathers a team of family and friends to run on a marathon relay team called Run4Bev. "We'll be able to say that we were part of the research that brought about that cure — and that's always been Bev's goal, from the very beginning."

Bev Bruno indirectly benefits from some of those raised funds, too, through a choral group called the Parkinsonics. The group was originally created as part of a research study by Alexander Pantelyat, an assistant professor, director of Hopkins' Atypical Parkinsonism Center, and co-founder and co-director of the new Center for Music and Medicine — a collaboration between Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Peabody Institute. People with PD often have low voice volume and can have trouble swallowing, and Pantelyat designed the Parkinsonics clinical trial to examine how choral exercise could help improve participants' symptoms.

"The participants loved the program so much, it's become a community group," explains Arita McCoy, a nurse practitioner in the Johns Hopkins Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center. "That's one example of how P4P's funds have translated an idea in a young neurologist's mind into a way people can benefit from services in our local community."

McCoy sees the impact that P4P makes on patients in the center every day, and that's inspired her to become a regular volunteer for the team since 2010. But more than that, she appreciates the spirit and unity the event, and the team, provide.

"It's refreshing to see that despite the many challenges these diseases can bring, there's this little pocket of hope. Everyone involved with P4P has the same mission, and everyone comes together," McCoy says.

To learn more about Pacing for Parkinson's, or to make a gift to support the Johns Hopkins Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center, please contact Kaylin Kopcho, senior associate director of development.