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Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to Host Free Conference for Parkinson's Disease Patients and Their Families

Michele Tagliati, M.D., Deep-Brain Stimulation Pioneer, to Present Keynote Address

Michele Tagliati, M.D., director of the Movement Disorders Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, will be the keynote speaker at a special, free conference for Parkinson’s Disease patients, their families and caregivers. Titled, “Parkinson's Disease: Promising Developments in Management and Treatment,” the conference will be held Saturday, Oct. 16, from 1-4 p.m. in the Harvey Morse Auditorium at Cedars-Sinai.

Tagliati, who is one of the pioneers and premier educators of deep brain stimulation for movement disorders, will discuss the latest research related to neuroprotection for Parkinson’s Disease (protecting neurons in the brain of a Parkinson’s Disease patient from further cell damage, thereby slowing or possibly stopping the progression of the disease).

In addition, Nicholas Szumski, MD, a board-certified neurologist with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group and Cedars-Sinai Health Associates, will present current treatment options, as well as providing information on treatments that are on the horizon.

The conference will conclude with a presentation on physical therapy interventions. Presented by Will Robinson, DPT, NCS, service line manager for Outpatient Rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai, this session will include the latest research on managing Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, as well as strategies that show promise for the future.

The conference, presented in collaboration with the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, will include several question-and-answer sessions. Free validated parking is available in Lots 1, 2 and 4.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic and progressive disorder for which there is presently no cure. It affects nearly 1 million people in the United States, and is caused by the malfunction and death of certain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger. As a result, patients are unable to properly initiate or control their movements.


Russ Walker and his sister Linda have more in common than a shared history as siblings. They have both been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, albeit different types of the disorder. And they both drive the 200-mile-plus round-trip from their home in Bakersfield to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center every two to three months for medical care.

Now 61, Russ remembers well the day he was diagnosed. It really came as no surprise to him. For about two years, he had noticed a steadily worsening tremor in his right hand. As time passed, his left hand began to shake also. “I had no family history of Parkinson’s,” he says, “but I had been a soldier in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange, so I thought there was a pretty good chance that what I had was Parkinson’s Disease.”

Then one day he glanced in the mirror and noticed that his face had a “mask” appearance – his mouth was open, and in his eyes was a blank stare. Recognizing the “mask” as another symptom of Parkinson’s he made an appointment with his doctor and was referred to a neurologist who made the diagnosis.

As time went on, Russ, who owned a traveling notary signing business, became fully disabled and had to give up his job. As his tremors worsened, medication could no longer control them, and in 2008, he was deemed an ideal candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation, also known as DBS.

DBS is an advanced therapy for Parkinson's disease that uses a surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device similar to a heart pacemaker to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement. This so-called “neurostimulator” is about the size of a stop watch, and can be adjusted up or down according to the needs of the individual. While its mechanisms are still poorly understood, DBS is able to stop the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremor and other Parkinson’s symptoms.

After Russ’s surgery, his tremors were reduced to almost zero, but he experienced significant weight gain, his speech became slurred and his balance was off. By carefully adjusting the neurostimulator, his neurologist, Evgeny Tsimerinov, M.D., was able to counter these side effects while still keeping the tremors to an acceptable level.

On many levels, Linda’s experience with Parkinson’s Disease is similar to her brother’s. Diagnosed about a year ago, when she was 57, she, too, had to retire early from a career she loved. “I worked for 21 years in the administrative offices of the Department of Nursing, the Operating Room, and most recently, in the Department of Community Relations at Cedars-Sinai,” she says.

Like Russ, Linda’s symptoms started slowly, almost imperceptibly, but unlike her brother’s, Linda’s symptoms had nothing to do with motor control. Instead, her memory – especially her short-term memory – was affected. “I can’t remember things,” she says. “I will start a sentence and before I can complete it, I have forgotten what I was trying to say. I can’t remember names or people and how they may be connected to me.”

Eventually the memory lapses affected her work, and she had no choice but to retire this past July. “I’m the youngest of my peers to be retired,” she says with a note of sadness.

Since retiring, she has moved to Bakersfield to live with Russ and his wife, and the brother and sister carpool to Cedars-Sinai every two to three months to meet with their respective neurologists.

“We have received tremendous service from the doctors and staff at Cedars-Sinai,” says Russ. “Dr. Tsimerinov and his nurse, Lynn (Rice), are fantastic. Lynn returns all of our calls promptly, and she even has our pharmacy telephone number memorized so she can call in prescriptions for us instantly. Without these two people, our lives would be very different.”

Although they both recognize that there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, the siblings refuse to let the disease define them, and take an active role in their own healthcare. For example, for the past five years, Russ has not missed a single Parkinson’s Disease Patient Conference at Cedars-Sinai, and he plans to attend the annual event again next month – this time along with Linda.

Both Linda and Russ are available for interviews, as are their neurologists and Russ’s neurosurgeon.