Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that largely affects the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain (parkinson.org). The disease progressively gets worse and can cause tremors, stiffness, and other neurological issues which result in death. There is still a lot about Parkinson’s Disease that doctors and medical researchers don’t know. Organizations such as End Parkinson’s Disease, a new Virginia Tech club, work to raise money for research and awareness of Parkinson’s Disease. I was able to interview co-president of End Parkinson’s Disease (EPD) Anna Gunter to learn more about the organization.
Anna Gunter had the idea for EPD with co-president Marissa Magnani in Fall 2017. Now the organization has ambitious and dedicated members and is quickly expanding. The club’s logo, designed by Gunter, will soon be seen on pins, social media, and campus. There is an immense amount of energy and ideas at member meetings, which is one reason why the club has such momentum. “I love that it’s not about the number of people but how committed the people are. A smaller club may be unconventional but it is allowing us to make a direct impact” Gunter said.
The second source of momentum for the club is Gunter. Her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when she was born but she was unaware of the diagnosis until she was around ten years old when her father was forced into retirement because of the disease. When he drove Gunter to softball practice, she would be embarrassed by his terrible driving. That is when the reality of Parkinson’s sunk in. “The effects got worse as I went from middle to high school and you are your worst self at thirteen or fourteen. He was moved to an assisted living facility and I was ashamed of that at the time. Now there is guilt.” Gunter said. Due to personality changes that are a side effect of medications given to those with Parkinson’s and limitations that arise with the disease, Gunter did not get to know her father well. Below is Gunter (around eight years old) with her father.
Parkinson’s also affects the family. “It was hard to watch my mom go through it at the time. She is a big supporter of this club” said Gunter. Her sister ran the Marine Corps Marathon as a way to raise money for Parkinson’s research. Below is a picture of Anna Gunter and her father at a Virginia Beach boardwalk event for Parkinson’s.
Gunter’s father passed away due to complications from Parkinson’s before she started at Virginia Tech. She threw herself into academics and work; struggling to find an organization on campus with an agenda that matched what she had gone through with Parkinson’s. “Just recently, I got the confidence to do it and create my own organization. The only way I can make any of this worthwhile is pushing it further and be proud in applying myself, like my father would be. My dad is the reason why I am pursuing a career in medicine as a doctor.” Gunter said. What Gunter wants people to know about Parkinson’s is, “It’s not the same for everyone. The disease does more than affect motor abilities, a large portion of those with the disease have Parkinson’s Dementia. Parkinson’s is a progressive disease that has no cure.”
End Parkinson’s Disease is an organization that is ready to make change. With energetic and passionate Gunter as co-president and member’s motivation, the EPD moniker will be one you notice. The organization can be found on GobblerConnect if you are interested in joining!