A Donor, A Chair and the Fight Against Parkinson Disease

“Because of you, we will make a difference, one scientific discovery at a time, one archeological find at a time and one advance against Parkinson at a time,” said UF President Kent Fuchs at UF Health’s Celebrating Distinction ceremony honoring new faculty chairs and their benefactors.

A Donor, A Chair and the Fight Against Parkinson Disease

We are privileged to celebrate the new endowed chairs at the Health Science Center. Many congratulations to each of you for this scholarly achievement!

We are also pleased to celebrate the generous benefactors who made these professorships possible.

One of the privileges of my position is hearing the stories on each side of this equation: The stories of these faculty chairs, and those of their benefactors.

For the benefactors, these stories tend to be deeply personal, rooted in life-changing events, and sometimes very difficult ones. They’re often stories about tragedy and hope.

For the faculty holding these chairs, these stories go beyond reaching a professional peak. They’re about greatness and focus. They’re about gaining the freedom to fully pursue one’s life’s work.

The faculty chairs and donors we celebrate today are no different.  As an example of all those we are honoring today, I want to capture the great work, and the generosity that propels it, through the story of just one donor and one faculty chair.

I’ll start with the donor, Dr. Bob Dein, who we are fortunate to have with us, along with several family members.

Bob and his late wife, Barbara Padgett Dein, are UF alumni. Bob earned his medical degree from the College of Medicine in 1971, and Barbara Padgett Dean graduated with a B.S. in medical technology.

They met here in Gainesville, where she was working at the VA blood bank. They married and eventually settled in Venice. There they raised their son, Jeff, and spent most of their 46-year marriage.

Barbara worked for years as a medical technologist before dedicating herself to volunteer and civic life.

She was an avid sailor and member of many local sailing clubs, where she loved teaching other women to sail, along with generations of kids in Venice.

She served on the Venice Hospital Blood Bank Board of Directors, and she was a faithful volunteer at the Venice Museum and Archives. She was very proud that a bench in Venice’s beautiful Blalock Park was dedicated in her honor.

In her 50s Barbara developed Parkinson disease.

As the disease progressed, her loving husband became her dedicated caregiver.

Bob found that while medicine could control her motor symptoms, it offered little help for her mental symptoms, such as anxiety, memory loss and cognition problems.

I’ve learned that while not typically associated with Parkinson, such symptoms are common among the afflicted. In fact, they are often more debilitating for patients than the physical symptoms.

Barbara lost her 14-year battle with Parkinson last year. Bob resolved to do his very best to create a better path for others like her and for their families.

Barbara’s doctor had served as a fellow with Dr. Michael Okun, Chair of Neurology. Through that connection, Bob met Dr. Irene Malaty, an associate professor in neurology.

This brings me to the faculty part of my story.

Irene is director of the Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence at UF. She also directs the Tourette Association Southeast Regional Center of Excellence Consortium.

Irene studies the motor and non-motor symptoms of movement disorders including Parkinson and Tourette – for example, their impact on mood, behavior and personality. She says these symptoms are similar in their potential to be devastating, despite Tourette mainly afflicting youth and Parkinson afflicting older people.

Irene was deeply touched by Bob’s years spent caring for his wife despite feelings of helplessness and isolation.  She welcomed his offer to help support her research into non-motor symptoms.

The professorship Bob created is a permanent and enduring force behind this work.

It will enable Irene to pursue avenues of research that she knows are promising – but that don’t yet have funding sources.  

It will help support trainees and fellows who seek to dedicate their time to the cognitive and behavioral impacts of Parkinson.

In short, the professorship will help to spark a community of practicioners and researchers dedicated to this often overlooked but critical dimension of the disease.

In Irene’s words, she is “overwhelmed with delight and gratitude.”

I say to Bob, and other benefactors behind these new chairs, we are overwhelmed with gratitude.

You join hundreds of donors motivated to help others by their own life-changing experiences. These donors support over 400 UF faculty chairs as committed as Irene and the other faculty to pursuing new paths in science, medicine and scholarship.

One of the chief goals of our fundraising campaign, Go Greater, is to create even more endowed professorships – 200 in fact! I can’t imagine a more important goal for UF, our science and scholarship.

Many congratulations to the new chairs here today. To the donors, many thank yous!

Because of you, the Health Science Center will become an even more exceptional institution, and UF will continue its rise among the very best public research universities in the nation.

And because of you, we will make a difference … one scientific discovery at a time … one archeological find at a time … one advance against Parkinson at a time.