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Giannaris still giving back

October 09, 2005|By MARIE GILBERT

marieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN

The life story of Nick Giannaris is a tapestry of optimism, determination and success.

As a young man, he arrived on American shores from Greece, willing to work hard and make a difference in his new homeland.

He soon became a successful businessman and, in later years, a generous philanthropist, dealing with challenges on a daily basis.

But now, Giannaris is facing his biggest challenge. He is fighting Parkinson's disease.

"I never thought it would be like this," he said. "But, thanks to my doctors, I have a positive attitude. They've taken good care of me."

Giannaris, 71, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease several years ago. It was tremors in his hands, he said, that initially sent him to see his physician.

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Recently, Giannaris approached his doctors about holding a patient symposium - an opportunity for those afflicted with the disorder to participate in an educational and informative discussion on all aspects of Parkinson's disease.

"He suggested he would host the event if we could put something together. So here we are," said Dr. Stephen G. Reich, professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-director of Maryland's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic.

The Nick Giannaris-University of Maryland Parkinson's Disease Patient Symposium was held Saturday at the Four Points Sheraton.

The event featured presentations by several faculty members of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and covered a wide range of topics, including therapies, nonmotor aspects of Parkinson's disease, psychiatric and behavioral aspects, and quality of life.

The scheduled guest speaker was Katrina A. Eversole, health insurance advocate with the Washington County Commission on Aging. There also was a panel discussion and a question-and-answer period.

About 100 patients, caregivers and professionals attended the event, according to organizers.

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired. Normally, these cells produce a vital chemical known as dopamine, which allows smooth, coordinated function of the body's muscles and movement. When about 80 percent of these cells are damaged, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease appear.

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, joining the 1.5 million Americans currently afflicted.

Primary symptoms include tremors (shaking), slowness of movement, stiffness and difficulty with balance. Other symptoms might include depression, stiff facial expressions, muffled speech, cramped handwriting and shuffling walk.

Saturday's symposium was an opportunity for the community to receive valuable information, said Donald Barron of Hagerstown, president of a local organization for Parkinson's disease patients and their families.

"It's a very special day," he said. "It's a great way for patients, as well as caregivers, to hear from some of the best medical people in the field."

Barron, whose wife has Parkinson's disease, said he has no way of estimating how many people in this area have been diagnosed with Parkinson's, "but it is probably a lot more than we think."

At one point, he noted, "we had over 100 people in our group."

"Some people are hesitant to come because they don't want to see what's down the road," Barron said. "But the social part of the support group is very important. We learn from each other."

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