There’s a special kind of friendship that withstands the test of time. No matter how many
years pass, where you’ve gone or what you’ve done, you can pick up the conversation
with your pal exactly where you left off. That’s how it is with Steve Hurster, Mark Kodner,
Jeff Fox, David Fitter and Stan Hoffman.
These five men met each other at different times while growing
up in St. Louis—some as far back as grade school. Even as kids
they began to develop an unbreakable bond that has united them
through adulthood. They stood up at each other’s weddings, their
wives and children are friends, and they continue to stay in touch
on a daily basis.
As time goes by, some acquaintances question whether the five
really talk that frequently, David says.
“We do,” he confirms. “Most people don’t have what we have.
Our relationship is very special.”
“We are all so intertwined,” adds Steve. “We value and cherish it.”
Because of the unique chemistry that links the five men together,
they were stunned when Mark, who was then a successful lawyer
at Kodner Watkins, confided that he had been living with
Parkinson’s disease. Mark was only 40 when he was diagnosed
with the progressive neurological disorder in 2000.
When Mark stopped practicing law
because of the disease, his friends were
there for him and they continue to be
his support system. This includes the
11 surgeries Mark has undergone since
his diagnosis and an unknown future.
“These guys have been with me from the
get-go. We’ve remained the best of friends
through thick and thin,” he says.
For Mark and other Parkinson’s patients,
the challenges include both physical and
cognitive symptoms that develop slowly
over time. These symptoms can include
fatigue, muscle tremors, trouble walking,
standing and concentrating, confusion,
and speech changes.
While there are some therapies available
to Parkinson’s patients, they are most
effective in treating movement-related
symptoms. No treatments have been
developed yet to slow or halt the inevitable
progression of the disease.
However one of Mark’s doctors, Joel
Perlmutter, MD, the Elliot H. Stein
Family Endowed Chair in Neurology,
is researching a promising drug that
appears to have the potential to slow
or even reverse some of the damage
in the brain caused by the disease.
His team is poised to begin studies of
the drug in humans, but must be able
to measure the effect of the drug in the
brain. In order to do so, the researchers
need funding to complete preliminary
studies that will help leverage the
necessary federal funding to ultimately
make the drug available for treatment.
After learning about Dr. Perlmutter’s
research, Mark decided to explore
fundraising vehicles that would provide
support directly to Dr. Perlmutter. As a
result, he sought a partnership with The
Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Since his friends had done so much for
him over the years, Mark says he didn’t
want to bother them with the fundraising
project. But, he found, it was impossible
to keep them in the dark.
“None of those guys would’ve found out
about what I was doing, but Fox, who
has the ‘Batman’ ears, overheard me on
a phone conversation and immediately
offered to help…which is the norm for
this group,” he explains.
Jeff proposed his house as a venue and
got involved in the planning.
“I called our buddies and said ‘I’d like
to get your help’ and they stepped up,”
Jeff says. “It’s about heart. We’d do it
for each one of us. That’s our friendship.
It’s how we’ve been our whole lives.”
The pals then reached out and personally
invited people they thought would
be interested in helping Mark and
contributing to Parkinson’s research.
"We knew were doing
something for a dear
friend. But we also knew
that if we help Mark we’ll
be helping a lot of other
people too,” says Stan.
The event was held on Nov. 13, with 78
guests attending. Contributions are still
being made with a goal to reach $1 million.
Mark says he was humbled and amazed
by the turnout and continuing response.
“Please accept my most profound and
sincere thanks for all you have done to
support me in my efforts to navigate the
waters around this shipwreck they call
Parkinson’s disease,” Mark wrote to those
who attended the event.
“The impact of research on my life is
unreal, because the medicines and the
procedures and the possibilities are endless
if research can continue to go on.”
While guests were generous with their
contributions, the men agree the real
highlight of the evening was the moral
support the attendees showed by just
“What a great thing, what a tribute, to have
a room full of people showing they care,”
says Steve. “It’s all about good people trying
to do a good thing for a good friend who
has been dealt a bad deck of cards.”
“People stepped up because of Mark. He’s
a special guy, not just to us buddies, but to
everyone who comes across his path,” says
David. “He’s a gem of a guy and I’m very
lucky to have this gem in my life.”
But Mark says he is the one who is blessed
to have such special friends.
“They are a gift to me.”