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stories of hope

Mark Kodner

Hope for Parkinson's Disease

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.

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 being there.

“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.”