State Senator Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, recently hosted advocates from the Merrimack Valley and across the Commonwealth at the State House for the fifth annual meeting of the state legislature’s Parkinson’s Disease Caucus.
DiZoglio, who serves as co-chair of the caucus alongside State Representative John C. Velis, D-Westfield, provided legislators an opportunity to learn more about Parkinson’s and consider legislative steps to address the neurological disease, which affects an estimated one million Americans and is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States.
It is estimated that 60,000 people are diagnosed each year in the U.S. with Parkinson’s and its prevalence is expected to more than double by the year 2040. The exact cause of the disease, which is chronic and progressive, with no treatment to slow or halt its progression, remains unknown.
Joining the Representative for the caucus meeting were the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA).
During the caucus, DiZoglio presented a Senate resolution, co-sponsored by legislators from across the Commonwealth, proclaiming April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month in Massachusetts.
“Greater research, education and community support services are needed to find more effective treatments and to provide access to quality care to those with Parkinson’s,” said DiZoglio. “I am honored to chair this important caucus and committed to continue raising awareness around the disease with advocates from the Merrimack Valley and across the Commonwealth. As always, thank you to North Andover’s Charles Brown of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease for again helping to organize this important event.”
DiZoglio officially created and launched the Parkinson’s Disease Caucus in November 2015.
“It is hard to believe this is our fifth year of holding this event,” said Charles Brown, North Andover resident and public policy and advocacy volunteer with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “This would not be possible without the support that we have received from both Senator DiZoglio and her chief of staff Andrew Carden. They both have been true supporters of raising awareness around Parkinson’s.”
“It’s important that we get to speak to legislators on a daily basis to help people who are living with Parkinson’s Disease,” said Chad Moir, owner of DopaFit, a Parkinson’s management center based in Southampton.
Moir’s advocacy began when his mother passed away from the disease, which affects between 18,000 and 21,000 people in Massachusetts.
“She inspires me, along with all of the inspiring people I meet every day who fight this disease,” he said. “It was great to see a strong turnout today and to see all of the senators and representatives in attendance. I thank them for their continued efforts.”
Attendees of the caucus heard from several residents from across Massachusetts living with Parkinson’s. They noted transportation and building access as two of their greatest daily challenges living with the disease.
One attendee, Greg Heath, a former Westfield firefighter who has battled Parkinson’s for seven years, spoke on behalf of a bill filed by Rep. Velis that would provide accidental disability benefits to firefighters who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
In addition to Senator DiZoglio and Representative Velis, other legislators in attendance at Thursday’s event included Reps. William Galvin, D-Canton, Joseph McGonagle, D-Everett, Ruth Balser, D-Newton and Patrick Kearney, D-Scituate, as well as Sen. Walter Timilty, D-Milton.
Galvin, who sponsored a House resolution naming April Parkinson’s Awareness Month at the request of his constituent Dan Harvey, said he has become more aware of the disease in the five years that he’s known Harvey and is impressed with the efforts of advocates like those in attendance.
McGonagle, whose late mother also fought a courageous battle with Parkinson’s, vowed to continue supporting Parkinson’s-related legislation.
“Since I came into the house, I told Diana I would be a big advocate for her because of my own personal experiences,” said McGonagle. “Know that I will help carry the torch in the House of Representatives.”
Regarding the firefighter bill, Velis said it is “absolutely critical” that the Commonwealth treat a Parkinson’s diagnosis the same as a career-ending injury suffered by a firefighter in the line of duty.
“On a daily basis, firefighters put their lives at risk to keep the public safe,” said Velis. “We must err on the side of doing the right thing when it comes to providing our firefighters with the support they need should they be diagnosed with this disease.”