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Moving Forward

 3 min read

Parkinson’s Patient Supports Research, Care at Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience

The Parkinson’s diagnosis took Mark Heinz by surprise. And the subsequent journey has been a series of eye-opening events.

“I thought: ‘Okay, Parkinson’s… so it’s just a tremor…’” he recalls. “But there’s so much more involved—it affects every part of you.” He says he did not expect the shaking hands and bone-rattling internal quaking, the nightmares and cognitive troubles, the GI issues and swallowing difficulties. Perhaps most of all, he was not prepared for the fear of the unknown, trepidation over what the future holds.

But through it all, the Mount Laurel, New Jersey, entrepreneur is fighting the good fight—and helping others like him fight it, too.

He hits the gym several times a week, attends regular physical therapy sessions, takes medication to control the tremors, and generously supports research and patient care at the Comprehensive Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Jefferson’s Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience.

Heinz, who owned and operated several McDonald’s stores in South Jersey, started experiencing shaking in his left arm and pain in his back in 2020. He suspected a pinched nerve and sought the advice of his doctor. After undergoing some tests, he was referred to Melissa Heiry, MD, a Jefferson movement specialist who manages patients with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, dystonia, and related conditions.

When further testing was done, Heiry gave him the diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.

“At that point I felt my whole world was crashing down,” he says.

Heiry urged Heinz to retire, but “the Irish/German in me was saying: ‘No, I’m determined to keep going forward,’” he says. In June 2023, Heinz finally relented, sold his business, and retired. Not one to sit around, he decided to turn his attention to helping others like him by partnering with his physicians to advance Parkinson’s research and clinical care.

Heinz made an initial gift to Jefferson to support the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) research conducted by Chengyuan Wu, MD, MSBmE, a stereotactic and functional neurosurgeon who serves as division chief of Epilepsy and Neuromodulation Neurosurgery and co-director of the Integrated Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center. DBS is a minimally-invasive surgery that reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and tremors.

Wu says the research supported by philanthropists like Heinz is “very much translational… it means the technology being developed in the lab can be directly applied to patients and have an immediate impact on their care.”

The financial support has allowed Wu’s team to pursue new avenues of research and collect preliminary data in order to be able to pursue federal funding from agencies such as the NIH. In addition, the funding has also allowed the laboratory to hire a research coordinator to help identify patients in the clinic that would benefit from clinical trials.

Recently, Heinz made a second large gift that will allow the team to hire a DBS Nurse Navigator to steer patients through the pre- and post-surgery journey.

“The process of getting the brain stimulator implant is very intensive,” Heiry explains. “It involves numerous meetings with the neurologists and neurosurgeons, undergoing pre-surgical screening and testing… and there is more follow-up needed after the surgery to calibrate, activate, and adjust the implant. A DBS navigator will be helpful in coordinating the entire process and shepherding patients through it.”

For Heinz, any investment in Jefferson is an investment in the hope for a brighter, healthier future for Parkinson’s patients.

“I’m just not the type of person who is going to sit idly by and let this control me,” says Heinz, who also serves on the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience Campaign Committee to help raise funds for clinical care, research, and education at the facility.

“I’m only 58. I can’t say that I’m not scared what the future holds, but I have a long way to go, and I plan to be here when I’m 90. I’ll fight tooth and nail, and I’ll do everything I possibly can do to make life better for me and people like me.”