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Teen raises money, makes gift in honor of father with Parkinson's disease

Allyson Bird | News Center | September 24, 2013

Murray CenterDr. Gonzalo J. Revuelta gives patient Robert Smith a check-up at the Murray Center for Research on Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorders.
Sarah Pack 

Camilla Smith wanted to show her teenage son how hard it was for his father to live with Parkinson's disease.

"Shake your hand as hard as you can. No, harder," she said as her son mimicked the jerking motion. Soon tiring, he stopped.

"No, you can't stop," she said, seeing an awareness grow in her son's face. "Now you know what it's like for your dad."

Smith is being treated with deep brain stimulation, which has given him relief from his tremors. For the first time in nine years, he can get a good night's sleep without a flailing hand awakening him all night. They thought at first the deep brain stimulation wouldn't help since her husband didn't respond initially to the treatment after brain surgery. Then when he came in to have his neurostimulator adjusted, his hand just stopped. "I'm so ecstatic," he said. His wife smiles and nods. "I have a honey-do list waiting for him."

Deep brain stimulation is just one of many research projects at the Murray Center for Research on Parkinson's Disease and Related Disorder that's generating excitement. The research is one reason the center became the fundraising focus of teenager Brice Sharpton, whose father also suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Brice’s teacher gave each of her 48 students a $100 bill and a special challenge at the end of the school year: Double the money, and then donate that profit to the charity of your choice. The 16-year-old First Baptist School student knew immediately that he wanted to contribute to a fund that supports research for Parkinson’s disease. For almost his entire life, Brice has watched the disorder steal more and more from his father, Kip.

Kip Sharpton, now 47, was only 33 on the morning that his wife noticed his hand shaking as she poured him coffee before church. Julie Sharpton, a nurse at MUSC, made her husband an appointment to see a specialist.

With three young children and a career in sales, Kip Sharpton said, “I had expectations of what I wanted to do.” Instead, he missed a promotion and, because of his speech limitation, his company moved him out of sales management and into auditing work.

Brice Sharpton set up a hot dog stand and donated his profit to Parkinson's disease research at MUSC's Murray Center. 

Brice’s teacher gave the class its startup cash with instructions to “find out more about themselves.” Brice bought hot dogs, buns and fixings and set up a stand at the Harborview Road Piggly Wiggly near his family’s home. He, his younger sister and his parents explained to shoppers the school project behind the sign, “Pig Out for Parkinson’s.” Some people passed on hot dogs but donated money anyway.  

Brice's teacher, Robin Gramling, said she based the assignment on the Parable of the Talents from the Book of Matthew, in which a master leaves his money with his servants and then returns and asks for an accounting. The master rewards the servants who increased the value of the money that he entrusted to them.

Gramling’s students held gym days, crab sales and talent shows with the money she gave them. They raised nearly $12,000, which they then gave to special-needs athletics programs, medical research and books for patients at MUSC Children’s Hospital.

“We’re all consumed with promoting ourselves,” Gramling said. “The idea is finding yourself through service, and finding that you’re satisfied. They had to present what they’d done and what they’d discovered from what they’d done. You could tell from the way they spoke, from the smiles on their faces, that they were happy to have done it.”

Brice donated the $280 he earned from the hot dog sale to MUSC’s Murray Center for Research on Parkinson’s Disease and Other Related Disorders. Looking to his father, Brice remembered, “I wanted to find something that could help you. I wasn’t really thinking about other people. I was mainly thinking about you.”

Dr. Christina Vaughan, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosciences, said the Murray Center runs its own clinical trials and also participates in national studies. Because of donations such as Brice’s, specialists at the Murray Center soon will offer video conferencing to remote patients who otherwise would not have access.

“I am especially touched that Brice raised these funds on behalf of his father,” Vaughan said. “My father, too, has Parkinson’s disease, and I understand how much this disease can affect a family.”

The gift also inspired Brice’s father. In addition to the hot dog sale, Brice and his sister, 13-year-old Sarah Grace, also sold snacks to raise money for research.

“I’m proud of them,” Kip Sharpton said.  “It’s impacted their lives as much, if not more than mine. I don’t think they’re going to find a cure in my lifetime, but I want to drop back and say, what can I do to help other people?”

He hopes to plan a tandem bicycle ride through the Blue Ridge Parkway with a friend, another man diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his early 30s. If the two men can’t complete the ride on their own, Kip Sharpton hopes Brice and his older brother, 18-year-old David, can help.

Kip Sharpton looks to Michael J. Fox as a role model, since the actor’s Parkinson’s foundation has raised $325 million for research, plus immeasurable awareness. “We can’t all be Michael J. Fox,” he said. “But I want to do something.”

Allyson Bird is with the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs. Dawn Brazell, Public Relations, also contributed to this story.






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