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One family’s journey with Parkinson’s disease inspires support for a researcher’s vision

Personal experience inspired Diane and Eddie Aizen to create the Aizen Family Distinguished Scholar in Parkinson's Research—and their belief that Dr. Daryl Wile’s work will make a difference for other patients in the interior.

Dr. Daryl Wile and Diane Aizen

Kelowna resident Diane Aizen gradually began to notice changes in how her body felt. In 2015, doctors confirmed she was experiencing Parkinsonian-type symptoms. During treatment, Diane was referred to Dr. Daryl Wile—a Kelowna based neurologist focusing on Parkinson’s disease, and a researcher in the UBC Faculty of Medicine Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management on the Okanagan campus.

The first consultation with Dr. Wile impressed Diane and her husband, Eddie.

“We spent about an hour and a half in our initial interview,” says Diane. “He was absolutely incredible in terms of how he dealt with me as a patient and Eddie as a family member.”

Dr. Wile’s care for Diane inspired the Aizens to offer support to help establish a Parkinson’s research program in the interior focused on movement disorders.  Initially, they donated to ParkinSMART, spearheaded by Dr. Wile, which explored innovation with symptom monitoring and activity recording technology for Parkinson’s.

“If we look at the population of approximately 2,500 people in the interior with Parkinson’s disease, they’re actually spread out over a huge area,” says Dr. Wile. “These are people who can’t move very well—and we calculated that they drive, on average, 55 minutes or so to get to the clinic. It would be better to think how we can improve care for distributed sites in rural areas.”

Using an innovative strategy of incorporating motion sensors with video expanded the possibilities of remote treatment for Parkinson’s.

“We paired video with data from motion sensors while people were in their home environment—as opposed to making treatment decisions based only on a video,” says Dr. Wile. “We found the data was not inferior to a full clinical exam for a follow-up.”

The Aizens naturally hoped to see Dr. Wile’s patient-centric approach to Parkinson’s treatment expand by encouraging his vision.

“We’ve always been philanthropic in nature and scientifically directed. We very much felt the need to support him within the community,” says Diane. “We reached out to him to say: ‘What do you need that you don’t already have—and how can we help?'”

Dr. Wile had reflected on how to take his work in Parkinson’s to the next level.

“My goals were to do research and make a program of excellence, which typically would involve not just good clinical care, but teaching and educating at the undergraduate/graduate medical level and research,” says Dr. Wile. “Diane, as a grateful patient, spontaneously offered that she wanted to help make that a reality.”

As the inaugural Aizen Family Distinguished Scholar in Parkinson’s Research, Dr. Wile would like to improve telehealth methods and capabilities for Parkinson’s patients in BC’s interior—an area comparable to the size of France—to mitigate the need for long-distance travel during treatment.

“We want to allow access to the highest levels of care for people regardless of where they live,” says Dr. Wile. “And we want to do a better job understanding how symptoms fluctuate for people through the course of the day.”

On their journey with Parkinson’s, Diane and Eddie Aizen want their donation to help move Dr. Wile’s vital work forward with a hands-off approach—relying on his expertise, vision and strategy.

“I know some philanthropists have very specific ideas for how they want their money spent,” says Diane. “The Aizen family feel, personally, that it’s not up to us to direct spending—but allow the person, to whom we endow the funds, to use it in the best manner for patients and science.”