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Rabbi Squares Off with Parkinson’s

By Bob Fryer, Jewish Press (reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Press of Pinellas County (FL). www.jewishpresspinellas.com)  Photos by BOB COLMER PHOTOGRAPHY


Fradkin, a 59-year-old ordained rabbi and former real estate broker, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2004.


Although Ken Fradkin believes there will someday be a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, until that is found, he is not waiting for someone else do something; he has become a zealous advocate for himself and others who suffer with the degenerative central nervous system disorder.

When he decided six months ago to move to Pinellas County to be close to his daughter, Dania Williams, he learned about the Cypress Alternative, a free Parkinson’s outreach program offered at Cypress Palms, an assisted living facility in Largo, and immediately jumped right in. He moved into the ALF and became so active that he has already been named a member of the program’s advisory board. He was instrumental in adding a yoga class and a vocal aerobics class to the program’s offerings.

While discussing the program Fradkin’s symptoms of the disease, save an occasional minor hand tremor, were barely noticeable. He is able mentor another resident there, Jim Inguaggiato, whose movement is much more restricted. This is part of an informal effort to pair up members in the program and Fradkin is hopeful this initiative can be more formally developed. He does all of this as an unpaid volunteer.

“I have spent most my life ministering to the Jewish community and have learned a great deal from it and have achieved much satisfaction from the work. I also have learned that we have a responsibility to help less fortunate individuals in need in the greater human community irregardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations,” Fradkin said. “I have a found a second home at the Cypress Alternative Parkinson’s program which helps me as a Parkinson’s patient, and also where I can help other Parkinson’s patients as well. In a sense, I am now ministering to a different community, but achieving even greater satisfaction and fulfillment from this work.”

 Yoga instructor Lisa Recchione works with Ken Fradkin, who was instrumental in getting her to teach yoga to the Cypress Alternative group.  Photo by BOB COLMER PHOTOGRAPHY Yoga instructor Lisa Recchione works with Ken Fradkin, who was instrumental in getting her to teach yoga to the Cypress Alternative group.


Fradkin served as cantor in synagogues in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts, then became a rabbi at age 40 and served in New York, New Jersey and Virginia before going into real estate. Since moving here, he has occasionaly served as guest rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom in Gulfport. Parkinson’s disease develops gradually, often starting with a tremor in just one hand. But while tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease, the disorder also commonly causes a slowing or freezing of movement. Speech often becomes soft and mumbling. Parkinson’s symptoms tend to worsen as the disease progresses.

Fradkin says years ago he met Michael J. Fox, before either of them had Parkinson’s, and was impressed by him at the time. Now, he says, he is even more impressed by what Fox has done to further Parkinson’s research. Fradkin often posts information on that organization’s research to share with those in the Cypress Alternative and others who have the disease.

His blog and user group sites are rich with listings on research, local support group meetings, and information about treatment options. He is a one-man ambassador spreading the word on all things Parkinson’s.

He participates in all of the Cypress Alternative offerings specifi- cally for those with Parkinson’s including yoga, exercise to help folks stretch, move and meditate; muscle relaxation and vocal aerobics to help strengthen vocal production. There are also weekly line-dancing classes.

The program aims to help those with the disease control balance and movement and to provide social interaction. For instance, the progressive muscle relaxation technique uses tensing and relaxing of muscles to help those with the disease learn how to relax muscle tension and reduce anxiety. The autogenic training involves visualizations that induce a state of relaxation.

On the first Tuesday of each month there is a seminar featuring a local expert to discuss topics of importance to those with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, and on the third Tuesday of each month there is a support group meeting facilitated by the American Parkinson Disease Association. After the seminar and support group meetings, there is lunch tailored to meet the nutritional needs of those with the disease and other movement disorders.

In early April, in conjunction with Parkinson Disease Awareness Month, Cypress Palms hosted a Parkinson and Movement Disorders Resource Fair, bringing in speakers to talk about the latest in research, treatment, therapies and adaptive equipment.

The Goodman Group, owner and operator of the Palms facilities, started the Cypress Alternative program about five years ago, according to Avi Elias, executive director at Cypress Palms. The program in Largo, as well one at another Goodman facility in South Florida, has received the Parkinson Proficient Accreditation for Exemplary Service, Programs and Training by the Parkinson Foundation of the Heartland.

The Cypress Alternative includes elements of Western, Eastern, holistic and alternative medicine, Fradkin said. “Doctors can do so much, but no more. But dancing, yoga and the other activities all offer symptom relief, and until a cure is found, that’s what we need,” he said.

Fradkin says he has been working with two artists who have Parkinson’s to see if they can help get an art program established for Cypress Alternative.

“I have also have been working with Julie Griggs, our line dancing facilitator, to present the Argentine Tango to our group. Because of the movements of this particular dance, it has proven to be very beneficial to Parkinson’s patients. I hope eventually to have a workshop teaching the Argentine Tango to our group,” Fradkin said.

Yet another idea from Fradkin is to extend the program to homebound Parkinson patients. In addition to symptom relief, the program helps improve the mental outlook of those with the disease. “People with Parkinson tend to stay at home and get depressed, but in the outreach program, you feel you are not alone; you feel the support of the others in your class and of the instructors and it helps,” Fradkin said.

Ian McGarrity, director of the Bonsai Holistic Spa which is in the Cypress building, says the program’s exercises and activities are aimed at helping those with the disease feel better. “We have to break the anxiety cycle and make them relax. When they are relaxed, their symptoms are relieved and when you can do things you didn’t think you could do, it makes you feel good,” he said.

Fradkin noted that Inguaggiato uses a wheelchair most of the time, but when he engages in an exercise to bounce a ball in the workout room at the spa, he gains control over his movements and gets around in the room without his wheelchair.

Fradkin and McGarrity added that the Tui Na massage used in sessions helps relieve symptoms. Most people with Parkinson have a rigidity of the right or left ankle, and by massaging an acupuncture point in the ankle, it helps reverse symptoms, they said.

In addition to serving as advisor to the Cypress Alternative, Fradkin spends a lot of time maintaining a user group on the web to provide those with Parkinson with information he feels will be helpful. This includes local offerings such as a magnetic therapy trial offered in Clearwater and a recent picnic for those with Parkinson’s at a park in Largo. He also sifts through scores of articles on Parkinson research and posts the articles he thinks others would find useful.

His recent blogs include information on the therapeutic benefits of laughter, Tui Na and nutritional considerations for those with the disease. The user group link is:

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ParkinsonsPinellas/ and blog address is: http://parkinsonshelpblog. blogspot.com.



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