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Former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci Fights Parkinson's Disease

Frank Carlucci
 Frank and Marcia Carlucci

Frank Carlucci has taken the offensive against Parkinson’s Disease. The former Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration, and today Chairman Emeritus of the Carlyle Group, Carlucci is confronting his illusive adversary on a number of fronts.

In addition to his generous contributions to the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology, his strategy involves lobbying for increased funding, supporting innovative medical companies, participating in studies, networking and making connections that will eventually ease the suffering of others stricken with this often debilitating malady.

His soft spoken demeanor belies his tenacity and strength. Only the slightest shaking in his arm is noticeable. About four years ago during a routine physical Carlucci mentioned some concern over his shaking arm and his inability to walk a straight line.

“The general practitioner said ‘nothing to worry about,” Carlucci says. It was his cardiologist who first diagnosed it. “I immediately started researching the disease and the leading physicians in the field on the web and Dr. Reich’s name kept popping up. I figured he was the man to see.”

Carlucci’s initial visit with Stephen G. Reich, MD, professor of neurology and co-director of the Maryland Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Neurology Ambulatory Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center was “an unusual experience. Dr. Reich had my profile in front of him, knew all about me, and seemed concerned about me as an individual. That’s unusual. He seemed to have a deep interest in me, so I decided to use him as my doctor,” says Carlucci.

Much about the causes of Parkinson’s Disease remains hidden. There is no cure. The most common pharmacological treatment — the use of artificial dopamine — has been prescribed since the 1960’s. Dr. Reich shared with Carlucci what was known about the causes and determined the most effective treatment regime. “I visit about once every three months for evaluation and Dr. Reich offers predictions on the progression of the disease,” says Carlucci. During one of these early visits, Dr. Reich handed Carlucci a pamphlet that presented an overview of the noteworthy research being conducted by the Department of Neurology.

“He indicated that if people wanted to make contributions they could. So I decided to make my first contribution and a little later I decided to double it. And just recently when they asked my wife, Marcia, and me to co-chair the 2006 Fund for Medicine Gala, I made an additional contribution,” says Carlucci.

“All of my gifts are used to support critical Parkinson’s research,” says Carlucci. “Dr. Reich is using the funds to support clinical research on Parkinson’s Disease.”

Subsequent to his diagnosis, he has become a key member of the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) Board, a federal lobbying organization for Parkinson’s advocacy in Washington, DC. “This is the national structure for a series of regional groups that lobby the federal government for increasing funds devoted for Parkinson’s research,” says Carlucci. “Two of the organizations that currently provide the most substantial funding for Parkinson’s research are the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. All kinds of non-defense related items are covered in the Defense Appropriations Bill,” explains Carlucci, “It’s called earmarking.”

Carlucci is also working with a company that is developing a new process for delivering dopamine to the brain. “They give you artificial dopamine,” says Carlucci, “but it doesn’t always transmit efficiently.  There is a barrier that prevents the dopamine from going into the brain.” This new delivery system may prove to be a significant breakthrough. “Only time will tell,” says Carlucci.

Stem cell research also offers some hope. “Unfortunately our government has a Luddite policy and will not fund it to the extent needed,” says Carlucci. “It is important for private investment to fill in the gap.”

Philanthropy in the field of medicine is critical according to Carlucci, and he plans on continuing his support of the University of Maryland School of Medicine as well as other institutions, organizations and companies that are
allied in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease.

But his endeavors in the health care arena extend beyond even this. “For a long time I felt that our medical system needs to be reformed. I helped create a group that is now advocating reform,” says Carlucci. Back in the seventies, Carlucci actually helped design an alternate healthcare program based on private insurance. “Americans need to have broader coverage,”says Carlucci.

“There are too many uninsured and underinsured individuals. We need a better program for cost containment and significant improvement in the quality of care.” The group is headed by former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham (Florida) and former Congressman Paul Rogers, and is comprised of more than 80 businesses. National reform is in order and the President has recognized that.

Carlucci considers the University of Maryland an exemplar of quality health care. “It is a quality institution that will go a long way to produce benefits for their patients; an institution that has a genuine interest in promoting good health among human beings.”

Frank Carlucci too has a genuine interest in promoting good health among human beings. These days you can again find him entrenched on the front line.

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