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Patient turned advocate Ann Hanley inspires fundraiser for Parkinson’s research


By Laura Dawahare
Special to KyForward

Last week, more than 300 people gathered to honor a special person and her work.

That person is Ann Hanley. Her work: the Ann Hanley Parkinson’s Research Fund, which supports research at the University of Kentucky.

Hanley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 49. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease that damages and eventually destroys neurons in the brain, causing muscle rigidity and tremors, difficulty moving, unstable posture and ultimately death. It is estimated about 10 million people worldwide have the disease, which has no cure.

“I pretty much lived the gamut of everything that you could possibly expect when you hear a diagnosis like this one. And it wasn’t easy,” Hanley said.

Dr. Craig Van Horne with advocate Ann Hanley at the Night for a Cure (UK Now Photo)

Dr. Craig Van Horne with advocate Ann Hanley at the Night for a Cure (UK Now Photo)

But instead of letting fear get her down, she’s focusing her energy on lifting other Parkinson’s patients up.

Hanley shadows Dr. Craig Van Horne, a neurosurgeon with the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute at the University of Kentucky, as he sees his patients.

“Each time the patient comes into the clinic, I sit with them, I talk with them, I educate them,” Hanley said. “I do whatever it takes to keep them going, one foot after the other, one day after the other to make sure they never quit, they never give up.”

That includes following them into the operating room and sitting with them through Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery – a technique that can relieve Parkinson’s symptoms for some patients.

“Most DBS surgeries require the patients to be awake during the procedure, which can take as many as five hours to complete. That can produce a lot of anxiety for the patient,” explained Dr. Van Horne. “Having Ann there holding their hand and talking with them about their ‘happy place’ is extremely calming.”

Ann’s work was so moving that she was recently featured on WLEX-TV’s “Making a Difference.”

Even as Ann made a difference in the lives of literally hundreds of Parkinson’s patients, she felt she could do more. So as the wife of WinStar Farm’s General Manager David Hanley, she reached out to the thoroughbred community to raise money in support of Dr. Van Horne’s research.

The industry enthusiastically embraced her efforts. Fasig-Tipton, Coolmore Farm and WinStar Farm teamed up to host “Night for A Cure,” raising around $300,000 for Ann’s fund with a dinner, entertainment and an auction which featured some unusual equine-themed items, such as a framed American Pharaoh halter and a breeding season to Mshawish (Medaglia d’Oro), a recently retired Grade I winner on dirt and turf.

“I can’t begin to thank the many wonderful people who have loved and supported me with this cause,” Hanley said. “It has brought attention to our cause and allowed us to raise funds that will ultimately speed us on our way to better treatments and a possible cure for this devastating and incurable disease.”

Dr. Van Horne has been exploring a novel approach to Parkinson’s treatment by transplanting peripheral nerve tissue from the ankle into the brain during a regularly scheduled DBS procedure. Called “DBS+,” the technique has shown remarkable results, with a vast majority of patients seeing a dramatic reduction in symptoms.

“This kind of research science can take years and lifetimes. Patients, myself included, don’t have time, the clock constantly ticks and we are very aware of it,” said Hanley.

“As a front seat spectator in this research I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to these doctors. With this new funding we can move ahead with the next phase of our research, which will help confirm the promising results we’ve seen thus far.”

According to Lisa Deaton Greer, UK HealthCare’s Director of Philanthropy, Hanley’s activism has an impact beyond dollars and cents.

“Ann’s enthusiastic efforts to raise money for Parkinson’s research at UK is commendable – we couldn’t achieve our research goals without the support of people like Ann. But beyond that, Ann’s leadership has ensured that hundreds of people now understand the tragedy of Parkinson’s disease and are committed to share in her fight.”

“That kind of organic, grass-roots advocacy makes a huge difference.”

For more information about the Ann Hanley Parkinson’s Research Fund, go to this line.

Laura Dawahare writes for UK Now. Reach her at Laura.Dawahare@uky.edu


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