My Father, My Brother, and Me

Producers' Forum

Video Stories - Watch short stories Dave Iverson and Michael Schwarz filmed over the past two years while making My Father, My Brother, and Me.

Thank you!

By David Iverson on February 14, 2009 2:29 PM

Our online discussion has ended now, but you can still read everything our visitors, Dave Iverson, and contributing PD experts had to share by clicking here.

Thank you for helping to make this online forum a great success!

The Conversation Continues ...

By David Iverson on February 4, 2009 12:01 AM | Comments (11)

The live portion of our online discussion has now concluded -- click here to read what our viewers, Dave and PD experts had to say so far.

But we still want to hear what you have to share, too. Click here to post your comments, questions and stories. Dave Iverson and PD experts Ole Isaacson, Michael Zigmond and Bill Langston will check back periodically through next Tuesday, February 10 to answer your queries about PD and the film.

Dave will also be participating in a live chat at at 11 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Februrary 4. Click here to go to the Washington Post chat site.

Join Our Live Conversation Now!

By David Iverson on February 3, 2009 3:36 PM | Comments (173)

JOIN OUR LIVE POST-BROADCAST DISCUSSION! Now that you've watched the film, click here to share your
reactions to the film, tell your own stories of how PD has affected your life and ask any questions you may have about Parkinson's and the making of My Father, My Brother and Me. Correspondent Dave Iverson is logged on, ready to respond, and PD experts Ole Isaacson, Michael Zigmond and Bill Langston will also check in to answer questions over the next few hours. We'll be live from 10 p.m. ET until 12 a.m. PT -- join us now!

Hope for Parkinson's

By David Iverson on February 3, 2009 8:00 AM | Comments (5)

We hope you'll join our live online chat after the broadcast tonight. No doubt one question that will come up is whether or not we should be hopeful about Parkinson's. I've been thinking a lot about hope recently ... it's sort of hard not to these days, isn't it? And so in this last blog post, I'd like to say something about that four letter word.

Harvard chaplain and author Peter Gomes has written, "The only hope we've ever had is out in front of us, leading and guiding us to a place we've never been before." And that's essentially the challenge that's in front of both Parkinson's researchers and those living with the condition. We have to get to a place we haven't been before, and hope is central to what gets us there. No doubt we'll have plenty of setbacks on the road ahead ... no doubt there will be times when we feel the battle against Parkinson's won't be won.

But sometimes I think we focus too much on "winning" and "losing" the battle. And while I have no doubt that someday we'll find a cure for Parkinson's, I also recognize it may not be anytime soon. In the meantime, what we can do is fight the battle. And that's what gives me hope.  My colleagues and I have met so many dedicated researchers who stay up nights trying to solve this mystery. We've met so many people whose perseverance, adaptability and grace show the rest of us what it really means to win. I have hope because of all of them. I have hope because of my remarkable family. And I have hope because we can't afford to be without it. 

And don't forget -- we'll continue this conversation in our live online discussion following the broadcast tonight, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern time. See you back here tonight! 

"Shoes on Again" -- What I've Learned

By David Iverson on January 30, 2009 6:50 AM | Comments (7)

Now that our film is available online and the broadcast premiere is just a few days away, I've been thinking a lot about my experiences over this past year and a half of production.  When I was taping an interview about the film for NPR's Fresh Air (to air on Monday or Tuesday afternoon), Terry Gross asked me what I'd learned along the way. In my last few posts, I'd like to reflect a little on that question.

One thing I've been struck with time and again is how people with Parkinson's still accomplish remarkable things. Of course I think of my brother Peter, who despite receiving a Parkinson's diagnosis while still in his forties, has gone on to publish more than a dozen books about American Indian history and has received numerous awards including a Guggenhem Fellowship. As Regents' Professor at Arizona State University, he's successfully guided more American Indian history PhD students to completion than anyone in the field. As he says, "It's my 38th year as a college teacher and I still think it's the best job in the world."

And I think of someone like Time Magazine columnist Michael Kinsley, whose acerbic wit and extraordinary writing talent make him one of the keenest observers of American life. If you see Mike Kinsley's name on the byline, it's worth reading. And of course there's Michael J. Fox who's probably done more than anyone to raise both the awareness and the dollars it takes to fight Parkinson's.  As Michael notes in the film, "Parkinson's has asked so much of me that I would never have asked of myself." Parkinson's may ask a lot, but nobody has responded quite like Michael J. Fox

But I also think about less well known people we met, like Tom and Madeleine Shearer, who personify perseverance, humor, adaptability and positive thinking. Tom has PD. He was once one of San Francisco's most accomplished tax attorneys and Madeleine had a career in medical publishing. Today they focus on more mundane challenges, like getting into a car or putting on your shoes. But it's Tom who articulates -- with three short words and a smile -- an attitude that perhaps best sums up how to face the future: "Shoes on again," he says as another day begins.

All of these individuals look forward with courage and determination. They inspire me. And it's been the great good fortune of those of us who worked on the film -- including my colleagues and friends: co-producer Michael Schwarz, executive in charge of production Kiran Kapany, editor Gail Huddleson and photographer Vicente Franco -- to spend time with these individuals and all the others we were privileged to meet. We are honored to tell just a small part of their story. And we invite you to please tell yours in the comments section of this blog.

More on this topic next Tuesday...

New Features ... and Coming Soon, A Live Discussion

By David Iverson on January 29, 2009 11:48 AM | Comments (5)

Welcome to the updated My Father, My Brother and Me site! If you've visited before, you'll notice we've got a new look and lots of new features -- you'll find extended video from our interview with Michael J. Fox, answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Parkinson's, and more. But maybe most exciting, by just clicking the link on the homepage you can now watch our whole film right on this site (five days ahead of our broadcast premiere -- an online-only sneak preview). So take a look around, and use the comments feature here at the producer's forum to let us know what you think!

I'll still be posting here tomorrow and next Tuesday, as usual. Plus, after the film's broadcast next Tuesday, February 3, we'll be having a live online discussion here starting at 10 p.m. ET. I and some of the nation's preeminent Parkinson's experts will be on hand to discuss the film and answer your questions -- so be sure to log on!

When Parkinson's Runs in the Family

By David Iverson on January 27, 2009 5:54 AM | Comments (13)

If Parkinson's "runs" in your family, should you take a test to learn what the future may hold?

That's a dilemma that will increasingly confront more families in the future. Until recently, Parkinson's was not thought to have a genetic basis, but now scientists think family ties matter for a small, but not insignificant, percentage of people with the condition.

So if you have several family members with PD, should you get yourself tested? Ideally, the point of genetic testing is to identify a risk that you can do something about. For Parkinson's this would mean someone with a family history of the disease could take a test long before symptoms begin and then take a drug that would fix the genetic mutation, stopping the disease before it even starts. But we're not there yet. So in the meantime, given that testing is available but a cure isn't, what should families do?

This is where it gets very personal. Some people like the idea of knowing what may lie ahead. Others feel there's no point. In my own family, the "next generation" is taking a wait and see approach. At the moment, they feel they know what they need to know (including the value of exercise!) and that a genetic map of the future isn't that useful. But I also know of others, including Google founder Sergey Brin, who've made a different choice. It's a very personal question for which there's clearly no right or wrong approach.

What do you think? If there's a history of Parkinson's in your family, I'd be really curious to hear your views, so please add your comments using the button at the top of this post!

The Price of Science

By David Iverson on January 23, 2009 5:44 AM | Comments (3)

Today comes news that the FDA has approved the first human trial of human embryonic stem cells -- specifically to test the potential of the cells to treat spinal cord injuries. It's a major step forward in stem cell research, but I can't help also thinking about the dollars and cents implications of a study like this.

In his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of restoring science to "its rightful place," a call that I'm sure heartened researchers everywhere. But as we all know, our economy is currently facing enormous challenges, and the effects of the downturn have spread far beyond Wall Street -- University endowments that are key to funding scientific research are losing money, and some research projects -- including a Parkinson's project -- were even compromised by the Madoff affair. And ultimately, how much we spend on research will depend in part on other competing needs. So will returning science to "its rightful place" really mean an uptick in what we spend on research, or will other worthwhile efforts -- from education to defense -- trump what we spend on science? It's obviously too soon to know, but there's no question that in an era of competing financial demands, how we choose to spend research dollars will become even more crucial.

And that's why the role of the many Parkinson's foundations who support research is so crucial. The government-run NIH, the biggest funder of neurological disease research, can't do it all. As Dr. William Langston, the founder of the Parkinson's Institute, points out, "NIH isn't enough. You have to have money to chase new leads, to do things that NIH can't fund."  

So in an era of tight financing, which projects are most deserving of financial support? It's a tough question. On the one hand, we don't want to shortchange long-range projects whose payoff may not be imminent. On the other, those of us with a chronic condition want to see research aimed at what will benefit patients the soonest. In the end, restoring science to its "rightful place" is not just about deciding what that place is, but also how much it costs.

What research do you think deserves funding even in these strapped times? Who do you think should decide which projects get funded?

Will Stem Cells Be the Answer?

By David Iverson on January 20, 2009 11:26 AM | Comments (2)

Well, today we have a new President! And while President Obama has plenty to contend with early on, it's widely expected that one early action he'll take will be to reverse the stem cell funding policy initiated by President Bush in 2001. As I mentioned in my last post, our film chronicles the long contentious debate over federal stem cell funding. But beyond the controversy, where does the science itself stand? Parkinson's is often cited as a principal beneficiary of stem cell science. That's because if stem cells could be nurtured into becoming dopamine producing neurons, they could help make up for the cells that die in Parkinson's. The trick, as Harvard neuroscientist Ole Isacson explained to me when I interviewed him, is to grow just the right cells. It's a complex process that Isacson says is a bit like cultivating just the right seeds for your garden. (To read more about his work, check out this overview of the projects his lab does and this article.)

But one of the things I learned while working on the film is that Parkinson's is complicated. While stem cells may well prove to be a source of dopamine production, there are other symptoms that frequently plague people with PD that can't be easily explained by a neurotransmitter deficiency ... everything from loss of sense of smell to constipation. Bill Langston -- head of the Parkinson's Institute and another voice in our film -- has some useful thoughts on the complexity and what lies ahead in this article

So as we begin the new Obama era,  it's worth remembering that as all of us know, Parkinson's is no easy foe, and the task ahead will be daunting. Yet I also think we can be hopeful -- no matter our politics -- about what science, in ways still unimagined, will bring us in the years ahead.

Tiny Cells, Big Debate

By David Iverson on January 16, 2009 5:33 AM | Comments (1)

In November of 1998, two things happened that put Parkinson's in the headlines.

One was Michael J. Fox stepping forward and revealing his struggle with the disease, and the other had to do with a research breakthrough: the discovery of embryonic stem cells as a potential route to a cure. While the first sparked both admiration and support, the second proved far more contentious. Because embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the body, they've been the source of enormous hope for fixing certain conditions, Parkinson's among them. But because the source of the cells are tiny frozen embryos left over from fertility clinics, it's also been the source of controversy, and within a few years, President Bush established strictly limited federal funding guidelines for embryonic stem cell research (guidelines that the Obama administration is expected to change ... keep your eye on the headlines in the coming weeks).

Like so many topics in our political culture, this debate has often been polarizing, colored by rhetoric instead of reason. But two of the most articulate commentators on this topic are columnists Michael Kinsley and Charles Krauthammer. Kinsley has Parkinson's and wrote a wonderfully candid column about his own "coming out" in 2001 that also includes his views on stem cells as an option we can't afford not to explore. Krauthammer suffers from a spinal cord injury that might also someday benefit from embryonic stem cell research, but he raises thoughtful concerns about the moral issues. While he thinks the guidelines established by the Bush administration were too narrow, he worries that we may be rushing into very murky terrain. Here's one of his columns on the subject.

You'll hear from both of them in our film -- it's now less than two weeks to our online launch! -- but I would also encourage you to browse their writings. Their views are worth exploring beyond what we were able to fit in our 60 minute show.

And as always, we're interested in hearing what you think as well. Where do you come down on this important debate?  

posted january 29, 2009

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