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Queen’s Alumni Walk 500 Miles for Parkinson’s

Harry McMurtry (left) and Sue Thompson went to the same high school, both studied at Queen’s, and being athletically inclined, both played varsity sports. And yet despite being in the same place at the same time many times in their young lives, the two never met until decades later. It wasn’t because of their hometown or university connection; it was because of a mutual diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Harry was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005. Just five years later, his career was cut short, and he retired from the legal profession. Since his diagnosis, Harry has been raising awareness about the disease, and raising funds to support Parkinson’s research.

Just over a year ago, Harry set a plan in motion to walk 500 miles for Parkinson’s. In 2011, Harry had deep brain stimulation surgery, performed by Dr. Andres Lozano who I appointed as head of neurosurgery when I was chair at University of Toronto. “In 2014, my specialist adjusted the stimulation so that it virtually eliminated my involuntary movements,” says Harry. “Amongst other benefits, my gait improved dramatically. Later that year, while walking in Central Park, I thought of walking as an activity that demonstrated I was living well with Parkinson’s. At that moment, I came up with the concept of connecting my new home city with my former one. Five hundred miles is the approximate distance from New York City to Toronto.”

As the planning began, Harry started to promote his ‘500 Miles for Parkinson’s’ walk and a friend of Sue Thompson’s (right) shared the initiative with her through social media. Sue has Parkinson’s disease too, and was compelled get involved. The two connected, and soon Sue had jumped on board to walk the 500 miles along with Harry.

The walk, which entails up to 15-mile distances each day, will take a total of 45 days. This amount of physical activity is an incredible feat for anyone with Parkinson’s disease.

In order to make this walk a reality, Harry has been supported by many volunteers who are working behind the scenes. Here at Queen’s, Jasmin Cameron, an adjunct instructor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and Dr. Karen Graham from the Department of Emergency Medicine, have led a team that is organizing a series of events in order to celebrate the walkers as they pass through Kingston and to raise funds for the cause.

It is incredible to see how this grassroots effort has snowballed, and to see that a truly interprofessional team has come together to support the team’s health needs. In addition to event planning, Jasmin will coordinate the walkers’ therapy needs on the ground during the walk, while Dr. Tom Miller, who is a Queen’s medicine alumnus (’89) will provide medical oversight for the walkers and for the therapists. Given the unpredictable impacts of endurance walking on three persons with Parkinson’s Disease, the team will engage physiotherapists, athletic therapists and massage therapists who will be available to provide treatment both on rest days and during the walk.

I wish Harry and Sue all the best in their walk, and I invite you to welcome them to Kingston on June 7th at 5:30pm at Fort Henry’s Discovery Centre. Click here for a list of all of the walk’s Kingston events, and click here for more information about 500 Miles for Parkinson’s.

Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House…my door is always open.

My thanks to Jen Valberg for her help in preparing this blog.

Peter Istvan

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:10

Thanks for making a difference in the lives of people with Parkinson’s.
Peter Istvan, ’91, ’93,’97

Peter Istvan


Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:10

This disease is so under investigated? Wrong words, but no one cares because it’s not cancer.


Dear Chris,

I would agree that awareness of Parkinson’s is important. That said, I would suggest that a lot of research is actively going on. In fact, Dr. Lozano, who performed the surgery mentioned in the blog,and who has a focus on research for Parkinson’s disease, is one of the most prolific surgical research scientists in Canada.



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