Adam and Alan Truitt Determined to Further Parkinson’s Research
MONTROSE – As many as 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year, joining the nearly one million in the United States already living with the condition. When Olathe resident Adam Truitt's father, Alan, an avid mountaineer and world traveler, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2009, the Truitt family was devastated.
Now father and son are on a trek to Mt. Everest to raise support for a viable cure.
Adam, 39, has been the principal of Delta Middle School for the past year, and worked in school districts in Montrose and Telluride before that. He has been a Olathe resident for the past 10 years, and for the next three weeks, he and his father will head out on a new mountain adventure.
"Climbing, skiing and playing outside has just been a part of what we do as a father and son team," Adam said.
Alan, a resident of Ramona, Calif., is one of eight participants in a pilot program involving the use of non-embryonic stem cells to treat Parkinson's disease. Summit4StemCell is a San Diego nonprofit organization leading the trip to Everest’s base camp at 17,600 ft. The trip is designed to raise money and awareness for the non-embryonic stem cell research project, a groundbreaking treatment program currently underway at The Scripps Research Institute.
"Adam and I are trekking to Everest Base Camp to call attention to a groundbreaking treatment for Parkinson’s,” Alan said.
There is no known cause of Parkinson's, which causes the loss of dopamine in the brain, and currently there is no complete cure for the disease.
Parkinson’s results from the death of a victim’s dopamine neurons; visible symptoms occur when approximately 80 percent of these neurons, which are located in the brain, die.
In the Scripps project, Alan said, a biopsy has been taken of each patient’s skin cells, for reprogramming into induced pluripotent stem cells.
As the research proceeds, the stem cells will be reengineered into dopamine neurons, and placed in project participants’ brains, replacing the dead neurons. Using the patient’s own stem cells for the research eliminates ethical concerns voiced by some about using embryonic stem cells for medical purposes. Since these stem cells come from patients themselves, the procedure also reduces, if not eliminates, the chance of cell rejection by the body.
"When he found out that he had Parkinson's, it was an emotional time for us all,” said Adam. Then, “As the dust began to settle, my father found a grassroots nonprofit organization called Summit4stemcell, a research team that examines the effects of non-embryonic stem cells on the human brain.
"If we can fill up the tank and refill the brain with fresh new dopamine-producing cells, we can essentially rid patients of their symptoms,” he added. “This new approach actually won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2012.”
Non-embryonic induced pluripotent stem cells can be programed to replace many other types of cells in the body, including cardiac and spinal cells.
In 2011, Alan joined an all-Parkinson's climbing team in summiting Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, raising over $1 million towards a $3.9 million goal for not only future research, but also FDA approval of the new treatment.
The father-son trip to Everest has been in the planning stages for the past two years. This week, the Truitts will be landing in Kathmandu, on the first leg of their three-week trek to base camp, through dozens of small villages along the way.
"When my father first asked me to accompany him on this trek, so much crossed my mind. How can I take the time off school? How can I get in the shape I need to be in? Most importantly, how can I make this happen for my father and this mission, to make his life better?” Adam said. “The trek to Everest base camp is nothing short of monumental for anyone, and for those men and women facing this life-altering illness, and the people devoting themselves to finding the cure, it is even more so.
"This is much more than an opportunity for me to travel to a region of the world I've only dreamt of; it’s an opportunity for me to spend priceless time with my father doing what we love to do.”
Ten people, including Alan and two other Parkinson’s patients, are on their way towards the famed mountain base camp. Each person is paying his or her own expenses, and all money raised will fund the research.
"Trekking to Everest Base Camp requires me to continue my physical fitness regimen, which is one of the things I do have control over,” said Alan. “It recommits my spirit to adventure in all areas of my life, while also continuing to trek on my Parkinson’s journey. One step at a time, one boot in front to the other.”
Adam said he will be returning on November 2. He was already looking forward to reuniting with his wife, Kristi, and their kids – 2-year-old Matti, 5-year-old Haili and 7-year-old Rye. For updated reports from the trek, visit www.summit4stemcell.org and click on “Podcasts from Mt. Everest” at the top of the page.
The international guiding company Alpine Ascents is leading the hikers to the base camp. Cybercasts from the trek guide, Vern Tejas, a ten-time Everest summiteer can be found at www.alpineascents.com.
Follow Adam Truitt at Twitter.com/mountainteacher. To make a donation, visit www.summit4stemcell.org.