Our YOPD Council series brings together people diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s for a monthly discussion on topics that are unique to their experience, including work, parenting, dating, disability, finances, and much more. We'll be kicking of the new year with our first session on February 17. Come join us!
Meet the 2022 yopd council leaders
Michael S. Fitts
Michael S. Fitts is assistant dean for user access and diversity at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB Libraries). In 2001, he became the first African American faculty member of the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences and later went on to become both the first African American assistant director and assistant dean. In 2015, he was appointed to the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative — an organization whose primary goal is to promote the health and wellness of people with disabilities. Michael, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2011 at age 38, serves as an advocate for the education of those with early onset Parkinson’s.
Karen Frank is a retired Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and now spends her time helping physicians and nurses who struggle with substance abuse. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 47 in 2018, she focuses on following her passion to help others overcome challenges in their own lives. No stranger to overcoming adversity, Karen proudly maintains longstanding sobriety after overcoming drug and alcohol addiction many years ago. Her own recovery experience set her on a path to become a peer advisor to other medical professionals experiencing similar life challenges.
In addition, Karen is an active public speaker with the Missouri Physician Health Program and the Missouri State Medical Association, where she speaks to groups of physicians about overcoming trauma and adversity and recovering from substance abuse within the medical profession. Karen started New Directions Coaching, where she mentors physicians and nurses who battle addiction, alcoholism, and other disorders.
Karen brings this same passion for living well in her recovery to living well with Parkinson’s. She now serves as an Ambassador for the Davis Phinney Foundation and thrives when helping others embrace living well with Parkinson’s. More recently she has begun coaching people with Parkinson’s to improve their lives as they navigate living with chronic illness. She also formed and leads a YOPD support group for the St. Louis Chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association.
Kat Hill is a retired midwife who now focuses on sharing wellness resources with her community in Oregon and far beyond. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 48, she retired from her busy and extremely demanding practice to shift her efforts towards health and wellness. Along with her husband and children, Kat has learned about Social Security disability and how to live a more simple life.
Kat co-founded a young onset Parkinson’s support group with the help of their state resource program and has been involved in speaking and advocacy. Kat believes that every day is a gift and that we can learn to live with joy and gratitude, even with challenges. Kat says “Learning to thrive and tap into our resilience is an art and a practice. With time and practice I am finding joy daily and practicing acceptance for the things I cannot change.”
Heather Kennedy is the founder of Kathleen Kiddo, an advocacy site offering resources and connection through her writing and vlogs. An entertaining speaker known for her unique talks and film presentations about living with Parkinson’s, Heather writes from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since her diagnosis in 2011, she has collaborated with organizations such as the Davis Phinney Foundation, Brian Grant Foundation, Parkinson’s Life, and The World Parkinson Coalition.
Kevin Kwok is a recently retired biopharmaceutical operations and consulting executive who combines his 30 years of career experience with his firsthand knowledge about living and thriving with Parkinson’s. He earned his Doctorate in Clinical Pharmacy from the University of Michigan, where he serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council. He previously was managing director at the leading executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates, where he led the North American Life Science practice.
Diagnosed in his late 40s with YOPD, Kevin has mindfully pivoted his work and personal life to become a super advocate for people living with Parkinson’s. Kevin joined the Davis Phinney Foundation Board of Directors in 2015 and maintains an active and fulfilled life by embodying the Foundation’s mantra, “Every Victory Counts.” He recently relocated from his home of 25+ years in San Francisco to immerse himself in the vibrant outdoor opportunities available in Colorado. In retirement, he continues to stress the importance of patient-centered care and speaks passionately on all issues Parkinson’s.
Robynn Moraites works tirelessly to destigmatize mental health conversations with lawyers. Outside of her work, she lives for a good adventure or an involved Enneagram discussion. She loves to think expansively understanding that the possibilities for tomorrow arise out of our most far-fetched ideas.
Tom Palizzi is actively engaged in the global Parkinson’s community, serving on the board of directors for a national Parkinson’s foundation and patient advisory council, while remaining actively involved with public policy and disease legislation. Locally, he leads his Pedaling for Parkinson’s indoor cycling class three days a week, and you can also catch him speaking to support groups. “Being active and engaged is key,” says Tom. “With Parkinson’s, you can’t simply rely on the medication. Exercise, positive attitude, and being active in the community all contribute to help you live well.”
Tom, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008 at the age of 48, quickly realized he knew very little about Parkinson’s but enough to know that his life would be changing. “Parkinson’s certainly has its challenges,” says Tom, “but you can live well and live well for a long time.” As an Ambassador, he hopes to help others understand how they, too, can live well.
Sree was diagnosed with YOPD in 2015 but knew something was not working properly in her body years beforehand, when she noticed non-motor symptoms in her 20s and motor symptoms in her 30s. Sree has been documenting her journey in writing and photography, slowly working within these and other mediums to create a narrative that helps her understand the many ways life has changed post diagnosis.
Sree currently works full-time in tech, sits on the Board of Directors for a local arts nonprofit, is working on personal photography and writing projects, and squeezes in naps whenever possible due to the constant fatigue she battles with Parkinson’s. Sree became involved with the Davis Phinney Foundation not only to make a difference but also to increase representation in the South Asian community. Sree also co-founded the Women’s Parkinson’s Project, a website where she and her “two sisters with Parkinson’s”, as she likes to say, curate stories, bring awareness and representation, and raise the voices of women with Parkinson’s.