Helping patients today: The Brain and Mind Research Institute

The Ducharme Family
Helping patients today: The Brain and Mind Research Institute

“Six months ago, I’d be having a conversation in the kitchen with my dad and he would just start falling backwards (…). To see him get up there, dance with my little sister and make it look almost easy was unbelievable and such a gift to my family and my dad.” - Élie Ducharme

For Robert Ducharme, Parkinson’s disease can feel as if someone else is controlling his body.

But when Ducharme’s daughter Zoé was getting married, he promised that he would dance with her at the wedding.

“We had a pact,” the 61-year-old father says.

When the first notes of “Stand By Me” began to play at her reception in July, he was ready to deliver — thanks to the University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute (uOBMRI).

The institute’s Integrated Parkinson’s Care Network connects patients like Ducharme with therapies that help them manage their symptoms, in his case, specialized speech, occupational and physical therapy at the University’s Interprofessional Rehabilitation Clinic.

Parkinson’s disease affects 55,000 Canadians. Symptoms begin when patients lose the brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical involved in movement. As dopamine decreases, patients can develop tremors and movement becomes slower and more rigid. The cause is unknown and there is no cure.

Ducharme was diagnosed in 2002. Brain surgery in 2008 dramatically reduced his severe tremors, but did not stop the progression of the disease, which affects his balance and speech.

The therapy he was able to access through uOBMRI made an enormous difference.

“Six months ago, I’d be having a conversation in the kitchen with my dad and he would just start falling backwards. I would have to catch him and bring him back,” says his son Élie. “To see him get up there, dance with my little sister and make it look almost easy was unbelievable and such a gift to my family and my dad.”

The bride, Zoé, attended almost as many physiotherapy sessions as dress fittings so she could practise with her father.

“My father promised me he would walk me down the aisle and dance with me, and that he would give a speech. And with my dad, it is promise made, promise kept.”

His speech at the wedding brought guests to tears.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. You could tell with every syllable, with every pause, with every inflection, every breath he was doing one of the hardest things in his life so far,” says Élie. “My father was a guy who had a lot of interpersonal skills. You could see Parkinson’s affected his confidence and self-esteem. So his ability to deliver that speech seemed to give him back some of that.”

At uOBMRI, personalized care combines with research.  There is an intensely collaborative culture that brings bench scientists and physicians together. More than 200 researchers and clinicians are working on new treatments for Parkinson’s, stroke, mental illness and other diseases. But they are also determined to improve the lives of patients today, by offering more integrated, personalized treatment plans based on research findings.

More than 90 uOttawa donors contributed to uOBMRI in 2015-2016, helping to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families.

“Donors are so important to uOBMRI’s mission,” says Director David Park, a Parkinson’s researcher. “We are very grateful for your support.”

A Faculty of Medicine student at work in one of the Faculty's lab

A Faculty of Medicine student at work in one of the Faculty's lab

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