Dr. Jonathan Squires and Larry Gifford in the Movement Disorders Clinic at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. Image source: Global BC News/Larry Gifford.
“One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered about the scientific community is that the researchers are so passionate about what they are doing,” says Larry Gifford, Senior Program Director at CKNW and Global News. “When you think about scientists you think about their brains, but what I’ve been really struck by is the heart they put into their work.”
We first met Larry Gifford in September, when he visited the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health to film a series of interviews with researchers including Dr. Matt Farrer, whom he met at a Porridge for Parkinson’s event last year, and neurologist Dr. Jonathan Squires for a special series on Parkinson’s disease (PD) on Global BC. Gifford, who has worked in radio broadcasting both on air and behind the scenes for nearly 30 years, is a natural storyteller who has been demystifying the disease for listeners around the world on his podcast, When Life Gives You Parkinson’s.
Gifford was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in August 2017, at age 45. He remains actively employed in local media, and since revealing his diagnosis during a Global BC special on World Parkinson’s Day (April 11, 2018), Gifford has been using his platform to explore PD from every angle in order to shine a light on a disease that many people do not know very much about. Recent podcast episodes have explored the link between PD and depression and anxiety, the role of exercise as a therapeutic intervention, and the way PD challenges aspects of our lives we may take for granted, like pet ownership.
“The idea with the podcast was always to ground the story of Parkinson’s disease in the personal – my experience, and the experiences of others with PD – in consultation with neurologists, geneticists, and others in research to provide expertise and context,” says Gifford. “It’s a little bit about me, but it’s also about anyone with PD. Our experiences are so different, and our stories are all unique. At the end, I like to bring it home and talk about the personal impacts of PD – the complexities of caregiving, what it’s like to live with a parent with PD – it’s something different every week.”
The podcast, despite its relatively short history online, was selected as one of Apple’s best podcasts of 2018. For Gifford, this speaks to the uniqueness of the topic, and the appetite for this type of content.
“More than 10 million people around the world have PD,” says Gifford, who was invited to join the board of the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Institute (PPRI) in September. “We need to keep telling our stories, to raise awareness, to drive funding for research. It’s in research where we will discover new treatments and hopefully one day a cure. With PPRI, I am in a position where I feel like I can make a direct impact in that regard. But, whether it’s fundraising or advocacy, I’m happy to help however I can.”
Gifford and his team will complete season 1 in April, and will take a hiatus until season 2 premiers in the fall. In the meantime, Gifford and his family will travel to Kyoto, Japan this summer to take part in the World Parkinson Congress in July.
The podcast is a part of Corus Entertainment’s CuriousCast podcast division, and is produced in partnership with Parkinson Canada. Most recently, Gifford spoke with Dr. Silke Cresswell on the gut-brain connection and the signature that neurodegenerative disease leaves throughout your body. Next week’s episode will feature a conversation with Dr. Farrer, who is working on understanding the genetic underpinnings of PD.
To learn more about When Life Gives You Parkinson’s, subscribe via Google Podcasts or iTunes, or follow along with the recaps (and bonus episodes) each week on globalnews.ca. To connect with Larry Gifford, follow along on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.