“There are many things we do not know about Parkinson’s and with this donation we have the opportunity to change the paradigm of taking charge of this devastating disease. The collaboration with the Italian Scientific and Medical communities is a key element of this program which will benefit both countries. I thought it was right to allocate my donations to the two countries to which I am bound by particular gratitude; Italy that gave me birth and education and the United States that gave me generous opportunities for professional growth. “
Fresco Parkinson Institute
The story of the Fresco Parkinson Institute Italy begins right here in the gardens overlooking Villa Allodola, the house that my wife and I had purchased as our “buen retiro” returning from a long period of time abroad of more than twenty years, first in London and then in New York.
Marlène has been my home and my joy for almost half a century. Solar woman, she was the ideal companion, my everlasting source of optimism and joie de vivre, natural qualities that she personified.
One morning of March 2005 we were walking together among the olive trees in our garden. She tripped and fell and burst into that contagious laugh, an irrepressible “fou rire” that always possessed her when she saw someone falling or falling herself. I laughed with her too, but I thought that these falls had repeated often, too often in recent times. So, with a joyful laugh, our personal odyssey actually began. After countless visits with orthopedists and gerontologists, neurologists diagnosed her with a form of Parkinsonism. I remember my first reaction was to rejoice that at least it was not a true Parkinson, but the neurologist told me that unfortunately it was its bad, very bad cousin. At the time, I knew nothing about these diseases. I learned the hard way with Marlène.
We had already thought that, having no children, we would have dedicated most of our savings to charity work and therefore we decided to make the fight against Parkinson’s the first objective of our foundation.
I talked about it with American friends, Jack Welch who had been my boss at General Electric for many years and Ken Langone who was President of NYU Langone Hospital in New York as well as with my Italian longtime friends. I concluded that I would make a donation to benefit both the United States, the country that allowed me to have a brilliant work career, and Italy, my country of origin: two countries to which I owed a lot and felt obliged to give back, to return what I had received from them.
We started with a large donation to New York University that became our scientific partner.
Our project was strengthening………whilst my Marlène was weakening.
In 2015, we established an Italian organization, the Fresco Parkinson Institute Italia, based here in Fiesole. With the help of our American partners we created a network of Italian centers specializing in treatment and rehabilitation for Parkinson’s patients as well as in research aspects. We supported these activities and the development of collaborative projects among these centers and between them, as Italian network, with our American partners.
My experience at General Electric had taught me that the dialogue between the two cultures, between Cartesian rigor and free creativity could generate a very powerful mixture. The progress achieved, the recognition of our network by the American Parkinson’s Foundation confirm this original intuition.
Over time, Marlène and I had understood, unfortunately from our direct experience, the importance of the assistance during the arduous path of the disease for both the patient and the caregiver. We continued to devote attention to the search for a definitive cure but our priority had become the quality of life of the patients and their loved ones. Nobody will live forever, but everyone could live better.
To improve the quality of life of the people living with Parkinson it is not enough to entrust it to specialized neurologists. Important resources are speech language therapists, nurses, physiotherapists, personal trainers and, last but not least, the caregivers. However, all these figures must be specially trained to deal with the symptoms and the daily needs of people affected by Parkinson and related diseases.
For this reason, alongside with the network of public and private structures that we have built between the two sides of the Atlantic, I created the Fresco Academy. The main objective of the Academy is to further the education of professional figures and caregivers and to provide them with the necessary tools for improving the life of people with Parkinson and their families.
Marlène left us at the end of 2015; my brother Alberto in 2019 was struck down by the same disease. I have assisted them with all my strength in the fight against the disease: unfortunately, together we lost the war, but I know that together we have made our paths easier.
When faced with an important decision, I always ask myself: would Marlène and Alberto approve it?
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