An interview with Eric Aquino from the Gray Strong Foundation on August 24, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Gray Strong Foundation was incorporated in 2018. After 12 yrs. of fundraising and raising awareness for individuals with cancer and their families. I was diagnosed with early Onset Parkinson’s at the age of 40. Being the President of a nonprofit organization, and with the support of my family and close friends, we saw the need and opportunity to raise awareness for what him and more than 10 million people worldwide are living with PD are going through.
Please tell me a little about your background.
I am from Easton; Pennsylvania and I was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s. I am an active emergency medical technician (EMT) diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in February 2018.
My background is mostly in healthcare. I worked in many jobs in the healthcare industry. Right before I started the Gray Strong Foundation, I worked with a foundation fighting Cancer. I walked 39 miles walk for breast Cancer. I also volunteered at the Boston walk.
We hold many community events including our 2006 Ford E350 Ambulance rolling memorial. I started the Gray Strong Foundation in memory of my grandmother Christina who suffered from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer disease.
Can you tell me more about the Gray Strong Foundation?
Gray Strong Foundation helps individuals #moveforwardwithparkinsons by providing medical needs and program resource support for Parkinson’s patients and their families. Founded by local EMT, Eric Aquino, Gray Strong Foundation offers much needed support and Parkinson’s disease (PD) awareness to the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas via fundraising initiatives, @tremblingEMT social media tips and podcasts, medial resource information and exercise programs. Aquino is no stranger to generating successful non-profit organizations as a former chapter President of a local Pink Heals chapter (easily recognized by their pink fire trucks) and current Michael J. Fox Foundation Ambassador.
..is to help individuals and their families move forward with Parkinson’s. All while raising awareness in the community.
.. is to create a supportive, educational and therapeutic environment to provide Parkinson’s patients and their families a resource to come together in a friendly environment where they can discuss, share stories an idea and learn proven exercises to help live a longer, more functional life.
Gray Strong Foundation incorporated in 2018.
After 12yrs of fundraising and raising awareness for cancer & their families, our Founder was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 40. Being the President of a nonprofit organization, with the support of his family & close friends, they saw the need & opportunity to raise awareness for what him and more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s Disease are going through.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
I experienced resting tremors for a couple years and his grandmother had Parkinson’s, so the diagnosis wasn’t as much of a shock as it is for some patients. While tremors are still among the most challenging symptoms he faces, he also points out how difficult it can be to manage anxiety, a common non-motor symptom of the disease (MJFF, 2019).
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?
Helping individuals and their families move forward with Parkinson’s. While raising awareness and support for those suffering from neurological disorders.
What effect can it have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
We love our community. We strive to make our community the best it can be. We love hosting community events such as tricky trays, lecture series, and more!
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?
To continue to support people in the Parkinson’s community and always be a resource for the them because it is not going to go away for awhile and I will always be here for everyone.
What events do you participate in?
The Parkinson’s Foundation
Sea of Thieves Scavenger Hunt
Join the Parkinson’s Foundation as some special pirate’s head out to scavenge the seas. Whoever collects all their booty first will be the winner!
Check out all the action at www.twitch.tv/parkinsondotorg
Learn more and register at bit.ly/BethlehemRR
World Parkinson’s Congress
How does the Gray Strong Foundation also assist the caregivers?
We work to also provide resources and support for caregivers https://www.graystrong.org/moving-forward-guide
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
Trembling EMT (Podcast)
Trembling EMT is a podcast following Eric Aquino’s journey with Parkinson’s disease. What started off as a suggestion for his sister has become an outlet for telling his unique journey. Diagnosed in his 40s with Parkinson’s, you will find a younger voice here, as he debunks the myth that Parkinson’s is an “old people disease”. Trembling EMT Podcast is full of candid stories and chock full of interviews with people living with Parkinson’s, physical therapists and others involved with Moving Forward with Parkinson’s.
For the podcast head to https://www.graystrong.org/trembling-emt-podcast
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
Individuals can visit many support groups at https://www.graystrong.org/support-groups
Our Foundation also has our own group:
Meet the 3rd Wednesday of each month. There is a morning session from 11:00am – 12:30am and an evening session from 5:30pm – 7:00pm. Please email to pre-register.
LOCATION: Fowler Family Southside Center, Room 623, 511 E. 3rd Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
PD is a lonely disease, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of people out there to help and willing to help so always reach out.
Keep moving forward, never give up.
Gray Strong Foundation (2023). About us. Retrieved from https://www.graystrong.org/about-us
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (2019). Living Life to the Fullest with Parkinson’s. Retrieved from https://www.michaeljfox.org/news/living-life-fullest-parkinsons
Wright, E. (2020). EMT becomes voice of support for others living with Parkinson’s Disease. Retrieved from https://www.wfmz.com/news/area/lehighvalley/emt-becomes-voice-of-support-for-others-living-with-parkinson/article_df0751a4-58e8-11ea-a1cd-c32c0fa70e51.html