An interview with Meredith DeFranco, PT, DPT from Parkinsonlife (pdLIFE) on July 27, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Meredith Defranco received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in Exercise Physiology in 2006. In 2009, she earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Duke University. After one year in orthopedic private practice in Jupiter, Florida, she returned to Gainesville to work at UF Health Shands, joining the interdisciplinary team at the Fixel Institute for Neurologic Diseases.
During her tenure with a team of world class physicians and allied health professionals, she developed a strong passion for caring for people with Parkinson’s disease. She has participated in the National Parkinson’s Foundation Allied Team Training, Movement Disorder Society meetings, the World Parkinson Congress, and sat on the deep brain stimulation board to assist with the process of screening potential surgical candidates. She has developed an extensive knowledge base in managing patients with movement disorders and neuro degenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, atypical parkinsonisms, Huntington’s disease, ataxia, dystonia, multiple sclerosis, and ALS.
Meredith is also a proponent of student education, outreach, and wellness. She is an APTA credentialed clinical instructor, mentoring students over the past eleven years. Meredith believes in the promotion of wellness for her patients, prescribing exercise like medicine, and advocating for therapy services throughout the spectrum of chronic conditions. She is excited to continue to share her skill set with the Tampa area and excited to manage our growing team that provides services for people with Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to clinical care for people impacted by Parkinson’s disease, Meredith founded a local 501- 3C non-profit organization, The Parkinsonlife Corporation to help unite the PD community of the Bay Area. pdLIFE was founded to help reinvigorate community programs during the Covid 19 pandemic. The organization hosts weekly exercise classes, support groups, educational meetings, and social activities. pdLIFE also facilitates collaboration amongst the PD providers in all the surrounding counties to enhance access to care.
Outside of physical therapy practice and community service, Meredith is a mother to two boys that love to play soccer and is an avid runner, completing the Boston Marathon ten times.
Please tell me a little about your background and what got you involved with awareness.
As a practicing physical therapist, I was fortunate enough to work with the team at the University of Florida for nearly a decade of my career. I was always inspired by my colleagues, the patients, and the families we served. Upon relocating to Tampa Florida, I knew I had to use the skills and knowledge I was afforded at UF to do more in the community where Parkinson’s services are in need. We started pdLIFE to allow for reintegration during Covid. We hosted outside exercise classes and social activities to help counteract the impact of isolation.
Can you tell me more about the foundation?
Since Covid, we have become a 5013C non-profit organization and have grown significantly. We were fortunate to receive 3 Parkinson’s Foundation Community Grants to support our programs. pdLIFE stands for Parkinson’s disease Lifestyle, information, fitness, and empowerment. We focus on evidence-based exercise classes that are designed to meet the needs of our warrior’s skill level and to include the caregivers. We also host educational seminars, social outings, support groups, and holiday gatherings. We have had two “Challenge” obstacle events that showcase our warrior’s work in exercise classes. We also work to educate our local healthcare providers on how to provide better care for people impacted by PD.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
After working with my first family impacted by Parkinson’s disease as a physical therapist, I fell in love with the mission and have had a passion to prove to those I encounter that they CAN lead good lives despite PD. I have not only worked as a PT, but have been an advocate for better care, spoken at numerous support groups and educational meetings, and have been involved in education to help teach the work of PD to others.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working in the field?
People with PD have the goal to learn how to live their best lives with PD and then to share their stories with others for inspiration.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
The advocates involved in our programs are from a variety of backgrounds. We have allied health professionals, neurologists, personal trainers, Rock Steady Boxing certified trainers, lawyers, PD warriors, and fierce caregivers. We run programming all year long.
What effect can it have on Parkinson’s fighters?
Our nonprofit provides a resource for those impacted by Parkinson’s disease in our community to exercise, socialize, and find a family that will be there to support them on their journeys.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs.
We hope to continue to expand and grow our programs to support all those impacted by PD in the Bay Area.
What events do you participate in?
I am also a member of the Rock Steady Boxing Medical Advisory committee and have presented at Coach Con for the last two years. I participated in the PMD Alliance “All in Summit” in October 2022 and was able to attend the World Parkinson’s Congress in Barcelona Spain in July 2023. I support and volunteer for the Moving Day Committee with the Parkinson’s Foundation and was the MC of the event this past year.
How can someone get in touch and sign up to help? What is your website?
Please contact pdLIFE through our website: www.parkinsonlife.org
Via Facebook @ Pdlife
Or on Instagram @ pdLIFE_inthebay
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
Don’t give up! There is ALWAYS something we can throw at Parkinson’s disease to keep you living your best life!