Parkinson’s: Reflective Gratitude of Life

“We don’t need more to be thankful for, we just need to be more thankful.” Carlos Castaneda

“Take as a gift whatever the day brings forth.” Horace

Introduction: The title of this blog post says it all. At the age of 66 years old, I stand before you thinking I need to be more thankful. Really? Yes, many deserve my gratitude and a simple thank you. There are even more that I really should give my profound thank you to for many different reasons. As President John F. Kennedy said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” Did you ever wonder about the path we followed in our lives and careers? How did we get from Point A to B to where we are now? If you could repeat your life, would you change anything? And we owe many thanks to many people along the way, right?

“Just a thank you is a mighty powerful prayer. Says it all.” Rosanne Cash

Parkinson‘s and Gratitude: I have written about gratitude several times before, please consider reading them.
Posted on January 25, 2019, “Brief Report: Contentment, Gratitude, and Mindfulness in the Presence of Parkinson’s”
Posted on April 14, 2018, “Understanding The Positive Health Benefits of Gratitude”
Posted on May 18, 2015, “Contentment, Gratitude, And Mindfulness”

With or without Parkinson’s, we each have something to be thankful for, think about it. Yet maybe, you have not vocalized it recently? Or maybe, giving thanks has not crossed your mind lately because you have been dealing with your Parkinson’s? Watching the heart-filled thanks from the recipient of the 2019 Heisman Trophy Award by Joe Burrow was quite real and moving. Yes, he goes to LSU and had simply an amazing year as their quarterback. However, he shows a very sincere form of gratitude in his acceptance speech.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.” Medieval German Theologian Meister Eckhart

Parkinson’s and Gratitude, Make A List: Think about it this way. The fabric of our life has changed in the backdrop of Parkinson’s. Our fabric is no longer comfortable; we each have at least something not working as well as before Parkinson’s. No doubt, you could become bitter about life, like living under a constant threat of rain with golf-ball-sized hail. That would be no fun. The exercise here is to get you to abandon your Parkinson’s, send it away to the other side of the room, from here, be thankful, and practice gratitude. Watch yourself smile as you remember those people that mattered the most, give them your thanks. Even if it is just a simple list of names you have identified, the thought of gratitude is what matters the most. Here is a start to my thank you list.

“Reflect upon your present blessings” Charles Dickens

FamilyFamily matters for sure; they played an essential part in my life growing up. My family consisted of my dad (Col. Church in the US Air Force), mother and two older sisters. My hero was always my father. He had been a college track star, a pilot in the Pacific during World War II, and career-officer until he retired when I was in Junior High School (OK, now it’s called Middle School). Sadly, he passed away when I was only 18 years old, but he left his imprint on me, even today, I still think of him. I had less to do with my mother, but she did best when my dad was around, and we functioned well as a family. My two sisters were the smart ones of the family, really scary-smart. Me, I was the “jock,” because all I ever did growing up was sports. My priorities were just different than my sisters, and I can thank my parents for everything. I still vacation yearly with my sisters. I stand in awe of their talents as photographers and artists, so very creative. Honestly, I am always impressed by their abilities to express what they see and what they think. Thankful, they let me hang out with them.

All three panels above show me with my two sisters Tina and Kitty (and my Aunt Bess and Cousin Elizabeth with her husband Ron).

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” David Steindl-Rast

My Tennis Coaches And The People Who First Hired Me Out of College: Bob McKinna was the tennis coach at Monterey High School in Lubbock, TX, and W.T. “Dub” Robinson was the tennis coach at Louisiana State University (LSU). Coach McKinna was an incredible tennis player, he had a great work ethic that translated well into coaching/teaching tennis, and an intense personality that enhanced our competitive spirit. Thankful for his help in making me a much better tennis player. Coach Robinson was a truly remarkable man. For many years, he taught boxing and was the tennis coach. He lived/loved to fish, and he was the nicest person ever born. He became my role model as a Coach and as a person. Very thankful that Coach Robinson offered me a tennis scholarship and gave me the chance to be on the varsity tennis team at LSU.

When I graduated from LSU in 1975, Ruth Shoptaugh at the Baton Rouge Country Club and Nancy Fenasci at Bocage Racquet Club, these two remarkable women hired me to be their Assistant Tennis Professional in 1975 and 1976-1977, respectively. They showed me how to operate as a teaching pro, the do’s and don’ts of professional tennis, and they trusted me to perform my duty to represent them from both business and professional angles. I was most thankful for the opportunity to work at their Clubs and for them to have taken the chance in hiring me.

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.” Tecumseh

The People Who Trained Me To Be A Scientist: At the same time, I was a teaching tennis pro; I was a part-time graduate student at LSU. Dr. Samuel Meyers directed my M.S. degree in the area of Food Science and Marine Science. As with all science projects, the lab went this way, and that way until a research project appeared. My Marine Science project was managing the multiple aquaria downstairs in the basement full of tropical fish being fed a special fish meal infused with pigments we had extracted from discarded crawfish shells. Dr. Meyers was an entrepreneur before the word became widespread. My food biochemistry project settled on isolating an enzyme (alpha-galactosidase) from yeast isolated from the green stinkbug that had infected soybeans. Believe me when I say the starting point was nasty. Ultimately, I successfully purified the enzyme from the yeast Pichia guillermondi, and this resulted in my first two publications:

1.         Church, F.C., S.P. Meyers and V.R. Srinivasan (1980) Isolation and characterization of alpha-galactosidase from Pichia guilliermondii.  Dev. Ind. Microbiol.  21: 339-348.
2.         Church, F.C. and S.P. Meyers (1980) Alpha-Galactosidase from Pichia guilliermondiiMycologia 72: 279-287.

I find it interesting that as recently as 2012, this work was still being cited in the literature. Thankful for the trust Dr. Meyers had in me as a developing-scientist, woefully underprepared for these tasks. He gave me the chance to begin to prove to myself this was the right path to take.

And this led me to Dr. Harold Swaisgood at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in the Departments of Food Science and Biochemistry. Dr. Swaisgood was my research advisor from 1978-1982, when I completed my Ph.D.

Dr. Swaisgood was a biophysical chemist who was a world-renowned expert on the chemistry of milk proteins and a leading expert on immobilized enzymes (the science and technology of attaching proteins to inert surfaces like glass beads, which allowed them to be used over-and-over again). The lab group (Mark and Mary Sliwkowski, Alice Heth, Debbie Claire, George Duval, Gary Wallace, Jeff Strandholm, and David Porter), young faculty members (George Catignani and Todd Klaenhammer), and three other graduate students in the Department (Mary Ellen Sanders, Cathy Wright Donnelly, and Frank Edwards) became my family and lifeblood. Many of this group of graduate students and young faculty still get together for “reunions” to meet up and spend time together on vacation. It still is very much an extended family.

Advancement of science was essential to all of us, and Dr. Swaisgood led us by letting us explore and seeking answers on our own. His philosophy melded well with my personality. And I took much of what I learned in his lab group into mine. I had three projects, the first two did not work (Immobilized mitochondria and denaturation-renaturation of alpha-lactalbumin), but fortuitously, the third one worked beautifully and provided the basis for my academic career. The USDA funded my project, and it was to use immobilized-proteases (enzymes that chew up proteins) to determine the total quality of protein in food. The science from this work ultimately resulted in the following publications:

3.         Church, F.C., G.L. Catignani and H.E. Swaisgood (1981) Hydrolysis of milk proteins by immobilized Streptomyces griseus Pronase.  J. Dairy Sci.  64: 724-731.

4.         Church, F.C., G.L. Catignani and H.E. Swaisgood (1982) Use of immobilized Streptomyces griseus proteinases (Pronase) as a probe of structural transitions of lysozyme, beta-lactoglobulin and casein.  Enzyme Microb. Technol.  4: 317-321.

5.         Church, F.C., G.L. Catignani and H.E. Swaisgood (1982) Urea denaturation of the proteinases of immobilized Streptomyces griseus (Pronase).  Enzyme Microb. Technol. 4: 313-316.

6.         Church, F.C., H.E. Swaisgood, D.H. Porter and G.L. Catignani (1983) Spectrophotometric assay using o-phthalaldehyde for determination of proteolysis in milk and isolated milk proteins.  J. Dairy Sci.  66: 1219-1227.

7.         Church, F.C., G.L. Catignani and H.E. Swaisgood (1984) Compositional analysis of proteins following hydrolysis by immobilized proteases.  J. Appl. Biochem.  6: 205-2118

8.       Church, F.C., D.H. Porter, G.L. Catignani, and H.E. Swaisgood (1985) An o-phthalaldehyde spectrophotometric assay for proteinases. Analytical Biochem. 146(2): 343-348.

When I started my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my mentor there said that two types of papers that could get cited frequently were methods papers and science reviews. In the past 36 years, the 1983 method paper entitled “Spectrophotometric assay using o-phthalaldehyde for determination of proteolysis in milk and isolated milk proteins,” has been cited more than 1300-times, and the most recent citation is a research article in press in 2020.

Saying I am thankful to Dr. Swaisgood as a significant influence on my life and career in academics is an understatement. Without his incredible knowledge, ability to mentor me, offer reassurance, guidance, and friendship, I am convinced that I would have had a different professional career and experience. I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right mentor, and an incredible group of friends to work side-by-side with; it was my time.

“Think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flames within us.” Albert Schweitzer

Postdoctoral Fellow to Academic Medicine Faculty- The Three Who Trained My Professional Development: From 1982-1985, I did my postdoctoral fellowship in Chapel Hill at UNC School of Medicine, under the direction of Dr. Roger Lundblad, Dr. Michael Griffith, and Dr. Harold Roberts. And I am still here. Dr. Lundblad was a leading authority on the protease thrombin, and he was a superb protein chemist. He had the most remarkable memory of anyone I have ever known. Dr. Griffith was an enzyme kineticist with a focus on how protease inhibitors inhibited coagulation proteases with heparin. Dr. Roberts was a physician-scientist and was a world leader in the field of hemophilia. I spent two years with Dr. Lundblad (he left for an entrepreneurs position), he was simply on-fire-for-science, he let me work on prothrombin structure-activity studies. From there, I worked with Dr. Griffith for ~12 months (he too left for an industry job). Dr. Roberts stepped in, and until his passing in 2017, he was my mentor, role model, colleague, and friend.

I was an unsettled-PhD looking for direction, space, and time to learn and develop, and in need of sage scientific advice. I got it all from Drs. Lundblad, Griffith, and Roberts. I gained an appreciation for “burning the midnight oil,” learned the importance of teamwork, and advanced knowledge in the field of hemostasis-thrombosis. By their example, I developed my own Philosophy/Rules of Science and managed to find my way from postdoc to faculty. I owe them a lot for taking me into their lab groups and trusting me with their science. To paraphrase the quote, “I saw further because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” From this vantage point, I started my research laboratory group. A huge thanks to Drs. Lundblad, Griffith, and Roberts. The publication from this period of postdoctoral training consisted of the following articles:

9.         Church, F.C. and M.J. Griffith (1984)  Evidence for essential lysines in heparin cofactor II.  Biochem. Biophy. Res. Commun.  124: 745-751.

10.       Tarvers, R.C. and F.C. Church (1985) Use of high-performance size-exclusion chromatography to measure protein molecular weight and hydrodynamic radius:  An investigation of the properties of the TSK 3000 SW column.  Int. J. Peptide Protein Res. 26: 539-549.

11.       Griffith, M.J. , C.M. Noyes, J.A. Tyndall and F.C. Church (1985)  Enzymatic inactivation of heparin cofactor II by a proteinase (proteinase-1) from Echis carinatus venom.  Thromb. Res.  39: 659-669.

12.       Griffith, M.J., C.M. Noyes, J.A. Tyndall and F.C. Church (1985)  Structural evidence for leucine at the reactive site of heparin cofactor II.  Biochemistry  24: 6777-6782.

13.       Griffith, M.J., C.M. Noyes and F.C. Church (1985)  Reactive site peptide structural similarity between heparin cofactor II and antithrombin III.  J. Biol. Chem.  260: 2218-2225.

14.       Church, F.C., C.M. Noyes and M.J. Griffith (1985)  Inhibition of chymotrypsin by heparin cofactor II.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.  82: 6431-6434.

15.       Church, F.C., R.L. Lundblad, C.M. Noyes and R.C. Tarvers (1985)  Effect of divalent cations on the limited proteolysis of prothrombin by thrombin.  Arch. Biochem. Biophys.  240: 607-612.

16.       Church, F.C., R.L. Lundblad and C.M. Noyes (1985)  Chemical modification of histidines in human prothrombin:  Effect on the interaction of fibrinogen with thrombin from diethyl pyrocarbonate-modified prothrombin.  J. Biol. Chem.  260: 4936-4940.

17.       Church, F.C., G.B. Villaneuva and M.J. Griffith (1986) Structure-function relationships in heparin cofactor II: Chemical modification of arginine and tryptophan and demonstration of a two-domain structure.  Arch. Biochem. Biophys.  26: 175-184.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” Melody Beattie

The Foundation Was Established For My Career to Begin: In the ten years (1975-1985) after being a scholar-athlete and finishing my B.S. in Microbiology at LSU (1975), I wrote a M.S. Thesis at LSU (1978) entitled “Purification of α-Galactosidase from Pichia guilliermondii.” Then I wrote a Ph.D. Dissertation at NCSU (1982) entitled “Compositional/Structural Analysis of Proteins Using Immobilized Proteinases, and Characterization of an o-Phthalaldehyde Assay for Proteolysis.” From Raleigh, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill for my postdoc. Collectively, I published 17 papers (13 as first author and 4 as co-author), under the guidance of five very talented people, who showed me the way to do science. I am forever giving them my thanks.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia

A Brief History Of My Research Laboratory (1986-2019):

  • Academic Positions (all at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Medicine): Res. Assistant Professor 1985-1986; Assistant Professor 1987-1993; Associate Professor (Tenure) 1994-1999; Professor (Tenure) 1999-2019; Professor (phased-retirement began 01 July 2019).
  • Excerpt From My Post-tenure Reflective Statement (January 2019): “I have now been on the faculty in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 33 years. As a basic biomedical researcher, I have had a wonderful and enriching academic research career that has helped train over 100 scientists (17 graduate students, 12 postdoctoral fellows, 64 undergraduates, and 17 medical students). Besides being the research scientist, a very important part of my career has been teaching. Since joining the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as an Assistant Professor, I have had the privilege of teaching over 7000 students (29 years of medical students x ~165 students/year = 4785; 23 years of graduate students x ~2 students/year = 506; and 23 years of ~75 undergraduates/year = 1725).”
  • Research Topic and Sources of Funding:
  •  The Lab Group in Pictures and Thank You: Pictured below in somewhat of chronological order are some of the undergraduate students, graduate students, medical students, technicians, and postdoctoral research fellows (and the occasional guest faculty person) who worked in this research laboratory. 
  • Thank you for taking the chance to come to work in this research group.
  • Thank you for embracing our science and owning it as your own, without your hands and minds and teamwork skills, we would not have accomplished anything; 
  • We did some amazing feats of science, challenge and advanced, and even created our hypotheses.
  • Furthermore, you helped keep the lab funded for 30 years from 1986-2016.
  • Thank you for your time and effort being part of this laboratory group, and for making my academic career so enjoyable. I could not have done it without your help. 
  • (NOTE: There are many of your photos missing. Shown below is a compilation of pictures on my current laptop. There are several years and many images on the computer at work, which eventually will be added to the collection below.
  • Photos of the Various Lab Group Members (including Collaborators) from 1986-2019. To see the full-size image, please just click on the thumbnail image itself.

“Be grateful for the joy of life. Be glad for the privilege of work. Be thankful for the opportunity to give and serve. Good work is the great character-builder, the sweetener of life, the maker of destiny. Let the spirit of your work be right, and whether your task be great or small you will then have the satisfaction of knowing it is worth while.” ~ Grenville Kleiser

Cover photo credit:

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