The REBLOOM Center in St. Augustine, Florida, kicked off Parkinson’s Awareness Month on March 30 with “Pints for Parkinson’s,” a month-long fundraiser hosted by local Dog Rose Brewing Company. Throughout the month of April, every pint of Orange Blossom Honey Ale sold at the brewery earned $1 for the nonprofit, which provides funding for wellness classes as well as a support group for the St. Augustine Parkinson’s community. The father of one of the brewery’s bartenders lives with Parkinson’s disease and participates in REBLOOM’s wellness program.
The fundraiser, sponsored by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences as well as several local businesses, is the brainchild of Melanie Lomaglio, PT, DPT, MSC, NCS, a co-owner of STARS Rehab with her husband David Lomaglio, MPT, OCS, MPT, CSCS, TPI CGFI. Both Melanie and David are graduates of the USAHS PT program; Melanie was full-time faculty for 12 years following her graduation and David also worked at USAHS as a lab assistant before starting STARS Rehab in 2009. Together the couple has grown the business into four outpatient clinics in the St. Augustine area plus the Parkinson’s Health Center. They employ 25 therapists, 16 of which are USAHS graduates.
The seed of the Parkinson’s Health Center was sown through volunteer work with a Parkinson’s support group that Melanie undertook when she was an assistant professor at USAHS.
“It opened up a whole new world for me,” she says.
“I’ve always been drawn to neuro so I started using my release time to work with people with Parkinson’s disease and it grew from there. I decided to dive full-time into working with the Parkinson’s Health Center in 2018.”
The center has become a pivotal part of the Parkinson’s community in St. Augustine. Now in its fifth year, it offers both physical and speech therapy tailored specifically to the needs of patients with Parkinson’s. It also hosts a community group wellness program with 10 weekly class offerings including Rock Steady Boxing, yoga, PWR!Moves functional mobility classes, a voice class and singing group, and a support group that focuses on education, resources and social support for people affected by Parkinson’s disease. Through the nonprofit, the center can provide several of the programs to the community for free.
The Parkinson’s Health Center is staffed by five physical therapists and one speech language pathologist. USAHS OT students volunteer at the center’s wellness program and several USAHS DPT students have completed full-time internships at the specialized center.
“When students come here and are engrossed in Parkinson’s for 12 straight weeks, they gain a lot of very specialized knowledge,” says Melanie.
“Parkinson’s is a very complex disease; no two people have the same clinical presentation. It takes a unique and special person to work with this population. As clinicians we are constantly learning.”
Melanie notes that due to an aging population and environmental factors, the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease doubled between 1990 and 2015, and, sadly, it’s expected to double again by 2040. That’s one of the reasons she formed a nonprofit to support the Parkinson’s Health Center, to give a more diverse group of people the benefit of their services. She is also deeply involved in teaching others how to work with PD patients, through the Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery Instructor Certification Workshop (PWR!Moves), a specialized course for physical and occupational therapists. She would love to see more clinics dedicated to this unique population and hopes to shatter some of the negative stigma associated with the disease.
“Parkinson’s patients are very hard-working and they want to fight back. They’re so happy when they find us and get connected to the right therapy team. The gratitude we receive is indescribable,” she says. “One of my personal goals is to create more therapists and show how fulfilling the neuro side of rehab is. It’s extremely rewarding work. We literally get to change people’s lives.”
 Dorsey ER, Sherer T, Okun MS, Bloem BR. The Emerging Evidence of the Parkinson Pandemic. J Parkinsons Dis. 2018;8(s1):S3-S8. doi:10.3233/JPD-181474