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October 24, 2003


Emory Patient and Swim Team Dive in to Support the Emory Ataxia Center and
Its Research

ATLANTA -- Emory ataxia patient James Curtis, along with the Emory Swim and Dive Team, will suit-up to kick-off the second fundraising event this year for the Emory Ataxia Center. Seventy-five Emory swimmers and divers, along with other swimmers from the Emory community, will each swim 100 laps at the Woodruff Physical Education Center Pool at Emory University this Saturday, Oct. 25, starting at 10 a.m. During the fall semester, the participants have been raising money to support the event, called "Swimming for Ataxia."

Ataxia is a neurological disorder that progressively destroys muscle coordination. As a result, patients with ataxia cannot use their legs and arms effectively and often end up dependent upon a wheelchair. Other symptoms may include slurred speech, swallowing difficulties and visual problems.

Ataxia patient James Curtis, 31, was diagnosed with the condition at age eight. He began seeing George "Chip" Wilmot, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Emory and director of the Emory Ataxia Center about seven years ago. Dr. Wilmot is the only neurologist in Georgia who specializes in ataxia and one of the few experts in the Southeast.

Earlier this year, James held the first "Swimming for Ataxia" event to raise money for the center and future ataxia research. In association with the Pace Academy Swim Team, James was able to raise $55,000 in gifts, pledges and in-kind contributions. An avid swimmer and alumni of Pace, James swam 100 laps during the event, as did the Pace swimmers.

"I'm so proud of James for his dedication and perseverance," says Dr. Wilmot. "The first swim-a-thon was so successful, and James seems intent on continuing and expanding this tradition in the name of helping patients with ataxia."

"Not only did we raise money for the Emory Ataxia Center, the swim-a-thon created an awareness about a disorder which is unfamiliar to many people," says James. "It also helped out others who aren’t quite as fortunate. These reasons alone have made ‘Swimming for Ataxia’ very rewarding for me. Individuals can and do make a difference, but it’s because of close knit families like that of Emory and Pace Academy that make it possible."

This fall, the Emory Swim and Dive Team is becoming a part of the tradition.

"Community service projects like ‘Swimming for Ataxia’ and the Special Olympics allow our swimmers and divers the opportunity to give something back to the Emory community," says Jon Howell, lead swimming and diving coach at Emory University. "It also serves as a reminder that individuals can make a difference, which I believe is a powerful and important message. James Curtis is certainly the inspiration. Without him, we would not be involved."

The Emory Swim and Dive team also had some help from Krispy Kreme in raising money for this swim-a-thon. As Krispy Kreme reopened its store on Ponce de Leon Avenue several weeks ago, it ran a promotion donating $100 to a charity of choice to the first 100 customers to visit the newly renovated store. Eight to 10 Emory swimmers and divers camped out all night to receive the donations, but it turned out it was $100 in donuts, not cash. So the Emory athletes have been busy selling $800-$1000 in donuts, with all proceeds benefitting the swim-a-thon and the Emory Ataxia Center.

James will also swim 100 laps this Saturday following the Emory Swim and Dive Team. He, however, will swim at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, 75 14th Street NE.

The money raised from this year’s swim-a-thons will help fund the early stages of national studies that will assist researchers to move towards the goal of finding a cure for ataxia. As the leader of the Cooperative Ataxia Group, a study group of about 20 ataxia specialists from the U.S. and abroad, Dr. Wilmot says financial support, such as that raised by James, is necessary for start-up or pilot projects.

The Emory Ataxia Center is committed to increasing public awareness of the disease while advancing research and providing top-notch care to patients with ataxia.

James is already gearing up for the next swim-a-thon, which will likely take place in February 2004.

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