The Tale of a PD Patient, Social Media, and a Crowdfunding Campaign

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by Mary Chapman |

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With north of 150,000 followers on his TikTok account, elite athlete Jimmy Choi knows his way around social media. After all, the ultra marathoner has competed on four seasons of the popular TV series “American Ninja Warrior.” He’s also had Parkinson’s disease (PD) since 2003.

Still, nothing prepared the world-record holder for push-ups and burpees for the outpouring of responses he got late last year when he posted a video showing how Parkinson’s had made it difficult for him to remove a small pill from a bottle of medication. Choi’s hands were trembling, a common motor symptom of the progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

“I can break fitness world records, but I can’t take a pill I need to function,” Choi told the online publication Freethink. “It’s like a dream and a nightmare rolled into one.”

Days after Choi, 44, posted the video, videographer Brian Alldridge, of Portland, Ore., posted his own video featuring an adaptive pill bottle he designed to help Choi. After viewing Choi’s video, he had swiftly taught himself how to use a computer-aided design (CAD) software program.

“We have more tools and learning resources at our fingertips than ever before,” Alldridge told The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) in comments published in a foundation press release.

“If you think of a way to improve the lives of others, there’s most likely a way to make it happen — you just have to take the first steps,” Allridge said.

Alldridge also used his video to solicit help with his project. He offfered to forward his design files to anyone willing to use a three-dimensional (3D) printer to create a prototype of the bottle.

The new inventor was floored by the response. He had expected to hear from no more than a couple of people whom he thought would likely back out when he couldn’t guarantee that the device would work. Instead, he awoke to thousands of TikTok users either offering to print the prototype or commenting that they knew someone who could benefit from a finished product.

Ultimately, the TikTok community printed and evaluated several versions of the pill bottle, eventually sending prototypes to Choi to try out himself. One of the medication bottle prototypes isolates a single pill in a cylinder, which the patient can then easily swallow.

So far, the design has undergone about five revisions and is now in the hands of engineer David Exler, who recently posted a video to his TikTok account about the project. The goal is to get the prototype to Parkinson’s patients for feedback.

In the interim, Alldridge is working with a patent attorney to ensure the project files continue to be available to the public. The overall goal is to sell the pill bottles at a low cost to consumers, and donate one bottle to a nonprofit organization for every unit purchased.

Initially, Exler had offered to ship one of the bottles to anyone in the U.S. who made a donation to the MJFF.

“I am still amazed and in awe how the community jumped into action,” said Choi, who is a longtime member of the MJFF’s Team Fox fundraising program.

Choi was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at age 27. Ever since, he has used his social media platform to teach others about Parkinson’s and the importance of exercise and other lifestyle changes in disease management.

In any case, Choi’s story underscores the strength of the virtual town square that is social media.

“The power of a community coming together to solve problems in new ways cannot be underestimated,” the MJFF states in the press release. “Jimmy’s story is a testament to how collaboration and connection can effectively bring about creative solutions and raise awareness, be it on a large scale through thousands or by assisting a single individual in need.”

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