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President of USC Is Fighting Parkinson's Disease

Health: Steven B. Sample is the latest in a series of prominent Americans to publicly acknowledge being diagnosed with the neurological disorder.

December 08, 2001|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

USC President Steven B. Sample has told his faculty that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, but does not expect the condition to affect his tenure at the university or his ability to lead it.

"It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve as president of this wonderful institution," Sample, 61, said in a letter to USC faculty and staff in early September. "I have no intention of letting Parkinson's stand in the way."

With the disclosure, the USC president became the latest in a series of prominent Americans to go public with a diagnosis of Parkinson's, a progressive neurological condition that can cause tremors and loss of muscular control. Among those who have said they have the disease are actor Michael J. Fox, the Rev. Billy Graham and former U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the Florida governor's race.

Members of the USC community applauded Sample's decision to disclose his condition. They said his handling of the matter and apparently undiminished energy level had helped ease initial concerns.

"I think a few of the faculty may have wondered initially what might happen and then realized once they saw him that nothing had changed," said Joseph Aoun, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "He's still working 16-hour days."

Sample declined to comment further, saying his message to the faculty conveyed what needed to be said.

In the Sept. 11 letter, he said his doctors had told him he was in the early stages of the disease. He said he had not experienced any symptoms, apart from a tremor in his left hand, "which occasionally affects my drumming during Latin numbers." An accomplished drummer, Sample managed and played in several bands before studying engineering and then launching his academic career.

Evidently seeking to assure the faculty of his continued stamina, Sample mentioned that he had recently returned from a 30-mile backpacking trip near the Grand Canyon.

Since the announcement, his staff said, Sample has only increased his typical hectic pace, now adding the role of an author on a book tour to that of the active president of a major university. He is "working more than ever now" as he promotes his recently published book on leadership, said Martha Harris, a senior vice president at USC.

Soon after Sample's announcement, the USC Academic Senate passed a resolution thanking him for his "forthright acknowledgment" of his condition and expressing confidence in his continued leadership.

"He is very much admired for the great things that have happened at the university during his watch," said Academic Senate President Peter Nosco, citing a dramatic improvement in the quality of the USC undergraduate student body and major increases in the university's endowment.

"He's entertaining at his house almost every night, promoting his book and doing everything else he usually does," said John Argue, chairman of USC's board of trustees. "He's fine."

Parkinson's is believed to affect 1 million to 1.5 million people in the United States. It becomes increasingly common with age but typically develops in the 50s and 60s. There are no treatments known to stop or reverse the disease, but medication can control the symptoms.

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