LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Many people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease feel isolated from society because of the symptoms. The University of Louisville Medical School is taking a unique approach of reducing that isolation by pairing up patients with first year medical students.

Abby Florence and Bob Shack are an unlikely pair, but the two hit it off right away, becoming instant friends. 

"I was expecting maybe one or two hours. Ended up chatting it up having a grand old time for four hours," said Florence, recounting their first meeting.

The two meet once a month, sharing things they love such as art and playing cards. They were set up as part of the Parkinson's Disease Buddy Program sponsored by the University of Louisville Medical School and the Parkinson's Support Center of Kentuckiana.

"Parkinson's is one of the most common disorders affecting people over 60. It's about one percent of the population and numbers are expected to increase," said Dr. Kathrin LaFaver who leads the program.

It pairs first-year medical students like Florence, with Parkinson's patients like Shack.

"More than a pill to take, we want a real conversation," said Shack.

Shack was diagnosed with Parkinson's nine years ago. "That seemed like a very cruel birthday present to give a person, but it wasn't. I was happy, because I knew what was wrong with me," Shack said.

He's joined numerous support groups, leaning on others with the disease and their caregivers. Then three years ago, he got his first buddy -- a chance to connect with someone who will ultimately care for people like him.

"First and foremost, they're going into medical school because they want to help people," said Shack.

Twenty-five students signed up for the volunteer program. In a one-on-one setting, the pairs learn from each other in relaxed atmospheres. Patients like Shack can share what it's like living with a chronic condition.

"If they could see us in a real life situation and see what we go through day to day, it would help them relate in the future to a real life situation," he said.

For the students that means seeing a person instead of someone in a hospital bed.

"And I'm like but it's just my friend Bob," said Florence.

Florence is Shack's third buddy. She's already getting a valuable lesson she can't get from a textbook or in a classroom. She's perfecting her bedside manner before she even starts her career. "It helps me personally get that perspective of what it is like living with these illnesses, instead of how to treat these illnesses," she said.

Students fill out a survey at the end of the year to track their knowledge and the experience. Researchers hope to publish results from the buddy program to encourage other schools to try similar techniques.

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