Architect Who Designed Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center Calls It His Lifesaver

Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center Celebrates 20 Years of Providing Expert Care

When architect Brian McDonald was suddenly asked to help design the new Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, he thought it was an odd twist of fate. ‘What are chances that a guy who actually has Parkinson’s would be tapped for this high-profile project?’

This month the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center celebrates its 20th anniversary, now in a stunning location that McDonald helped to redesign starting in 2011. Then, very few people knew he had Parkinson’s disease. Today, he calls The Champ’s legacy a lifesaver and believes his firsthand knowledge of the disease helped him do a better job.

“It was an honor and thrill to be one of the lead designers on the new Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center,” says McDonald, 62. “The fact that I have Parkinson’s and am a patient there gave me such unique understanding of the more structural things patients with Parkinson’s would benefit from.”

McDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010 as a tremor in his hand had grown progressively worse over the past decade. After some research and an insurance change, he became a patient at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in 2011. Shortly after, he started a new job with local architecture firm ARCHSOL where his first project would involve the Center’s re-design which was unveiled in 2014.

“My wife, Chris, considers the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center a real lifesaver and I can’t agree more. In addition to the great care they provide for patients, the support they provide to caregivers is invaluable,” says McDonald. He is just one of hundreds of thousands of movement disorder patients from around the globe who have benefitted from the 20 years of expert medical care, support, and education provided by the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects up to 1 million Americans. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor, and commonly causes stiffness and slowing of movement, eventually resulting in significant loss of mobility.

The fact that I have Parkinson’s and am a patient there gave me such unique understanding of the more structural things patients with Parkinson’s would benefit from.

-Brian McDonald, Architect

The Center was established two decades ago in 1997 by neurologist Abraham Lieberman, MD, Phoenix philanthropist Jimmy Walker, and the late Muhammad Ali. It has since grown into the nation’s most comprehensive center for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

“I remember that Dr. Lieberman recognized I had Parkinson’s disease before I ever mentioned anything,” says McDonald. “My boss and I had just finished one of the planning meetings with the committee there, and Dr. Lieberman pulled me aside and said, ‘You have Parkinson’s disease.’ With his years of expertise he recognized it even though it was pretty well under control at that point. I just had to laugh and say, ‘Well yes, I am actually a patient here.’”

Dr. Lieberman was Ali’s neurologist and still treats patients at the Center. He was recently recognized at an event celebrating the Center’s 20th anniversary by Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali, for many years of dedication to treating movement disorders.

“Twenty years ago, I knew with the support of Muhammad and Lonnie Ali that the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center would become the world’s premier program for people with Parkinson’s disease. I am proud that we can continue to help patients like Brian, who in his own way contributed to this center’s attractive effectiveness,” says Dr. Lieberman.

The anniversary event also paid tribute to The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation which awarded a $4-million gift to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, establishing the Lonnie and Muhammad Ali Legacy Care program. Honoring the vision of Muhammad and Lonnie Ali, the Legacy program will ensure that every patient and caregiver to come through the doors of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center will receive the same attention, dedication, and support that the Ali family received.

McDonald says he is amazed by the community that the Center has built and that more people now will have access to the incredible care he and Chris receive. McDonald retired in 2016 and the couple began volunteering together at the Parkinson’s Foundation on various research advocacy initiatives.

“The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and everyone there has really taught me to be proactive, get involved, and take control of my health,” McDonald explains. “For me, the Center feels like home; like it’s become a part of me.”