Karen Jaffe


When diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007, Karen Jaffe found there weren’t many options available to seek help and support while she grappled with her life-changing diagnosis.

Working as an OB-GYN through her diagnosis until retirement in 2013, Jaffe realized it was time to do something positive with her diagnosis and newfound free time – and in 2015, InMotion in Beachwood was launched. As co-founder, the organization was established with the help of Dr. David Riley, a neurologist and movement disorder specialist; Ben Rossi, an ACE fitness trainer and a qualified exercise instructor for Parkinson’s patients; and the late Allan Goldberg and Lee Handel, two business leaders, philanthropists and persons with Parkinson’s.

While most of her time is now dedicated to InMotion as its co-founder, vice president of the board and client herself, Jaffe is a member of the Michael J. Fox Foundation Patient Council. Along with her husband, Marc, Jaffe also established Shaking With Laughter, a foundation that has raised almost $1 million for Parkinson’s research. From time to time, she also teaches seminars for OBGYN students and delivers meals for holidays.

“I realized after several years of having Parkinson’s disease that I was put on this earth to do something about it,” she said.

CJN: What inspired you to launch InMotion in your retirement?

Jaffe: The shoes I stepped out of were easy to fill with some other up-and-coming OBGYN. And so, the fact that we were able to go from the ground up and build an organization that’s so successful in helping Parkinson’s patients, reducing the stigma of Parkinson’s disease and also helping them to feel better. Our success is so great that it is beyond words in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish. There’s nothing like it.

So, I feel like I had the right combination of having Parkinson’s disease, being a physician, being an advocate and coming into this space and saying, “there’s a void here, someone needs to help us.” There are so many people out there with Parkinson’s disease who are hiding in the shadows because of the stigma associated with it.

CJN: What is your favorite part about volunteering?

Jaffe: It’s the connection with people, making a difference in their lives. You can’t put a price on that. It’s amazing that it has been so impactful. And for me, especially as a physician, people used to say “thank you so much.” But here, people mean “you saved my life.” The work is important and I’m happy to be the one to do it. It makes me think less about my own Parkinson’s disease diagnosis as I focus more on everyone else’s.

CJN: Why is volunteering an important part of being a member of any given community?

Jaffe: Volunteering gives others something of yourself that you don’t have to give. But, it’s out of the goodness of your heart. And why not do it? There is so much suffering and so much you can do to try to undo that. And for me, with the stigma of Parkinson’s disease, it’s a labor of love at InMotion. This is why we made it free – so there would be no barriers to anyone who wants to come. And the truth is that kindness begets kindness. When we are so kind to do something for another, people give back. Shame on me if I would’ve retired and just done nothing. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s the most important work I think I’ve done in my life.

CJN: Do you have any advice for other retirees looking to fill their newfound free time?

Jaffe: There is so much to be done. If you have a passion for something, it always feels good to give and it always feels good to volunteer. I don’t think I’ve ever volunteered at a place where I come home thinking, “Well, that wasn’t worth it.” People always appreciate it and it’s like paying it forward. We have a lot of hours in the day that are used up doing nothing, so why not be productive and make the world a better place?

As for the future of her retirement, Jaffe is willing to face the unknown. The only concrete plan she has right now is continuing to give back to causes that are important to her, she said.

“To me it’s not a question of if I should, it’s a question of what can I do,” she said. “It’s never ‘should,’ it’s always ‘what’s next.’ I don’t know what is next for me yet, but it’ll come. I look forward to putting my talents wherever they may lie.”

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