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Boston area octogenarian does his part for science

Christopher Gussis

By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Jamaica Plain – Back in 1996 – in this newspaper – Christopher Gussis, 89, first read that there were clinical trials in need of volunteers in the Boston area. He had retired and recently moved from New Jersey to Jamaica Plain with his wife Jane.

“I’m not into Bingo and clinical trials seemed like a good way to spend my time. Plus, I thought that I could help,” said Gussis. “I’m careful about what studies I join. I say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Since 1998, Gussis has been a part of 313 clinical trials, often as a control since he is in excellent health. He swims slow laps for 45 to 50 minutes, six days a week, and eats a healthy diet that includes lots of oatmeal and salmon. He takes a cholesterol-lowering drug, but that’s it.

“I’ve has never been a smoker, and not much of a drinker,” said Gussis. “My doctor thinks it’s great that I’m in these trials. He thinks that I’m making a contribution toward helping mankind.”

Gussis grew up in New Brunswick, N.J., down the street from Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education. In 1970, he graduated from Boston University with a doctorate in education.

He credits his good health to his diet and family. Gussis’ parents emigrated from northwestern Greece to the U.S. in the early 1900s. The family ate a Mediterranean diet when Gussis was growing up, which he has continued for the most part throughout his life.

Longevity seems to run in Gussis’s family. His mother, brother, and sister lived past 90; another brother made it to 89. His father and two other brothers died in their early 80s.

Toward the end of World War II, Gussis served in the Naval Air Force as a flight recorder for B24s flying along the east coast.

Following his service, Gussis taught health education for 43 years in the public schools in Edison, N.J. During that time he was an adjunct professor at Montclair State University and Keen University, both in New Jersey.

As for moving to Boston, he said, “I made a deal with my wife who was from the area that we would move back when I retired. She was happy to see me involved with the trials.”

Unfortunately, his wife died 11 years ago.

He keeps a single-spaced list – covering seven pages – of the clinical trials in which he has participated. They have taken place at all the hospitals and universities in the Boston area.

The first was called, “The Effects of Aging on Muscles and Nerves.” The most recent is “Emotional Processing Across the Adult Lifespan: Behavioral.”

Gussis said that he’s been prodded from his head to his toes. He has had his balance checked, his sleep monitored, and he’s been in a tank of water.

“I have left some trials when the drugs made me feel nauseous,” he said.

He is currently involved in a study at the Aging Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“You need to be over 85 to participate,” he explained. “There are 30 or 35 of us and they’re looking for more people. It’s about trying to find out some of the things you should do or should not do.”

Besides clinical trials, Gussis enjoys attending classical music events. He has organized a biannual event – on Memorial Day and Veterans Day – at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England.

“I’ve identified 841 veterans from World War I on, who were members of this church,” he said. “About 300 are still alive.”

The last event included the U.S.S. Constitution Color Guard, representatives from the five military branches, and the George Menichios Post 324 American Legion, a speaker, and luncheon.

When asked whether he feels like a human guinea pig, Gussis said, “It doesn’t sound nice, but it’s true.”

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