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My View: Involved community benefits Parkinson's patients

By Frank J. Dinan

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disease for which there is no known cure. There are about 9,000 people in the Buffalo/Western New York region that have PD, and our area has one of the U.S.’s highest incidence of PD. That’s the bad news. Now for the good news about PD in Western New York.

If you are unlucky enough to be afflicted with Parkinson’s, and my wife, Ann, is, there may be no better place to have this happen than right here. It is well established that the progress of PD can be slowed or even reversed by exercise, and by support from an involved community. Due to the knowledge, leadership and and skills of some wonderful local people, we have these things in abundance.

There is nothing as effective as exercise to slow the progression of PD, and two highly effective ways of getting that exercise are dance and boxing. That almost sounds like a joke, since we normally think of dance and boxing as polar opposites. But both have this in common: they involve carefully planned, highly choreographed movements, strength building and a great deal of mind-body coordination. If this sounds challenging, it is.

Parkinson’s dance originated with the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, and due to its success it has become a worldwide phenomenon. We in Western New York are blessed to have a wonderful dancer, an amazingly good teacher and a warm and caring person named Cynthia Pegado to lead our Parkinson’s dance classes.

I attend these dance classes with my wife, and often find that I leave them tired, but also feeling like I have been at a really good party. That is Cynthia’s gift. She teaches dance in such a warm, enjoyable, accepting way that her students have fun while learning. She has built a PD dance community of not just students but friends, friends who have come to know, care for and admire each other.

Ann, who works tirelessly to keep her body in good shape, is also taking Parkinson’s boxing lessons. I suspect that most of us think of boxers as Rocky Balboa types, brawny men who pound each other relentlessly. Ann is about five feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds. So much for that misconception.

Ann doesn’t just “take” boxing lessons, she loves her boxing lessons. Her instructor, Dean Eoannou, is the former boxing coach at the University at Buffalo. He has given up that job to teach PD boxing. He did so because he could see the stunning progress that some of his students have made.

One of his Parkinson’s students, Tony, could hardly walk without external support when he began working with Dean. Today he can run and work out vigorously in the ring. Hard to believe, but that is what Parkinson’s boxing can accomplish for those willing to work at it.

Like Parkinson’s dance, the effectiveness of Parkinson’s boxing is well-recognized, and it also is taught widely today.

These great things don’t just happen. Parkinson’s parties, dances, picnics, dinners, moving days (attended by thousands), support groups, a teaching symposium, etc., fill the PD calendar, but they wouldn’t happen without inspired leadership at the top of the of Western New York’s PD organization.

That leadership is provided by Chris Jamele, its executive director. You many recognize Chris’ name as a radio station WBFO weekend reporter. He is the dynamo whose energy and skill makes it all happen. Chris has the unqualified admiration and gratitude of the PD community.

If you, or one of yours, has PD, please join us and “get moving.” You can’t lose.

Frank J. Dinan, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department of Canisius College.
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