Westporter's vow: 'Never surrender' to Parkinson's Disease
By:Bonnie Adler , Staff Writer
When long-time Westport resident Paul Green, 84, learned that he had Parkinson's Disease, the first words he thought of were those of his life-long hero, Winston Churchill. "We will fight in the beaches, we will fight in the streets. We will never surrender. Never!" This vow inspired Green to combat the daily assault he would face to stave off the cumulative and debilitating effects of his disease. Twelve years later, despite the onset of tremors and other symptoms that have invaded his life, Green has fully embraced a physically and mentally active lifestyle that he believes is the key to fighting Parkinson's.
"Some people are waiting for a cure. I believe we can't afford to wait," he said in an interview this week.
Green has just started a not-for-profit corporation called "Never Surrender to Parkinson's Disease" in order to more effectively spread his message about how to fight the disease. Interested persons are invited to attend the organization's first fundraiser at the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport on Friday, April 4.
Calling his message, "One man's strategy to battle Parkinson's," Green readily admits that traditional physicians still rely heavily on pharmacology to help victims of the disease, but he says that individuals can fight in other very important ways to help themselves.
"There is going to be a cure, but what do you do in the meantime?" Green said. "You have to live your life to the fullest extent possible, and believe me, I am." "The key is exercising the body vigorously and keeping the mind active," he said. A charter member of the Saugatuck Rowing Club, Green is a committed rower, sharing a double with his buddy Andy Pettee or rowing in a single every day, weather permitting. With some assistance, he still carries his scull out to the water and back, fighting daily to ward off symptoms of poor balance, stiffness and weakness. Either by rowing on the Saugatuck, or by working out indoors, he gets his heart rate up daily.
After voracious reading and much personal contact with physicians and experts, he firmly believes that physical exercise and keeping the mind alert are critically important to increase the blood flow to the brain. "The brain is not set," said Green. "It has elasticity; whatever you do has a chance of rewiring the brain." In addition to the daily vigorous exercise, Green does ballroom dancing, takes Pilates, and has regular massages to fight muscle loss.
He also does voice exercises when alone in his car to combat weakening of his voice. The physical fight is only half the battle. Many with Parkinson's Disease are prone to depression. For that, Green encourages a program of socialization and mental challenge. "If you keep the mind active, at least you have a fighting shot," he said. Green is studying Japanese, plays chess, is a member of a book club and loves to socialize with people of all ages. He is passionate about the Saugatuck Rowing Club, where he is steeped in an active, healthy environment filled with people of all ages, and says, "When I'm here, I feel great. It's so important to be active and get out of the house." He also volunteers at Norwalk Hospital, where he works with in the emergency room and feels like a valuable member of a team. "My message is one of hope," said Green. "You are not a victim that cannot take action. With hope you fight to maintain your independence. Right now I am doing everything I've ever done except drive at night. I do have symptoms, but they don't stop me."
Green finds that his concept of "aerobics for the body and neurobics for the brain" is getting more and more support from the medical community, and he posts important updates on his new website www.nevahsurrendah.org. He quotes from "A User's Guide to the Brain," by Harvard medical school professor, Dr. John Ratey. "As with our muscles, we can strengthen our neural pathways with brain exercise," he said. "Or we can let them wither. The principle is the same. Use it or lose it!"
Another recent article in Harvard Magazine, entitled "The Power of Exercise," also confirms Green's belief that the greatest beneficiary of vigorous exercise is the brain. "This article confirmed that I could spread the word to people to exercise as much as they can." If you are depressed you believe you can't do anything. But we can all do something. That's the big message."
The reason Green started his non-profit company, "Never Surrender to Parkinson's, Inc." is to spread the word of hope as widely as possible. Funds raised at next week's fundraiser will be used to support the website, start a newsletter, create a board of directors and facilitate Green's intention to give talks on his method of fighting Parkinson's. He quotes Churchill again, "Give us the tools and we will do the job."
The launch for Never Surrender to Parkinson's Disease will be held at the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport Connecticut on Friday, April 4, from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Wine and hors d'oeuvres made by Danny Salomon, chef of the Saugatuck Rowing Club's Riverview Restaurant, will be served.The minimum contribution is $75. For more information call 203 227-6500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a terrific story and I am so glad that Paul was able to take what I said in the User's Guide to help slow the Parkinson's. My new book: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, expands on this whole line of thinking and their is even more evidence about the benefit of exercise for aging in general and for Parkinson's in particular. Paul's story is a picture perfect way to approach aging. Seeking challenges and making more for himself and by all means getting out of the house to be with others. Bravo, and keep on rowing and moving!