Boxing class helps Parkinson's patients fight back against the disease

A group of Parkinson's patients in St. Joseph are hitting back at the disease in a very unique way.

Posted: Jul 14, 2019 12:52 PM
Updated: Jul 15, 2019 10:59 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) At the age of 69, Max Van Dyke has taken up boxing.

And like everyone else in the class, Max is fighting for his life.

"I was diagnosed four and a half, five years ago with Parkinson's," said Max.

Parkinson's Disease is a neurological disorder that causes tremors affecting movement.

"I worked in the health care profession and noticed that I was starting to shake a little bit when I was trying to start an IV on a patient," Max said. "I realized that was not a good thing and started to investigate further what was going on."

There's no cure for Parkinson's but Max is hitting back at the disease.

"I think of these bags as being the Parkinson's disease and when I hit the bag I want to hurt it. I want to beat it."

Max is one of several Parkinson's patients battling the disease by boxing three days a week at Fruedenthal's Center for Parkinson's at East Hills Mall in St. Joseph.

"If you're dealt this hand in life you have one of two choices," trainer Tara Patterson said. "You can give in and give up or you can come here and fight back and these people chose to fight back."

And some of them are winning. Patterson has seen patients get back what Parkinson's has taken from them.

"I've seen people walk in with a pretty bad shuffle and take big steps," Patterson said. "I've seen people come in with a walker and they've lost their walker. I've definitely seen them punch harder."

Miles Mitchell was diagnosed with Parkinson's 11 years ago. He's been boxing for the past four years.

"You can work to handle this disease more on your own participation than just relying on medication to do the job," Mitchell said. "This works to help your brain recharge and make connections again to where they haven't been."

Doctors say exercise is one of the secrets to fighting Parkinson's.

"They're going to get slower, they're going to have balance difficulties, they're going to have falls," said Dr. Rajesh Pahwa, MD, Movement Disorders Clinic Director at The University of Kansas Health System. "We have enough data to show the more active they are, they are doing better 10, 15, 20 years down."

It's a workout not only good for the body but for the soul.

"As trainers we can't fully understand what they go through. A lot of people that come into the center have that common bond and can relate to each other. They keep each other's heads up and keep them in the fight," said Patterson.

And while there is nothing yet to stop Parkinson's, don't ask Max to throw in the towel.

As long as he can box, he'll always be in the fight.

"There's folks here that are wheelchair bound and they're still coming and still boxing. That's going to be me. They'll be dragging me in here, I'll still come."

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