Westport man refuses to surrender to Parkinson's
Published 6:05 pm, Thursday, March 3, 2011
Faced with challenges, some people become paralyzed by fear.
Faced with a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease 17 years ago, Paul Green got moving to find ways to slow the progression of the nervous-system disorder. And he found some that have kept him moving well into his 80s.
Green, now 87, refused to accept that certain symptoms -- such as depression, tremors and stiffness throughout the body -- would eventually occur. The Brown University graduate delved into research and concluded that vigorous exercise would slow down the disease's progression.
Through his foundation -- "Nevah Surrendah to Parkinson's" -- Green hopes to communicate to those suffering from the debilitating effects of the disease that with prescription drugs, deliberate exercise and changes in nutrition and attitude they can enjoy a full life.
The foundation's name was inspired by the late Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in his British accent often urged his nation during World War II to "Nevah Surrendah! Nevah, nevah, nevah!"
In Green's recently published booklet, "The Exercise & Lifestyle Workout Book," he describes aerobic activities that increase blood flow to the brain. Parkinson's also affects one's mind and spirit, so Green included neurobic exercises to stimulate the brain and sharpen memory.
For example, he suggests that older people who do not have Parkinson's could benefit from learning a new language, playing bridge, doing crossword puzzles or simply changing the route of a daily walk.
"Each person with Parkinson's disease is unique, and each case is different, " Green said.
What works for one person might not be as helpful for another. However, he said, it's vital that people "nevah" stop trying to improve their physical, spiritual and emotional condition.
Green's goal is to continue to inform not only those with Parkinson's but the medical community as well. "Now it's pretty well accepted that vigorous exercise slows the progression of Parkinson's disease, but back then when I was diagnosed, even the neurologists weren't paying too much attention to the value of exercise," Green said.
Parkinson's causes tremors or trembling, rigidity or stiffness of limbs and slow movement, Green writes on his website. "I was told that drugs were available to help manage symptoms, but they would not stop the disease from progressing," Green stated. "I processed this information and embarked on my own search for answers."
Green's new publication is supported by scientific studies, most notably the research of Dr. John Ratay, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Green said that his personal physician, Dr. Cheryl Water of Columbia Presbyterian Movement Center, is pleased with his lifestyle choices. "She thinks I'm doing very well," Green said, smiling. "I'm one of her star patients."
Every day, Green exercises for about an hour at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. Built by Carol and Howard Winklevoss, parents of Olympic oarsmen Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (of "The Social Network" fame), Green describes the facility as "another jewel in the crown of Westport." He describes the Winklevoss twins as "really great kids" and said that overall he enjoys the club's multi-generational population. "As soon as I get here, I feel young," Green said. "I'm here with all of the kids, and they accept me as one of the rowers. They help me, too."
Last year he and Mike Pettee, another octogenarian -- "He's about 80," Green noted -- competed in the double-shell race at the Master's National in Camden, N.J. "Rowing is great because it exercises the whole body," Green stated.
Costel Mutescu, head of the rowing program at the Saugatuck club, enjoys seeing Green working out each day. "He's the best! He's in here everyday! He's my role model," Mutescu said.
Kirsten deBiasi, a personal trainer at the club, is impressed by Green's commitment to exercise. Although she sometimes helps him with stretches, overall, he works out on his own, she said. "He's self-motivated. He knows what he needs to do, and he does it," she said.
To combat symptoms of depression that often accompany Parkinson's, Green appreciates the social aspects of the rowing club. He regularly spends an hour or so there before and after his workouts and often has lunch at the Boathouse at Saugatuck, the restaurant on the property. Owner and chef John Holzwarth prepares healthy meals for Green that aid his well-being.
"The people here are so supportive," Green said.
Realizing the intrinsic value of helping others with the disease, Green founded a support group that meets regularly at the Westport Senior Center. Meetings are on the fourth Wednesday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon. "The [number] of people who show up varies, but we've had up to 25 people at one time," Green stated. "It's fantastic."
More information about Parkinson's and Green's findings are available at www.nevahsurrendah.org or by calling 203-227-6500.