Written by Mary Jane Skalka OF Kearney Hub
KEARNEY — Neil Jochen has sold advertising for small businesses. He has served as the executive director at YMCAs in Ohio and Michigan. But for the past 15 years, he’s had to funnel his energy into dealing with Parkinson’s disease.
In recent weeks, the 80-year-old Jochen has more energy, thanks to Delay the Disease, a new fitness program at the Kearney Family YMCA aimed at delaying and easing physical disabilities caused by Parkinson’s disease. Those disabilities include tremors, stiffness, slowness, behavioral disorders, sleep problems and functional decline. Since the pilot program began three weeks ago, “I’ve seen improvement,” his wife Beth said.
“We want to help change lives,” Dillon Nelson, the Y’s community engagement manager, said. “We want anyone to come who has any kind of movement challenges.”
Delay the Disease began as a pilot program in July. Nelson expected five people to show up for that trial run, but 18 came and gave it enthusiastic approval. It officially kicks off Aug. 21. Classes will be from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday. The cost is $5 per class.
Tuesday morning, Y instructor Brooke White guided 12 people in that pilot program. Sitting up front on a folding chair, she had them warm up by looking from side to side and rolling their shoulders. They used their facial muscles. “I need everyone to have determined facial expressions. Be happy! Be sad! Be surprised!” White instructed.
Next, they clutched a ball between their knees. Then, sitting across from a partner, they tossed a ball back and forth. They marched back and forth across the room. Participants can adjust the movements to their abilities, and assistance is available from White or her assistant, Theresa Harris.
“I really enjoy this,” White said after the class. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays I wake up ready to go. I’m excited to come in and see the people come in.”
Harris, who, like White wore a gray Delay the Disease T-shirt, said: “We thought we’d have five guys in the pilot program. We didn’t expect this kind of response.”
The program was brought to the Y by Jon McBride, a former Kearney Family YMCA board member who served as the athletic director at the University of Nebraska at Kearney from 2002-2013. He’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, and finally “gave up (my job) when it got too tough to do it and maintain life at the same time.” But he knew that “activity and movement is the best medicine a person with Parkinson’s can have.”
McBride learned about Delay the Disease from the chairman of Nebraska Parkinson’s, the non-profit that raises funds and awareness about the disease. When told that DTD is offered in Omaha and Lincoln, but no farther west, McBride was determined to launch it here. “I wanted to see people in central and western Nebraska utilize this kind of program. This was badly needed in this part of the state,” he said.
McBride approached Denny Placzek, chief executive officer of the Y, about it. “I knew he was determined,” Placzek said. It also fit in with the Y’s mission, which in recent years had been focusing on chronic diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. In December, Placzek met with Matt Lewis from New West Rehabilitation and Matt O’Neill from Alpha Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy at 920 E. 56th St.
In January, the Y formed an action group that included physical therapists, Parkinson’s disease patients and members of the Kearney Parkinson’s support group. Delay the Disease was off and running.
“Our mission will help individuals prevent, delay, or live better with chronic conditions,” Placzek said.
With financial help from Nebraska Parkinson, White and Harris went to OhioHealth in Columbus for an intensive two-day Delay the Disease training program to certify them to become DTD instructors, who must be physical therapists or occupational therapists, or be certified in group exercise, in order to become certified to lead the program.
White has a group exercise certification and master’s degree in kinesiology. Through the training and the pilot program, “I’ve learned that a diagnosis doesn’t define the individual, and each person is unique in their journey with Parkinson’s disease,” she said.
Harris is a former physical therapist at CHI Health Good Samaritan and other places. Her husband, Ford, has early Parkinson’s disease and is in the pilot program. Harris is now a Y staff member.
‘Excited to be here’
Nelson sees firsthand how the program is changing lives. “I’ve seen people come out of their shells. I see them interacting with each other in this safe environment. Last week, we had a woman who was a bit hesitant at first, but I allowed her to sample it, and soon she was smiling and laughing.”
He added: “This program has changed not only participants’ lives, but the staff’s lives as well. The participants are coming to the Y, smiling and laughing and having a great time. They bring a different type of energy to our facility. They are showing us that although fitness and wellness can be a challenge, together, we’ve got this.”
McBride feels satisfaction in bringing DTD here. “I battle Parkinson’s every minute. All the time, I’m thinking about my next step, or going down a hallway. I’ve even told my doctor, ‘I’m tired of thinking.’ Smiling and being happy and even raising your voice is taken for granted by most people. Now, to be able to make changes and to be able to adjust is rewarding,” he said.
McBride has five heart-tugging reasons for being as limber as possible: his five grandchildren, all under the age of 6. “I want to make sure I can carry my grandkids,” he smiled. “This gives me the confidence and balance to do normal things that aren’t normal anymore.”