In a recent interview with CNN, Dan Schoenthal, a retired 56-year-old police officer of Great Valley, New York, explained that in 2015 he received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Among other recommendations, Dan’s doctor told him that he should exercise. In fact, his doctor stressed that exercise is almost as important as medication.
Dan took that as an order and thought about his life-long ambition of hiking the Appalachian Trail. His diagnosis, rather than being a setback, only made him determined to meet that challenge.
The Longest Trail
The Appalachian Trail runs through fourteen states all the way from Maine to Georgia. The hike is called a thru-hike and is the longest footpath only trail in the world.
Thousands of hikers attempt the hike each year but only one hiker in four complete the trail. To say it is a challenge for someone with Parkinson’s is truly an understatement.
Dan’s First Test
Dan tested his endurance in August last year by hiking three hundred miles. He felt he had the stamina to make the big hike. His goal was to finish the remaining 1,900 miles by July or August of 2021.
On April 3rd of this year, Dan was back on the trail. CNN caught up with him at mile marker 413 near the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
Dan told the CNN reporter that he has not seen very much progression of the disease so far other than tremors in his left leg and arm. His daily hiking leaves him a little stiff each morning but he is able to stretch it out. Dan feels that he is in pretty good shape and can reach his goal.
About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s is second to Alzheimer’s as a common neurodegenerative disorder. Parkinson’s affects approximately one million people in the United States.
The typical symptoms of Parkinson’s are problems with balance and gait, stiffness, and slow movement. However, many people are able to live seemingly normal lives at first.
James Beck, M.D., V.P. of the Parkinson’s Foundation, spoke with CNN. Dr. Beck confirmed that Parkinson’s is not a death sentence. Although there is no cure, there are medications that can control its symptoms. It is a disease, he said, that people can live with. He added that exercise is beneficial.
Dr. Beck acknowledged to CNN that currently, they do not know how to stop Parkinson’s or even what causes its progression. Diagnosis is difficult and more of a process of gradually eliminating the cause of a person’s symptoms. It cannot be diagnosed with a brain scan or blood test. After years of testing, people are generally not diagnosed until they are in their sixties.
Younger patients are therefore more difficult to diagnose as it is considered unusual for Parkinson’s to surface until the later years.
A Typical Example
Dan’s case was a typical example. In 2012 he noticed that he was unusually short of breath and had problems with his legs after a half marathon. After his symptoms worsened, he was diagnosed as having essential tremors, a typical misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s patients.
Although his tremors continued to increase and he also noticed stiffness in his legs, Dan was not diagnosed with Parkinson’s until 2015.
Dan makes it clear that this challenge has become more than for himself, and he hopes to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease.
Any funds that are donated in support will go to the Parkinson’s Foundation. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to curing the disease and helping to improve care for Parkinson’s patients.