Parkinson’s patient credits activity for crash recovery

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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photoDan Maxwell, center right, takes part in an exercise class lead by fitness instructor Jan Beyer, center left, at the Waterford at Fairway Village health and fitness club Tuesday. Maxwell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years ago, was seriously injured in a car crash in May. Doctors said he wouldn’t walk for six months, but he’ll walk in this weekend’s Sole Support for Parkinson’s 5K in Portland.

(/The Columbian)

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Four months ago, Dan and Cathy Maxwell were involved in a devastating single-vehicle accident in Eastern Oregon.

Dan broke both bones in his lower right leg. His left ankle was shattered. His right shoulder was crushed. His face was torn open by shards of glass.

Cathy was pronounced dead at the scene, just one day before the couple’s 42nd wedding anniversary.

Doctors told Dan he wouldn’t walk for six months. But he had other plans.

Dan then told doctors he would participate in the Sole Support for Parkinson’s walk in Portland. The walk is this Sunday, and Dan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years ago, will be walking 3.1 miles with about 100 other Clark County residents.

Last year, the Maxwells walked the event’s 1K loop together. Afterward, Dan told his wife he wanted to walk the 5K the following year.

Cathy, who had her own health issues, said she wouldn’t be able to walk that far. So Dan told his wife he would walk for both of them. On Sunday, he will do just that.

Police officers told Dan the night of the accident that his wife had been thrown from the vehicle and died. But it wasn’t until three days later, when he received a box of condolence cards, that Dan processed the loss.

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“That’s a life partner,” he said of his wife, who he met at age 6. “For that to be gone, it hit me as being completely unbearable.”

At that point, Dan knew he had could have one of two responses: negative or positive. He chose the latter and dedicated himself to his recovery.

“I really just want to pass on how important positive mental attitude and physical exercise are,” the 62-year-old said. “I believe that’s what kept me alive in that accident.”

Dan was released from the Boise, Idaho, hospital three weeks after the crash. He moved into the Waterford at Fairway Village, where he received medical care and emotional support. Dan focused on his physical rehabilitation at Waterford’s health and fitness club, where he had exercised prior to the accident. He used the equipment and swam in the pool. He returned to the fitness classes designed for people with movement disorders — the classes he advocated for the club to develop a year and half earlier. The classes focus on balance, enhancing mobility and range of motion, hand-eye coordination and speech.

When Dan left the hospital on May 25, he needed help getting into and out of his wheelchair. After two months, he could stand up on his own and walk slowly while wearing medical boots on both feet. After three months, Dan was able to walk without the boots. And now, after four months, he’s ready to walk 3.1 miles.

Dan continues his exercise regimen, not only to prepare for the 5K but to maintain mobility despite having a disease that often robs people of movement.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that leads to tremors and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination. Dan’s diagnosis prompted him to leave his career as an independent financial adviser and focus on enhancing his mobility through exercise.

“It is all the difference,” Dan said of exercise. “It is what allows you to keep walking.”

In addition to his own Parkinson’s disease management, Dan helps others dealing with the disease.

He’s involved with the Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon (http://www.parkinsonsresources.org), which also serves Southwest Washington, and leads support groups. He’s an advocate for people with the disease and stresses the importance of living better with Parkinson’s. He’s also working to launch a Parkinson’s walk in Vancouver next year.

Cathy lived her life for others, and now, Dan said he is devoted to do the same.

“Cathy’s death brought that out loud and clear,” Dan said. “That’s the legacy I will carry for her.”

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.