Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dave Mills, The Optimal Balance

I am happy to have a guest post to Exercise Neuroscience @ UD.  Megan Gilmore is a Senior Exercise Science major at the University of Delaware and the type of student who makes my job more meaningful.  Enjoy.

This is Dave. Dave was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1973 at just 24 years old. After years of questioning his diagnosis, Dave saw another doctor who concluded that Dave actually has Spinocerebellar Ataxia in 1992. As his condition has progressed since then, he has become 98% dependent on his wheelchair. This hasn’t stopped Dave from getting to the YMCA to swim 3-6 times weekly, covering 1-1.5 miles each session. In order to maintain his physical fitness, Dave needs to display strong aspects of social and mental fitness, while arranging rides through his transportation service and keeping a positive attitude to continue exercising, despite the effort it may take to get there. The majority of us are perfectly capable of walking to a local gym, using the exercise equipment of choice, and getting back to our lives within an hour, yet we choose to let our physical fitness take the back burner. Does it take a debilitating event or disease to appreciate the bodies we are given?

Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA) is a condition characterized by progressive problems with movement. People with this condition initially experience problems with coordination and balance (ataxia). People with SCA typically survive 10 to 20 years after symptoms first appear. Today in 2015, Dave has been diagnosed with a condition degenerating his ability to move for over 40 years. Watching Dave swim 54 laps in the pool before 10 am on a Saturday morning was moving to say the least. He refuses to receive help from any person or device to get into or out of the pool and moves from one end to the other using mainly his left arm. After getting out of the pool, he said to me, “My right arm doesn’t move too well does it? But it works enough. Everything has its role.” Dave doesn’t take anything for granted and feels fortunate to have any ability in the arm that is lacking the mobility it once had. Comprehensive fitness can certainly be brought back to Dave’s quote. Social, mental, and physical fitness have to work together, each playing  a role, for a person to embody an overall high level of fitness. He utilizes his body as a unit, where everything has a part to play, big or small.

Dave was hospitalized on two separate occasions this May and June for a serious case of pneumonia, adding up to a total of six weeks in the hospital. In neither of these hospital visits did Dave receive a shower. He watched as his able-bodied roommates got up to take showers daily, but this simple daily function would be considered more of a luxury or a treatment for Dave, as the nurses or aides would have to step in and initiate the process. Dave explained that the staff appeared to be too busy to give him a shower, as they were dealing with more “critical” events with other patients.

It shouldn’t take losing mobility for people to realize that there needs to be change. It is education and awareness that can facilitate change in the attitudes people have towards people with limited mobility. Rather than asking himself, “why me,” Dave maintains a positive attitude as he realizes that his disability is a reality that people face. Hopefully this makes you think. As a 22 year old, I know that I am not guaranteed my health. Maintaining comprehensive fitness is the strongest protective measure to combat challenges and ensure resilience. Any day my body could fail me, and I hope I would choose to live like Dave.

“SCA1.” Genetics Home Reference. 30 Nov. 2015.   Web. 1 Dec. 2015.