Dan Baker is a retired educator, whose 40 year career included time as a biology and wellness teacher, football, wrestling and baseball coach, and a principal and administrator. Dan was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2002 when he was 55 years old. His first symptoms were stiffness in his left side, including noticing that his left arm was not swinging normally, and that his left foot was shuffling and catching. After a variety of tests his general practitioner referred him to a neurologist who diagnosed PD. Dan got a second opinion from the OHSU Parkinson’s Center, and has received treatment there ever since,
Exercise is central to Dan’s ongoing treatment, and his history as an athlete and a coach makes it a natural continuation of something he’s done all of his life. Dan's exercise program is impressive, and includes golf, tai chi, pilates, boxing, swimming, and PD-specific exercise classes. He also believes strongly in the importance of activities which give life meaning and value. Dan and his wife regularly help with classes offered by the OHSU for people newly diagnosed with PD, and they volunteer at their church food pantry, where they serve the needy and homeless.
What has Dan learned from having PD? That most people are very supportive and empathetic. That he needs to trust in a higher power to get through this journey. That it’s important to do things that give life value. That he has “the best wife and family in the world.”
Dan’s advice to other people with PD is: “PD is just a small part of who you are. Don’t focus on it, don’t let it define you. Keep doing what ever you can and want to do with your life.” One of Dan’s favorite sayings is: “the difference between being good and being great is how quickly you can recover from adversity.”
Dan urges PD patients to participate in research, noting that only 5% of people with PD participate in research trials. Dan believes that with all the advances in medicine, a cure is imminent. He urges people with PD to be open about it to the world. He remembers when he quit hiding his condition, and that it felt like a huge burden had been lifted.
To others who don’t have PD, Dan says not to be afraid to approach people who look like they may have PD and ask questions. Most PD patients are happy to talk with you about their lives and make others aware of the facts of the disease. He adds: people who don’t have PD can also make an impact by making others aware of PD, donating money and by volunteering to be a healthy control subject in PD research.