Nordic skiing helps Steamboat doctor with Parkinson’s disease |

Nordic skiing helps Steamboat doctor with Parkinson’s disease

Retired emergency room physician Dr. Donald Cantway, of Steamboat Springs, has found that exercise, including the the classical stye of cross country skiing in combination with a neurostimulator brain implant, have greatly improved his quality of life while coping with Parkinson's disease.

— Retired emergency room physician Dr. Donald Cantway, of Steamboat Springs, is living well with Parkinson's disease thanks to an exercise regimen that includes the classic style of cross country skiing and the medical marvel of a battery-operated neurostimulator implanted in his brain two years ago.

"The change was just amazing to me," Cantway said about the surgically implanted electronic stimulator that significantly mitigated the impacts of Parkinson's, which include tremors, rigid joints, slowed movements and difficulty walking.

Parkinson's is a result of the degeneration and damage to the dopamine-producing cells in an area of the hypothalamus of the brain called the "substantia negra," according to Brown University. It is dopamine that enables the coordinated movements of a person's muscles.

Steamboat Springs has an increasingly active Parkinson's support group, which includes people who are among the 1.5 million Americans living with the disease and their families and professionals such as exercise therapists, yoga instructors and, yes, ski instructors.

Mark Traum, an employee and instructor at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's himself, is helping to organize a Jan. 10 fundraiser at Haymaker Nordic Center including lunch, a mini-lesson, a Haymaker day pass and a voucher for a pass at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, discounts on rentals on event day and a silent auction, for the minimum donation of $50.

Not coincidentally, cross country skiing is part of Cantway's exercise regimen.

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"Parkinson's takes away your fine motor movements, and exercises that require big motions help," Cantway said.

He said the diagonal stride of classic cross country skiing with swinging arm motions is particularly effective for him.

"It's ideal. The only problem is that if you fall down, it can be hard to get up," he said.

He and other people living with Parkinson's in Steamboat Springs also attend regular exercise classes tailored specifically for their needs.

"Exercises designed to improve balance and mobility — those are the things you lose," Cantway added.

Clinical sociologist Lindarose Berkley told the Steamboat Today in 2013 that 15 people who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's were attending regular support group meetings.

"I know there are many more people out there. I know of one woman whose husband (has Parkinson's) and won't come, but she will," Berkley said at the time.

For 35 years, Cantway, 72, commuted from his home in Steamboat to a hospital in Laramie, Wyoming, where he worked for a week at a time as an emergency room doctor. He said he preferred practicing that form of medicine in a city where he wasn't familiar with patients who had been in an emergency. When diagnosed with Parkinson's six to seven years ago, he had to give up his practice.

"I couldn't multitask any more, and I was becoming slower in making decisions," he said.

Deep brain stimulation isn't appropriate for all patients — some are more suited to treating the reduced dopamine production that leads to Parkinson's with prescriptions, Cantway said. But he consulted a neurologist in Cheyenne, Wyoming, who encouraged him to undergo deep brain stimulation surgery "sooner than later."

Like the typical patient, Cantway put it off for five years. And then, the initial surgery resulted in an infection. When that cleared up, Cantway underwent a different form of surgery that was very successful.

Today, he self-regulates the neurotransmitter to meet his needs. Cantway continues to drive his car around Steamboat, walks without shuffling and has no noticeable hand tremors.

And Cantway thrives on exercise.

"I've been working out all my life," he said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

If you go

What: Benefit for people exercising to manage Parkinson’s disease

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 10

Where: Haymaker Nordic Center, 34855 E. U.S Highway 40

Details: For a minimum donation of $50, participants can enjoy a day pass at Haymaker, 30-minute mini lesson, lunch, access to silent auction, voucher for a pass at Steamboat Ski Touring Center, $10 discount on rental gear day of event (reserve ahead of time) and an opportunity to purchase Haymaker season pass at early season rates (day of event only).

For the Parkinson’s support group in Steamboat Springs, call 970-875-1088.