Punching Out Parkinson’s
Idaho WWAMI Students Volunteer Ringside with Parkinson’s Patients
Students in the WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho began volunteering with RSB in 2019 to become more involved in the community and enhance their medical education. WWAMI is the University of Washington School of Medicine’s (UWSOM) multi-state medical education program. The acronym, WWAMI, stands for the states that partner with UWSOM to help educate physicians across the region: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
Demsie Butler, a second-year Idaho WWAMI student from Bliss, helped forge the partnership between WWAMI and RSB; she recognized that RSB offered classmates a fresh twist on clinical service learning in Moscow.
“Many Idaho WWAMI clinical volunteer opportunities are oriented toward family medicine or pediatrics,” she said. “But Rock Steady Boxing is a good fit for medical students who are interested in sports medicine or physical therapy.”
Bailey Vail, a first-year Idaho WWAMI student from Nampa, is the RSB volunteer coordinator and seconds Butler’s vision.
“It’s not a traditional clinical volunteer experience, but you are working with patients who have a medical diagnosis,” she said. “We get to work with patients in a different kind of setting – a gym – and help improve quality of life in a non-traditional way.
Rock Steady Boxing Fights Back
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that affects movement and balance in people typically 50 years and older. There is no cure, but research shows that exercise can slow disease progression. RSB – founded in 2006 in Indiana and now a nationally-replicated program – adapts boxing drills to sharpen gross motor movement, core strength and rhythm.
We get to work with patients in a different kind of setting – a gym – and help improve quality of life in a non-traditional way.
Mary Jo Penberthy is the clinical coordinator at Gritman Medical Center’s Martin Wellness Center and a certified RSB coach.
“All the things boxers work on – agility, hand-eye coordination, balance, muscular endurance – are things that people with Parkinson’s struggle with,” she said. “It’s an extremely inspiring program; to watch these individuals literally fight back against Parkinson’s.”
Participants are organized by severity of symptoms. First- and second-year Idaho WWAMI students help support individuals at balance stations, work alongside them on exercise equipment and participate in the drills themselves.
Both Sides Benefit
Katherin Pope, a second-year Idaho WWAMI student from Post Falls, found volunteering with RSB not only enriched her education, but was inspirational, as well.
“Volunteering at RSB offers us a chance to correlate bookwork to real life,” she said. “More than anything, though, RSB humanizes the disease. Being around older individuals who are refusing to surrender to a diagnosis really put into perspective my own challenges and what I’m capable of.”
Matthew Burgstahler, a first-year Idaho WWAMI student who grew up in Sandpoint, volunteered weekly with RSB until COVID-19 paused the operation in January. He looks forward to getting back to the gym with the close-knit group when the threat of coronavirus passes.
“The people at RSB really mean a lot to me. I don’t think of it as a service position because I’m getting so much out of it,” he said. “I’m 30 or 40 years younger than most of the boxers and although we’re in different phases of our lives – they’re talking about grandkids and I don’t even have kids of my own – we have this physical practice that brings us together every week.”
Penberthy has heard from both WWAMI students and Parkinson’s patients how important RSB is from a mental health perspective.
“Since COVID-19, I’ve learned how significant the social aspect of the class is. The boxers are all eager to come back,” she said.
Article by Lindsay Lodis, WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho
Published July 2020