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Monday, April 3, 2017

Lehi woman fighting Parkinson's disease one punch at a time

April 2, 2017

Sheila Powell had just learned that her father had died when her doctor delivered more news she wasn't prepared for: "You have Parkinson's disease."

PROVO (AP) — Sheila Powell had just learned that her father had died when her doctor delivered more news she wasn't prepared for: "You have Parkinson's disease."
After a battle with breast cancer nearly a decade earlier, the Lehi woman had seen her fair share of hospital rooms, doctor's offices and operating rooms. She wasn't ready for another fight.
"I was floored. I mean, after so many fights, I thought, 'Please, not another thing,'" Powell said, "but you have to get up again. You have to fight. Parkinson's was no different for me. … I had to fight."
The Mayo Clinic defines Parkinson's disease as a "progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement." But the disease is so much more: Apathy, depression and sometimes confusion are side effects to the neurological disorder, on top of the telltale tremors in the extremities exhibited with the progression of the disorder.
Essentially, Parkinson's disease slowly takes over the body. It begins with the aforementioned symptoms and then ataxia, or impaired balance, and slowed movement set in. The disease has no cure, and eventually proves fatal.
After Powell's diagnosis, she began to feel the initial symptoms — depression, apathy, a small tremor in her left arm — until one day she was unable to spontaneously swing her left arm at all.
"That's when things got bad," said Lee Powell, Sheila's husband. "We went to a conference up in Salt Lake and got some info, but it wasn't until our second conference at the (University of Utah) that we really found something we were looking for."
What happened next was a bizarre scene involving a punching bag and a woman in her 90s up on a stage donning big, pink punching gloves.
"So we're sitting there, listening on to the speaker. Then he brings up an old woman in her nineties — 93, 94 maybe? And she gets up out of her wheelchair and starts beating the hell out of this bag," Lee Powell said.
That was when things changed for Sheila Powell. She saw that woman and said to herself, "Well, if I can do that …"
Since then, Sheila Powell has collected a few pamphlets and brochures here and there, and she's done some research into the benefits of boxing as it pertains to Parkinson's disease.
What she found was not necessarily definitive results, but some convincing anecdotal evidence on how boxing can slow down and sometimes reverse the symptoms of Parkinson's.
Enter Legends Boxing, a small boxing gym in Lehi that hosts a program geared toward patients with Parkinson's disease. The program, Rock Steady Boxing, is specifically designed to help patients get back the mobility, balance, strength and agility they once had.
Sherri Bickley, a certified instructor in the Rock Steady Boxing program as well as a medical social worker who does palliative and hospice care, is deeply invested in the care of her students.
"Seeing improvement every day is something I live for," Bickley said. "Sometimes they don't even see it. But I see the progress every day. (The students) are getting better and better with their agility and strength constantly."
Bickley has been boxing for some time, but her true passion is helping people, and she's made a career out of it as a medical social worker.
"I think this is a great way to help people and to also stay in shape, take care of your body," she said.
As for Sheila Powell, her fight continues. Some days are better than others, but her doctor has encouraged her to stay in the boxing class and to keep fighting.
Today, she is down from more pills you can count on two hands to about two to three meds per day — a wild success in any doctor's book.
"There are still days where I get up and don't want to do anything. The apathy sets in," Sheila Powell said. "But the boxing helps."
As a retired schoolteacher, Sheila Powell was never an athlete, or so she says. But her boxing blood began years ago, when her grandfather Terry Keller was a boxer of some renown in the Salt Lake City/Ogden area.
According some records obtained by Sheila Powell, Keller even defeated Jack Dempsey at one point before Dempsey went on to create a name for himself.
Boxing blood or not, Sheila Powell has created a name for herself in her own right, and she wants more than anything to help others — a sentiment reminiscent of her teaching days. She hopes to become a certified teacher assistant in the Rock Steady Boxing program.
"When I box, I don't have Parkinson's disease," she said. "And that's all that matters. … For those classes, the disease is gone."

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