Parkinson’s disease slows former newsman
ARROWHEAD – Rick Schwartz didn’t know what was wrong with him, and not for lack of trying.Schwartz’s right hand was shaking uncontrollably six years ago. He first thought it was a pinched nerve. It wasn’t. After a brain scan and other tests, a neurologist finally had a diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.There’s no cure for Parkinson’s. In fact, the only way to diagnose it is by a doctor closely observing a patient’s physical symptoms. There’s medicine to help control some of the trembling and treat the pain, but there’s no way to slow or stop its advance. It only gets worse.”When I was diagnosed, the neurologist said, ‘Yep, you’ve got it. Thanks for coming in,’ and left,” said Schwartz said, who lives in Arrowhead. After he was diagnosed, Schwartz got on the Web and started looking for more information. He found the Parkinson Association of the Rockies, a nonprofit group that helps those living with the disease and the people taking care of them.Through the first few years, Schwartz, now 59, kept working as a producer for Fox Sports Net in Denver, producing two half-hour sportscasts a day, six days a week. But the disease and work finally took its toll, and Schwartz took a long-term leave of absence. Now, he dedicates himself to keeping himself well and active, and spreading the word about the state’s Parkinson’s group. But keeping active these days is a lot different than its been through most of Schwartz’s life.”It’s ironic. The two major things in my life have been sports and either being in front of a camera or producing, where you have to think on your feet,” he said. “This takes both of them.Schwartz gets along pretty well, if the terrain is level and flat. But, like a stroke in extremely slow motion, he’s gradually using the use of the right side of his body. His right hand trembles, and he can’t really lift his right leg without effort. Sometimes, the words are slow to come.”I used to hike up Vail Mountain, but I had to give up skiing this year,” he said. “If I could only turn left, I’d be fine.”
It’s a big change. Schwartz was an athlete as a youngster, good enough to play in the Cleveland Indians’ minor-league system for a few years.”We always think we were born too soon,” he said. “But there were only 16 major league teams when I was playing. Now there are 32.”After a few years playing baseball, Schwartz turned to teaching, then acting and modeling, a career that put him in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.”It was a crazy way of life,” he said. His earlier dreams of being a sportscaster drew him into that part of the business. After stints in Fort Myers, Fla. and Washington, D.C., and a move behind the cameras into production, Schwartz landed at Channel 4 in Denver in 1995. And, like so many before and since, decided he was home.The jobs at Channel 4, then Fox, put Schwartz in some memorable scenes from the state’s sports world, including the winning locker rooms of Super Bowl and Stanley Cup-winning Denver teams.After Parkinson’s hit, though, work got tougher, and finally, impossible.”I missing being a mentor to the kids,” he said. “I miss the relationships, and watching them grow into true professionals.
After more than 30 years of competition – on the field, for jobs, and then for ratings – Schwartz now has an opponent he knows he can’t beat. But now, his competition isn’t so much with Parkinson’s as it is with himself.”I compete against myself to stay positive,” he said. “I work out every day, because lethargy is one side effect. I do as much as possible to stay as limber with as I can.”And there’s the work with the Parkinson Association of the Rockies. Schwartz has been on the group’s board of directors almost since he was diagnosed, and is now the board’s president.”He’s really helped us connecting with sports people in Denver,” said Kim Barnett, the Parkinson Association’s executive director. Part of that work has been with the Colorado Rockies and Ben Petrick, a former catcher for the team who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 24.”He’s done a lot to help the organization run in a positive direction,” she said. Now, Schwartz is trying to broaden the reach of the Denver-based organization.The Parkinson Association has literature available, as well as equipment including wheelchairs and gadgets to help get patients into the tub or shower, and on and off the toilet. That help is available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, Schwartz said.The group also puts together support groups in communities around the state, and raises money for research, much of which goes to a foundation started by actor Michael J. Fox. “There are a lot of promising things out there,” Schwartz said. “In the meantime, there are people who have this and their caregivers who need help now. That’s where we come in.”There isn’t a lot available for Parkinson’s patients on the Western Slope, Schwartz said, so he wants people to know there’s a resource as close as a mouse click or phone call.”If people here want to start a support group, they can help,” Schwartz said.From his home in Arrowhead, Schwartz keeps half-shuffling along.
“I’ve never said ‘why me?’,” Schwartz said. “That’s life. I try to keep a positive attitude. If you start feeling sorry for yourself, that’s when it gets bad.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or firstname.lastname@example.org.On the Net: http://www.parkinsonrockies.orgVail Daily, Vail Colorado