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Gravity can’t pull him down

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image Sun Towers supervising therapist Bre Medlock with Barry Estadt in the facility’s therapy room. “He is a fantastic success story and I am so glad he’s here,” Medlock said. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Sun City Center man reclaims his life through technology, caring therapists and a great outlook.

By Mitch Traphagen

Barry Estadt walked into the workout room carrying the aura of a man of youth and vigor.  His smile was infectious, his confidence palpable.  This was a man comfortable in his own skin; a man who enjoys life and has helped others enjoy their lives, too.

Estadt moved to Sun City Center six years ago after retiring as a professor at Loyola University. He is the unique sort of educator that never stopped being a student; he has never stopped learning. Even as a retiree, he still finds reasons to wonder, to question, to seek knowledge.

Five years ago, only a year after moving to the retirement community, his future suddenly changed.  Estadt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“The Parkinson’s diagnosis can be pretty devastating because you don’t know what is going to happen, it effects everyone differently,” Estadt said.  “The thing with Parkinson’s is that you don’t always realize it is happening.  You start shuffling instead of walking.  I thought that maybe I could learn to walk again.  Maybe I could learn what I needed to do to simply put my foot down normally again.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease for which there is no cure.  The impact of the disease is much more than merely the physical symptoms.  Walking becomes shuffling, voices that were once clear and well enunciated become soft and slurred.  The Parkinson’s patient can see the effects in the eyes and actions of friends and loved ones.  Parkinson’s robs more than mobility; it can rob the victim of confidence and quality of life.

Five years into his diagnosis, those symptoms, and the impacts on the person he had always been, had begun.  Estadt, a Professor Emeritus from Loyola University with a PhD in psychology, a diplomat in counseling psychology, a diplomat in pastoral counseling, the founding directory of the Loyola Pastoral Counseling Program and, more recently, a man teaching couples enrichment classes at the community college in Sun City Center, had begun to withdraw socially due to the progression of his disease.  The long-time professor had stopped speaking in public due to the changes to his voice and he suffered from back pain due to his new difficulties with walking.

And then he learned of a new therapy available at Sun Towers in Sun City Center.  Just over a year ago, as highlighted in an Observer News article, the Sun Terrace Rehabilitation Center at Sun Towers had incorporated a device named the AlterG, an anti-gravity treadmill designed to help those who had lost their legs adjust to the use of prosthetics.  Through the use of an air pressurized chamber on the lower half of the body, the device supports the patient, preventing them from falling down, while cameras provide them with a view of their feet on a screen directly in front of them.  Once in the AlterG, patients can learn to walk again, without fear of injury or of falling.

Supervising therapist Bre Medlock and her staff knew the device was capable of helping far more people; people with a wide variety of challenges and disabilities. 

“We’ve been using this for a year but we thought this might work with people with Parkinson’s Disease,” Medlock said.  “We knew we could do this when we got it but back then I wasn’t sure then how we would go about it.  Now we are seeing the results.”

Both the AlterG and voice therapy were recently incorporated into Barry Estadt’s therapeutic program.  The results came quickly. Estadt said that he knew almost immediately the anti-gravity treadmill would make a difference.

“You can relearn balance without losing your balance,” he said.  “I can see my feet as I walk.  It is reprogramming my brain.  I thought it might work and it has worked. It’s great to be able to walk again.”

What Parkinson’s Disease was taking away from Estadt, the anti-gravity treadmill and some hard work has given back, possibly through forging new pathways in his brain, going around the effects of the disease in learning to walk again.

His voice therapy regimen was equally, if not more, intensive but the results speak for themselves.  Estadt’s voice is strong and steady with crystal clear enunciation.  The professor who again became a student has no trouble speaking in public today, or even to a severely hearing impaired reporter.

“People do try so hard to listen, they try to hear, but after a while they just give up,” he said.  “It was my responsibility to learn to speak louder.”

As the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s have been managed, his life began to change.

“It hasn’t been that long but I am much more confident,” he said.  “I am re-energized in so many ways. I wanted to do what I could to improve my quality of life.  My attitude is different, my outlook is different, my energy level is different.”

“He is a fantastic success story and I am so glad he’s here,” Medlock said.  “Now we know this is something that can really help people.”

According to Medlock, although Estadt had begun to suffer from the psychological impacts of the disease, his positive outlook played a role, just as the anti-gravity treadmill and voice therapy played a role.

“It always makes a difference having a great outlook,” she said.  “There is no magic wand so what you get out of it is what you put into it.  We can help you but you have to help yourself, also.”

With a positive outlook, some advanced technology in a treadmill that defies gravity and a caring staff of therapists, Estadt did help himself, he changed the course of what some would think was inevitable and he reclaimed his life.

“I am profoundly grateful for the interest Sun Towers has taken in clients with Parkinson’s,” he said.

Barry Estadt and his wife were once extensive travelers.  And now, with his newly learned ability to walk and talk without pain or self-consciousness, they are embarking on their first trip in two years.  Prior to his therapy, he didn’t think he would be able to handle the walking involved in travel. Today he has no such concerns.  The smiling man in cargo shorts is a man with all of the appearances of confidence, youth and vigor.  He is a lifetime student who is facing a challenge and is taking it head on… and winning.  Barry Estadt has his life back.

For more information about Sun Terrace, call 813-634-3324 or visit www.cchcfacilities.com/SunTerrace-Home-Temp.html.

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