Air Force Veteran Powers Forward With Parkinson’s

Dirk Niedentohl stays busy. Whether he’s at work or at home, he’s always working on a project to keep himself busy.

“He comes home from work, goes out in the wood shop, and stays out until dark,” explains his wife Gale. “I have to remind him to come in to eat.”

After Dirk’s Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2011, staying busy became his way to deal with the disease. He follows Brian’s motto to power forward with Parkinson’s, which isn’t surprising for a 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force.

“When I was first diagnosed, my initial thought was, ‘I’m gonna keep working, pressing on and pushing through this thing. I’m trying to stay positive.’”

With the support of his wife, Dirk continues to work at his job wiring control panels while also pursuing his woodworking. Both of these activities help him stay moving and focused. As Dirk explains, “you have to stay focused in woodworking so you don’t lose a finger.”

Dirk has always been active. In high school he ran track and field and was the anchor for the relay team that set a record that still stands today. Recently his former coach gave him the plaque from the record, which prompted a team reunion.

“After coach gave me the plaque, I contacted two of my former teammates and we got together for a visit. We started contacting other track runners from the 70s and got about 60 people together for a reunion. We were recognized during a Friday night football game.”

After high school Dirk finished his degree in physical education before signing up for the Air Force. His service took him to countries like Korea and Saudi Arabia. His service in Saudi Arabia occurred during Desert Storm. Veterans deployed to the Gulf War may be at a higher risk of Parkinson’s due to chemical and environmental exposures that occurred during the conflict.

“Looking at the contributing factors for Parkinson’s, it doesn’t surprise me that veterans may have a higher risk of the disease,” says Dirk.

Though he has a positive outlook on living with Parkinson’s, Dirk admits to getting flustered sometimes by his diagnosis. “We’re only human beings and I get pissed off. I don’t ask why because it’s irrelevant,” he says. “But even on my worst days, when my meds are doing peaks and valleys and I’m struggling to walk, I keep moving.”

“To anyone that’s been recently diagnosed my advice is to never give up. Also rely on a support group – and by that I mean spouses, family, friends and loved ones. My wife Gale is my driving force, my rock. Therefore I power forward to stay strong for her.”

And Dirk doesn’t give up. He recently reconnected with an old college friend, Kevin Record, on Facebook and learned he had finished a cross-country bike ride to raise funds for cancer research. Dirk told Kevin about his struggle with Parkinson’s and last year Kevin cycled Alaska to raise funds for PD research.

Kevin documented the journey in a book called “Frozen Coach on a Bike.” The book is available for purchase on Amazon with the funds supporting Parkinson’s research. (Purchase the book on Amazon Smile and help support Parkinson’s research. Choose the Brian Grant Foundation as your charity on Amazon Smile and a portion of your purchase will support our programs too!)

And about that motto that he follows to power forward – Dirk has always been a fan of Brian’s, even before his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

“I like the bangers – not the glory guys. Players like Brian go in and do all of the hard work,” he explains. “I followed Brian before Parkinson’s and kept a couple of his basketball cards. But I follow him a lot more now.”

“I thank Brian for doing positive things for people with Parkinson’s. He could’ve packed it in when he was diagnosed, but he didn’t. Instead he’s doing wonderful things.”