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Parkinson’s doesn’t stop determined bowler

Thursday July 30, 2009

Debbie Juniewicz

Dayton Daily News - It started with a slight tremor in his hand. It ended with overwhelming news: Mike Pohl had Parkinson’s disease.

At just 26, Pohl was not the typical Parkinson’s patient. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, the brain disorder usually develops after age 65, with only 15 percent of cases diagnosed in those 50 or younger.

A bowler since he was 7 years old — plopping down $1 for two games, a pop and a pair of shoes at Pla-Mor Lanes — Pohl wasn’t about to call it quits. His high average of 214, however, was slipping away, as was his self-confidence as his deteriorating physical condition made everyday activities, such as dressing himself, almost impossible.

Deep brain stimulation surgery in 2004, which involves the implantation of electrodes in his brain and a computerized pulse generator in his abdomen, has helped reduce symptoms that include stiffness, rigidity and violent tremors.

His 23-year battle with the disease that affects more than 1.5 million Americans has never stopped him from reaching out to help others. This year marks the 26th consecutive year that the West Carrollton bowler, now 49, will compete in a charity no-tap tournament at Pla-Mor Lanes. Pohl will bowl in the 6th Annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation No-Tap Singles Challenge.

In his words

“Devastated is the best way to describe how I felt when I was diagnosed. I saw my grandmother die with Parkinson’s disease; after awhile she just gave up. My mom screamed her head off when I told her I had it. But I was determined to never let it stop me.

“It got pretty bad. I couldn’t work. I was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt every day and I could barely get those on by myself. If I drove anywhere, I’d have to pull over and get out of the car every 15 minutes because I couldn’t sit still any longer than that. If I wanted to talk on the phone, I had to lay it down and put my head next to it to talk. If I tried to hold it, I would hit myself in the head again and again.

“I knew right away I’d do the surgery (deep brain stimulation) as soon as I met with the doctor, maybe even before that. I had to; I couldn’t take living like that any more. It was funny, I had brain surgery on Monday and I was in the bowling alley the next day showing the guys the 20-some staples in my head.

“I’m due for a battery change pretty soon. The first battery (in the pulse generator unit implanted in his abdomen) lasted 31/2 years. This one lasted only 22 months. It’s a little weird, but it’s kind of like a car. If a car’s battery doesn’t work, the car doesn’t work.

“Bowling used to be one of those things where I’d just pick up the ball and go. Not anymore. I have to think through every step I take or I will fall flat on my face. And my timing is a big issue now. But my average, which fell to 170, is back up to 200.

“You never know what lies ahead. That’s part of the reason I bowl in this tournament every year. But, mostly I do it for the kids who could benefit some day. I didn’t get diagnosed with Parkinson’s until I was 26, but there are a lot of kids who are diagnosed with a serious illness much earlier.”

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