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The man who walked 70 miles to help schools is still moving, taking part in the battle against Parkinson's

Wednesday December 15, 2010

Raymond Rendleman

OregonCityNews - Clackamas resident Dick Millington isn't walking dozens of miles at a time anymore, but that doesn't mean that his recent diagnosis with Parkinson's disease is slowing him down much.

He has remained an active social advocate by joining the local efforts to find cures for the disease and still volunteers weekly as a mentor at Milwaukie Elementary through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Millington, 80, made history a decade ago, when he walked 70 miles throughout the whole metro area. It took more than 26 sleepless hours and raised more than $5,000 for a nonprofit youth organization (Previous stories in Oregon City News, May 17 and May 31, 2000).

About six years after his epic achievement, Millington felt as if he was shuffling around when he walked, and had trouble even describing to physicians what was wrong. Not until he went through a back surgery with little positive effect did physicians realize the correct diagnosis.

With a couple of common prescriptions, Millington has been able to keep his Parkinson's under control, but a cure for the disease remains elusive.

“I feel so blessed, because although I have Parkinson's, it doesn't have me,” he said.

Millington co-facilitates a support group of about 25 people who meet monthly though the Parkinson's Resources of Oregon nonprofit. Nobody dies from Parkinson's directly, but sufferers are much more prone to falls and have trouble swallowing, so broken necks and choking deaths are often attributed as “complications of Parkinson's.”

Besides medication, the major way that people keep control of Parkinson's is through exercise, so Millington has participated in studies at Oregon Health & Science University to help pinpoint exercise's role in Parkinson's. He continues regular exercise by walking, stationary biking and by using stretching bands.

Julie Carter, OHSU professor of neurology, said she's enjoyed having Millington as part of her research into how different types of exercise changes brain function. Although Carter knew that exercise routines increase nueroplasticity, the flexibility of the brain that decreases with Parkinson's, she wasn't sure which types of exercise were more beneficial.

With Millington's help, Carter discovered that a combination of flexibility, strength and aerobic training is key in driving necessary changes in the brain. Millington also noticed that he feels better by emphasizing variety in his exercise, which continuously challenges his body and mind.

“That he's willing to participate in the research is a testament to his amazingly positive outlook on life,” Carter said.