PT Students Guide Group to Run, Dance, and Punch Their Way to Better Health

By Purnell T. Cropper | June 16, 2014


During the week of Movement Camp, Lou Cheveitz ran laps, sidestepped, worked on a floor mat, and danced the Macarena. From the second to fourth days, he punched a heavy bag and handheld focus mitts. Though he struggled through it, the improvement he made was noticeable.

For many, it would be an intense workout. For Lou and the five other participants with Parkinson, it was extraordinary. He attended a Movement Camp at Arcadia, offered by Arcadia’s Department of Physical Therapy, that ran through the week of June 2 in the Health Science Center. Six faculty and 16 student volunteers assisted patients in strengthening coordination and balance, improving gait, and regaining mobility lost from the debilitating effects of Parkinson Disease. Severity ranged from mild to moderate; at least one exerciser used a mobility aid, and all suffered from balance and gait quality issues.

Free to the participants and conducted entirely through volunteer effort, the camp used an unorthodox approach of treating Parkinson: a week of intensive, 5.5-hour days of exercise. Co-organizer Dr. Janet Readinger, assistant professor of physical therapy and associate director of clinical education at Arcadia, could think of only one other clinic in the country that tackled Parkinson in this way. According to her, it’s a method that is largely unique and elicits skepticism from others in the field, who believe that those with Parkinson could not tolerate the camp’s intensity.

But the promising results of Movement Camp are hard to ignore. Early analyses of the data showed that participants had improved in movement, gait speed, balance, and motor performance. That is pleasant news for Readinger and PT associate professor Dr. Kristin von Nieda, who developed the camp with Readinger and five Arcadia physical therapy students: Melissa Chiu ’15DPT, Andrea Bromley ’15DPT, Liz DiFebo ’15DPT, Megan Cessnun ’15DPT, and Ben Buchanan ’15DPT. The students researched, designed exercise programs, and headed different stations during the camp.

“It was a good opportunity to put everything we’ve learned into practice,” DiFebo said. “We all enjoyed the opportunity to work with them as much as we did.”

After the final training on June 6, students, faculty, participants, and guests gathered for closing ceremonies. Readinger and von Neida awarded certificates to participants who completed the program, while students bestowed them with superlatives like “most likely to laugh through the entire training day,” and “most likely to brighten the room with her smile.” The teary-eyed volunteers urged the graduates to remember what they had learned in the week and to continue improving after they have left camp.

Many of the participants are returning to campus for the physical therapy department’s Dan Aaron Stay Fit Exercise Program for persons with Parkinson Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, which Readinger also directs. Less intense than the Movement Camp, the Stay Fit class meets once a week during the summer and twice a week during the fall and spring semesters.

Still, the new graduates expressed that they’ll miss coming to the camp and working with students. Grateful for the strides he had made, Cheveitz gave the volunteers some advice of his own.

“When you specialize in something, specialize in Parkinson,” he said. “Because we all thank you very much.”