If you speak with enough young men and women pursuing their health sciences degrees at AIC, certain themes will begin to reappear: an innate desire to help others, a vision to make their community healthier, a dedication born from a loved one who faced a debilitating medical condition. And while all of these qualities apply to occupational therapy student Chad Moir ’19, you quickly get a sense that he possesses a drive that sets him apart from your typical student.
Moir, who grew up in Seymour, Connecticut, first attended Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York primarily to play sports, but left after a year when he couldn’t find an academic focus. After several years of unfulfilling positions in sales, he became a certified personal trainer and discovered that helping people achieve their health goals was a career path he wanted to pursue.
It was then that Moir’s life took an unexpected and dramatic turn.
“My mother, Cindy, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease several years ago, and she passed away in 2011 at the age of 55. Working as a personal trainer during that time, and then finding out the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s, it was all just a natural segue into a health sciences education. If I really wanted to help people with Parkinson’s, I knew I needed a better understanding of anatomy and treatment options. I needed to get back to school.”
Since making that decision, and with the memory of his mother ever-present, Moir has pursued his goals with unwavering dedication. While taking classes at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Connecticut, Moir attended a college fair and was immediately impressed with AIC’s health sciences offerings. He applied and was accepted into the physical therapy program but soon switched to occupational therapy, where he will finish with his master’s degree in 2019. The switch, he says, was due to occupational therapy’s more holistic approach when applied to Parkinson’s treatment.
“While PT does a great job of working on some of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, I felt that I could better treat the whole person in OT, as well as concentrate on those non- motor symptoms that come along with Parkinson’s. I just felt that it was better suited to what I’m doing.”
What Moir is doing is, to say the least, impressive. In addition to pursuing his degree, he still works full-time as a certified personal trainer, is a board member for the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, Massachusetts Chapter, and is a public policy advocate with the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
If all of that isn’t enough, Moir also owns and manages his own business, DopaFit, which provides personal training for people with Parkinson’s, both in clients’ homes as well as in a newly opened training space in Easthampton, Massachu- setts. DopaFit (whose name is a play on the word dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a critical role in the function of the central nervous system), Moir explains, is unique in that is focuses solely on clientele with Parkinson’s, the first such service in the Western Massachusetts area.
“We’ve tailored all of our exercises for a person dealing with the limitations that Parkinson’s creates,” explains Moir. These include dual-task exercises, or exercises in which a client is performing two tasks at once, as well as high-intensity exercises tailored specifically to a person’s physical threshold; research has shown that both of these approaches can fight off—or in some cases even reverse—some of the physical and cognitive issues associated with Parkinson’s.
While DopaFit’s physical space may seem conventional, there is one feature for which Moir takes particular pride. “The one modification that you may not see at other gyms is the fact that there’s a heavy emphasis on boxing here—boxing equipment, punching bags, speed bags hanging from the walls.”
When he sees the look of surprise after saying that, Moir is quick to smile and nod. “I always get that response. There are a few reasons for the focus on boxing. First, boxing is a very high-intensity workout, which is needed. But second, and maybe even as important, is that it’s an empowering activity. Most people who are in the program have never punched a punching bag in their lives, and it’s exciting because it’s so different. Also, a lot of people don’t like to tell others that they’re going to an exercise class for Parkinson’s, but to say that you’re going to a boxing class? That’s just cool.”
It’s also a way for loved ones to participate. Moir calls these people “pit crews,” and he delights in watching them carry his clients’ boxing gloves, squirt water into their mouths from sports bottles, and cheer them on as they work out.
Bringing together families and loved ones is of particular interest to Moir, who remembers supporting his mother through her own fight with Parkinson’s. It’s this spirit of collaboration that is shaping his long-term goals for building more local support for people with the condition.
“The Massachusetts Chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association has partnered with DopaFit to help expand the reach of resources in Western Massachusetts,” says Moir. “And we’ll soon start running events in the area to help spread the word. I also work with some of the neurologists in the area who refer clients to me.
“Long-term, though, I would love to help create a full neurological center here in Western Mass, one that specialized in neurodegenerative diseases and has all the resources a person would need right in one place. We’re a drive away from Boston and close to Hartford, but when you’re already dealing with a debilitating disease, driving two hours to go to a doctor’s appointment and then two hours back is not an ideal situation.”
Moir, who attended the World Parkinson’s Congress in Portland, Oregon this past September, is encouraged by the latest therapeutic treatments and research underway. The conference, he says, was one of the most positive experiences of his life, and further affirmation that he’s playing his part in finding a cure.
“The Parkinson’s Congress was amazing. It was 4,500 people all there with the same purpose—to share and to connect and to help each other. I think that sums it all up. You have to have, with every fiber of your being, the desire to help people at any cost. You have to feel the need to help people at a higher level. That’s at the heart of everything I do—in memory of my mom and for all the people I’ll help in the future.”
-By Michael Reid