Vern Stewart: Living Life On His Own Terms

“A diagnosis is not the end,” says Stewart.

by Mira Reverente

Vern Stewart is used to the dizzying twists and turns of life.

He majored in art but ended up working as a fund manager, catering to over 400 investors and making multi-million dollar deals. He spent a majority of his career working in the Bay Area but he’s now living in Ventura.

He was working out five to six times a week when he received his Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis 10 years ago and his life came to a brief halt, at the age of 62.

Determined to overcome and continue living life on his terms, he immersed himself in countless doctors’ appointments, physical therapy and endless research.

“A diagnosis is not the end,” says Stewart, 72. “Some medical professionals deliver the diagnosis and think maybe that their work is done and that’s it because they haven’t found a cure for it.”

One of his first questions to his neurologist was “Will I live 10 to 15 more years?” The answer was a resounding “yes” and since then he has vowed to live life to the fullest, stopped seeking money as a reward and focused on friendships and family, which includes two adult children.

There are medications, surgery, clinical trials, support groups, classes and lifestyle modifications one can do in dealing with PD. The symptoms are so diverse but with a good support system and medical team, one can find medications and treatment that can work for them. Stewart underwent surgery called deep brain stimulation (DBS) where electrodes were implanted in his brain to reduce debilitating movement symptoms of PD.

Among the lifestyle modifications that Stewart undertook was a plant-based diet and taking supplements. “I cook more now. It’s just one more thing I can control – what I put in my body,” he says. A physical therapist also helped him re-train his body and re-learn everyday tasks like bathing and walking.

Before a femur injury he was also pedaling away on his e-bike. He also learned how to paddle board to work on his balance, to take advantage of one of the many offerings of his waterfront community. “My instructor was the sweetest thing but she was a bit hesitant to teach me given my condition but I persevered,” he says. He supplemented the lessons by immersing himself in YouTube videos and learning everything there is to know about paddle boarding.

He also signed up for boxing classes in his community called Neuroboxing Fight Camp, a program geared towards people overcoming PD and other neurological diseases. He finds the camaraderie and the positivity in class contagious and invigorating. He explains, “Other people’s stories inspire me and I hope mine does the same thing for them.”

He also enjoys the solitude that living in a coastal town can sometimes bring. “You have to be at peace with solitude,” Stewart says of his current state of mind. “I read a lot and spend a lot of time in the kitchen.”

The power of solitude as espoused by Buddha and John Muir, propels Stewart on most days, as well as the need for self-reliance. He wants to reach more people and encourage them through their Parkinson’s journey. “It is so tempting to shut yourself out and withdraw from your social circles, but there is help out there,” he says.

*Vern can be reached by email: [email protected]. He lives at Portside Ventura Harbor where Neuroboxing is located so walks to the sessions.

Editor: If you are a senior (over 70-years), or know of one, who would like to share their retirement, or job, with us please let us know at [email protected].

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