Neuro Wellness West Offers New Hope for People with Parkinson’s

Donor Sara Dean with Sun Health Foundation (SHF) Gift Officer Bonnie Olsen and SHF Board Member Lew Lancaster at Neuro Wellness West Open House, Jan. 31, at BSHRI.

Donor Sara Dean with Sun Health Foundation (SHF) Gift Officer Bonnie Olsen and SHF Board Member Lew Lancaster.

Like the Parkinson’s patients who fill its classes, the Neuro Wellness West program at Banner Sun Health Research Institute (BSHRI) is “on the move.” The fitness, wellness and support program for Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones began offering classes in late October. In the ensuing three months, 54 people have registered, 80 classes have been held and more than 450 people have attended one or more of the classes.

A Jan. 31st open house for the Neuro Wellness West program attracted more than 100 people, offering further proof of the program’s popularity.

Holly Shill, MD, head of BSHRI’s Thomas H. Christopher Center for Parkinson’s Research, played a key role in breathing life into the program and she’s pleasantly surprised by its rapid rise. “To go from an idea, to funding, to enrolling people in the program, all in one year’s time, is truly amazing.” 

A little over a year ago, Dr. Shill sat down with Jim and Sara Dean to brainstorm starting an exercise, education and support program tailored to patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

When Jim Dean was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007, he refused to take the disease lying down. Shortly after being diagnosed, he began a vigorous exercise program that he’s continued to this day. It’s helped him maintain his flexibility, balance and mobility, and kept many of his other symptoms at bay.

Jim’s positive response to exercise and Dr. Shill’s recommendations strongly influenced the Dean’s decision to funnel a $200,000 legacy gift from Sara’s mother into the Neuro Wellness West program at BSHRI.

To go from an idea, to funding, to enrolling people in the program, all in one year’s time, is truly amazing – Holly Shill, M.D.

“Exercise is key to continue living with this disease, and the institute is working to improve the quality of life for patients with neurological disorders. It is exactly where we want our donation to go,” Sara said.

“Jim and Sara have built on that first gift and have now pledged a significant gift of their own to keep this program going,” Sun Health Foundation Gift Officer Bonnie Olsen said. “Banner Neuro Wellness is supported 100 percent by philanthropy and we’re so thankful for their support and encourage others to help us sustain this program for future Parkinson’s patients.”

Neuro Wellness West exercise class.

Neuro Wellness West exercise class.

“These programs are an opportunity for Parkinson’s patients to develop camaraderie while improving their physical abilities,” said Melinda Theobald, the exercise physiologist leading the PWR! Fitness classes that are part of Neuro Wellness West. “By taking participants through various exercises targeting specific muscle groups, we can help maintain and improve their mobility and balance.”

Sun Citian Ken Angel has seen a great improvement in his balance since starting PWR! Fitness classes in November. His wife Joan agrees. “Of all the treatments for his Parkinson’s, exercise has probably helped him the most.” Ken credits Melinda Theobald’s motivational methods for his progress. “Melinda is wonderful. She gets on you if you don’t do it, but in a nice way.”

In addition to weekly fitness classes, Banner Neuro Wellness West also provides quarterly lectures on Parkinson’s care and research and weekly support group meetings.

“Every Friday morning, Parkinson’s patients and their spouses are encouraged to come together for Coffee Talk,” said Tom Viviano, the program manager for Banner Neuro Wellness West. “Coffee Talk brings everyone together to better understand treatment, medication and even how to cope.”

For 26 years, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, part of nonprofit Banner Health, has been a leader nationally and internationally in the effort to find answers to disorders of aging including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. For more information, visit

Banner Neuro Wellness West is funded thanks to generous community support offered through Sun Health Foundation. Providing annual gifts of $12 million, Sun Health Foundation also serves as the philanthropic partner for Banner Boswell Medical Center, Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center and Banner Sun Health Research Institute. Other nonprofit health programs supported through community donations, volunteers and our Foundation include Sun Health Care Transitions, Sun Health Medication Management, Sun Health Memory Care Navigator and Sun Health Community Education.