This Man’s Parkinson’s Diagnosis Inspired Him to Help Others

Robert Bartoo describes himself as, “an old sailor who has Parkinson’s disease.” But, he is first and foremost a storyteller.

“Once you get me started, I spin terrible tales,” he admits. It’s an endearing aspect of his personality that has endured despite his diagnosis.

After spending eight years sailing on the Great Lakes, Bartoo reclaimed his land legs and opened up the, “Sea Shanty Restaurant,” a tavern that turned into an unintentional hot spot for Vietnam veterans to congregate and commiserate.

“These men weren’t being treated the way they should have been treated,” Bartoo laments. “They were being spit on and called ‘baby killers.’ They were so upset that I was afraid to turn them loose in the streets.”

So Bartoo would close early, lock the doors and allow these misunderstood men to share their stories and experiences with the only people who would understand what they were going through–each other.

The stories he heard in that bar were the catalysts that initially ignited Bartoo’s passion for telling tales. “All of my creativity came out of that need to tell their story; it just poured out of me.”

Life imitating art

Bartoo’s first stage play, “A Night to Remember,” dealt with the difficult homecoming of a Vietnam veteran suffering from both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Parkinson’s. Over the years, it has been performed on multiple stages, was featured at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and was turned into a 90 minute broadcast for NPR.

The irony is not lost on Bartoo that years after penning his play, he too was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

After listening for years to the tales of returning vets who struggled to find a place in a society that refused to accept them, Bartoo suddenly found himself in a similar situation. His trembling hands would cause food to fall from his fork, or change to spill out of his wallet; people would speak to him in condescending tones, making him feel embarrassed and alone.

So he did what all creatives do when they experience pain–he turned it into art.

Continue reading to learn more about Bartoo’s philanthropic mission…

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Art giving new life

This time, Bartoo turned to music to get his message across.

“Music has always been uplifting to me; it’s so different, it really carries you away. If I didn’t have music, I don’t think I’d still be around.”

He composed a series of songs specifically about Parkinson’s and compiled them onto a CD, called, “Riding the Winds With Parkinson’s.” Bartoo hopes his songs will serve as a source of inspiration for people dealing with the disease, as well as their caregivers.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for caregivers; they do incredibly good work for other people,” he says.

Click on the links below to listen to two of the songs on “Riding the Winds With Parkinson’s”

Winds of Destiny
He’s Lost

All proceeds from the sale of Bartoo’s CD go to Parkinson’s research.

Bartoo has also undertaken the task of setting up a philanthropic website, called “Passport to a Better World.” He currently devotes hours each day to this initiative, but admits that his disease and lack of technical savvy is making it difficult to move forward with the project.

Anyone who is interested in helping Bartoo turn his ideas into reality, is encouraged to contact him at: robertbartoo@webtv.net

“Once it’s done, I’m hoping this project will bring a lot of joy and happiness. All my life, that’s what I’ve tried to do. I just get the biggest kick out of helping people.”

Meet Chip and Kathryn, two more Parkinson’s sufferers who found comfort and purpose in artistic pursuits: 3 People Turning Parkinson’s Into Inspiring Works of Art.

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30 comments

Freida Vb
G Vb3 years ago

Parkinson's disease is no easy feat. Having someone who is going through this debilitating disease takes a lot as caregiver and friend. We can term it "a long goodbye"...since we see their suffering and limitations over the years... am so happy to hear that Mr. Bartoo was able to rise above the disease. Best wishes to you Mr. Bartoo.

Catherine Hein
Catherine Hein3 years ago

I AM a young women with cp and every day i do my best break stereotypes and help inspire others

Kathy Dottery
Kathy Dottery3 years ago

thank you for sharing this

Michael H.
Mike H.3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Tammy Baxter
Tammy B.3 years ago

thank you

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you AgingCare, for Sharing this!

Vicky P.
Vicky P.3 years ago

good for him

Arwen Woods
Arwen Woods3 years ago

What an incredibly inspiring and courageous man. His story should humble us all.

Sharon Tyson
sharon Tyson3 years ago

Talk about making the best of a bad situation. Mr. Bartoo is an inspiration. There is nothing we can't do if we truly want to.

Anne Moran
Anne Moran3 years ago

THE FIRST SONG ENTITLED '' WINDS OF DESTINY '' IS A BEAUTIFULLY MOVING SONG... KUDOS TO HIM AND HIS INSPIRING WORK.... UNFORTUNATELY NOT ALL PEOPLE WITH PARKINSON'S HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY/ABILITY TO DO THE THINGS MR. BARTOO IS DOING... MANY ARE ELDERLY AND ARE LINGERING IN OLD AGE HOMES/NURSING HOMES... MOM IS ONE OF THEM; AT 93, HER PARKINSON'S IS SEVERE AND SHE CAN'T DO MUCH OF ANYTHING... I HAVE NEVER FELT SO MUCH GUT-WRENCHING ANGUISH IN MY LIFE, THAN WHEN I WITNESSED DAD DYING 2YEARS AGO,, AND NOW MOM'S DEBILITATING CONDITION... OLD AGE IS NOT FOR THE MEEK THAT'S FOR SURE... GOD BLESS ALL PEOPLE AFFLICTED WITH THIS, AND ALL OTHER LIFE- ALTERING CONDITIONS..