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

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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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30 comments

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8:55PM PDT on Jun 23, 2013

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.

8:59PM PDT on May 1, 2013

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

5:20AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

thank you for sharing this

8:46PM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Thanks for sharing

6:56AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

thank you

5:53AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Thank you AgingCare, for Sharing this!

5:29PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

good for him

11:09AM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

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

7:34AM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

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.

5:33PM PDT on Apr 17, 2013

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..

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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