Student kindles hope, compassion

Posted Dec. 8, 2006
Sergio Sandoval

Todd Bischoff, a master’s student in child development at the University of La Verne, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 46. He student-teaches a human development class with Barbara Nicoll, professor of education. Bischoff is now leading a young-onset Parkinson’s disease support group in the Inland Empire.


Successfully battling physical and emotional injuries, Todd Bischoff prepares to face the next hurdle in his life.

A University of La Verne graduate student, Bischoff was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease in April.

He is working on his master’s in child development and is planning on graduating in January 2007.

“At first we didn’t believe it,” Bischoff said. “We had seen a few doctors and I was finally diagnosed.”

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease that affects a person’s motor skills.

Parkinson’s is a result of damaged or dead nerve cells in the brain, they stop producing the chemical dopamine.

Dopamine allows for smooth fluid motion, in muscles and some body functions.

Stiffness and tremors are just a few symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Early in his ice hockey career he sustained a back injury that left him unable to play.

Bischoff later had to endure two intensive back surgeries that resulted in medical complications.

His injuries were extensive enough that he had to re-learn basic functions.

During his five-and-half-year physical therapy, Bischoff was taught how to walk, get in and out of chairs and get dressed along with other basic functions.

“He has always been very driven,” said Joyce de Leon, Bischoff’s wife. “It is hard because he is used to being in control.”

Bischoff surprised doctors, who said it would be a great success just for him to walk again, with a full recovery.

He was able to open a hockey consulting business.

But eventually gave up the hockey career to pursue acting and voice-over work.

Bischoff was taking acting classes at Los Angeles City College in 2000 when he met May May Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, the famed boxer who also suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“I met him in acting classes,” Ali said. “It is ironic that he now has the same disease that my dad has.”

He was volunteering in the pediatric ward of a hospital when he realized he wanted to have a career working with children.

While working in Los Angeles, Bischoff decided to go back and get his undergraduate degree in child development.

“I learned so much from these children,” Bischoff said. “They have better outlooks on life because many of them are forced to look at life in a different way.”

The children Bischoff worked with were inspirational to the way he was going to live.

This was one of many factors that helped him when he was diagnosed.

When Bischoff noticed tremors and pains throughout his body, he knew something was wrong.

After seeing four doctors and having extensive testing, Bischoff was told on April 4 by the fourth doctor that he had Parkinson’s disease.

The main difference between Parkinson’s and other diseases is that there is no sure way to tell if someone has Parkinson’s. It can only be certainly diagnosed with an autopsy.

“When they told me, I just knew I had to find some way to keep control of it,” Bischoff said. “I don’t want to let it control me, so I must have control of it.”

“He has a positive outlook,” de Leon said. “It took longer for me to let it sink in.”

A way for Bischoff to control his disease was to help other people.

He organized the largest young-onset Parkinson’s disease support group in the Inland Empire.

“He has always been an advocate in some way,” Ali said. “It is great to see that my dad has done so much and now Todd is doing more for this horrible disease.”

Bischoff has also gone to Arizona to visit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Research Center.

He has worked with the center and other groups in the Southern California area to battle Parkinson’s.

“He always holds out hope,” de Leon said. “The outlook conquers so much.”

Bischoff, like other patients, is on a strict regimen of medications.

He takes several pills every couple of hours to replace the lost dopamine.

The dopamine allows his body to have fluid, smooth motion.

“It is hard to time out the medications,” Bischoff said. “You have to know when it will ware off, because I can’t just take the pills while I’m in class.”

Bischoff is also working as a motivational speaker.

For more information, contact Bischoff via his Web site at www.pdtalks.com.

For further information on Parkinson’s disease, visit www.maprc.com.

Rick Montañez can be reached at rick.montanez@hotmail.com.

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