Veteran battles Parkinson’s with model helis and tenacious spirit

Tom Kondert holding up
81-year-old Parkinson's veteran Tom Kondert keeps fighting fit with boxing classes three times a week. Photo credit: Sally Smith.
Posted on: April 15, 2024

Tom Kondert was 65 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s; he’s verging on 81 this month…and except for a stilted, slow walk (sometimes he walks with a cane or a walker), he still gets around.

He has brown eyes and a direct gaze. He’s tall and thin. He likes country music, played the accordion as a kid…and makes helicopters.

In the military he was a helicopter technician. But now, at 81, he builds models. There are 13 in his basement.

He needs little urging to talk. He worked on the Bell Jet Ranger called a Kiowa in the military, and the Chinook CH-47 twin engine.

Can you fly a helicopter? “The smaller ones I might, but the bigger ones — no,” he says. 

He spent 30 years in the army — ”long enough,” he adds dryly, and from there went to Sears.

About 15 years ago Tom first knew there was a problem. It started with legs and hands shaking a bit, some stuttering, loss of balance, eventually hard to remember names; when walking, his doctor could “see” things.

His first doctor retired (much to Tom’s dismay) and in the interim there was some trouble adjusting his medication…but ”they finally got it running pretty good.”

Today, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) helps him. He has a grant from the Department to help do things around the house, like shovel snow and cut grass. 

It set up a floor to ceiling pole with a swing arm by his chair; it brings in 10 meals a week, and a nurse to help him bathe. And also put rails in to help get in and out of the shower as well as down the steps into his garage where he collects cans and bottles for Parkinson’s.

Drive down his street and watch for the prominent sign asking to drop cans off. His next door neighbour paints it every year, and in the past year-and-a-half he’s brought in just over $5,000.

He’s busy. He walks when he can; he boxes with a Parkinson’s group three times a week. He tells great stories about his time in the military.

And as a storyteller, this is another story for him to tell — he has Parkinson’s.

He’s made his house fit his life — bars to help him get up and down, pills counted out into small glass bowls on his kitchen table, television where it’s easy to watch, DVA meals brought in, good friends nearby.

He says he’s fallen eight or nine times. “One time I didn’t have a way to get up. I crawled an inch or two at a time from one bedroom to the other and finally got hold of my daughter.

“I couldn’t call because the phone was stuck under me and I couldn’t flip over.

“Interesting times,” he says, “but ya gotta have something in life to keep you going,” he adds, a bit flippantly.

“Parkinson’s was the one point in my life when everything changed. When I was first diagnosed I realized time wasn’t a factor anymore, that life wasn’t going to go on forever…that life was short, there’s an end…

“It’s changed my life drastically. Everything you ever thought of doing is something that might not ever happen.”April 11 is World Parkinson’s Day, and the month of April is Parkinson’s Awareness month. Help raise awareness about the disease and make life better for those living with it. Go to for information.

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News

One thought on “Veteran battles Parkinson’s with model helis and tenacious spirit

  1. Betty Ronan

    Tom is a wonderful humanitarian. I knew Tom in our old hockey watching days at the Rink. Ever eager to help, a twinkle in his eye and that sweet smile. Tom is a resilient man, and I wish him to be as well as he can be under his currant diagnosis.

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