- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - The walls of Davis Yates’ home abound with framed images of his “serendipitous art” - the colorful results of his computer manipulations of photos and paintings.

A black-and-white print on his dining room table provided a contrast: a scan of Yates’ brain. Two blobs of white stood out against a black background, indicating calcifications the size of marbles.

The image reflects a rare autoimmune disorder, pseudohypoparathyroidism, that generally results in dementia before a patient reaches Yates’ age of 66.

Yates, a retired dentist, is convinced his energetic pursuit of creative endeavors - writing children’s stories, making music and creating computer-generated art - helps explain why he remains mentally sharp despite the disorder.

“In order to work around those blocked synapses - and they’re more easily blocked as you get older - I have to really work at it,” he said, adding that he wakes each morning with the thought: “What can I create today?”

Yates, a married father of two grown sons, has written manuscripts for a novel and at least 10 books for children and young adults.

He recently self-published a kids’ picture book, “Leaf’s Final Journey.”

Yates said he endured physical problems throughout his childhood, including numbness, stiffness and muscle spasms in his hands, but his parents assured him they were all just growing pains.

By the time he was in college, Yates assumed he had some form of epilepsy.

While a student at the University of South Florida, Yates got a preliminary diagnosis of hypoparathyroidism, an endocrine disorder that disrupts production of a hormone that regulates levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D in blood and bones. Yates said doctors later decided he has pseudohypoparathyroidism, a variant of the main disorder, in which receptors fail to recognize the hormone, resulting in low calcium production.

When Yates was a dental student at the Medical College of Virginia, the head of the school’s endocrinology department received a grant to study him. Dr. Hershel Estep told Yates he was among just 10 people worldwide with his set of symptoms.

The doctor said Yates could reduce the risks by carefully managing his calcium and by thoroughly exercising his mental faculties.

“With a couple of sentences, he changed my life,” Yates said. “I’d already been set free because I’d been dragging along this ball and chain until I was finally diagnosed.

“When they cut free that ball and chain, I had all kinds of energy.”

Yates began taking massive doses of vitamin D, helping to raise his calcium level.

Dr. Khanh T. Pham, an endocrinologist at Watson Clinic in Lakeland, has overseen Yates’ treatment for two years. She said calcification in the brain’s basal ganglia, areas of the brain associated with voluntary movements and mental processes, is common with the condition and creates risks of seizures, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Because the condition is so rare, Pham said, it’s impossible to compare Yates to anyone else she has seen. In general terms, though, she said studies have shown that engaging in mental activities does improve cognitive function.

After operating a practice for several years in Virginia, Yates returned to Lakeland to buy out a dental office in 1982. His wife of nearly 40 years, Rosemary, helped manage the practice for most of that period.

Rosemary Yates said that she doesn’t recall how she learned about her husband’s condition.

“The truth is, he’s always played it down,” she said. “He doesn’t focus on it. It doesn’t define him. He almost made light of it.”

One symptom of hypoparathyroidism, a tremor in his right hand, forced Yates to retire from dentistry in 2003. The following year, cluster headaches and stroke-like symptoms prompted a CT scan, which first revealed his brain calcifications in the basal ganglia.

Since that point, his creative output has accelerated. His annual tradition of crafting a whimsical Christmas story for his family blossomed into a regular pursuit.

Yates has one complete 250-page manuscript, “The God Message,” about a young woman whose creation of a religious drama brings opposition from a megachurch.

He has written two sets of chapter books geared toward young readers.

Animal characters figure into much of his writing, such as an opossum whose penchant for frenetic motion draws admonishment from his stolid mother.

Since discovering the possibilities of manipulating images with computer programs 2 1/2 years ago, Yates has generated enough work to fill several computer hard drives.

Pursuing another of his skills, woodworking, he built a detached studio in the backyard as a retreat for recording music, creating art and writing stories.

Yates said he didn’t seek attention for most of his creative endeavors until recently, when he decided that he could use his writings, in particular, as a way to spread his message that cognitive exercise is powerful preventive medicine.

Yates knows creativity is not a panacea for all medical problems. He acknowledges having “foggy days,” when his mental faculties lack sharpness and his mood sags.

A few years ago, Yates was invited to speak at an annual conference of the Hypoparathyroidism Association for patients and specialists in Maryland.

He said the gathering drew about 25 adults and 10 children with the condition.

Recognizing the fear the young patients must have, Yates used himself as an example that a relatively normal life is possible through following a medical regimen and embracing creativity. He said the meetings were disrupted at least once a day when a patient had a seizure and needed medical attention.

“That’s what these kids were seeing, and these were half the time people not even in their 50s,” Yates said. “My message to the kids was, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way.’ “

___

Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com

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