RISING ABOVE Marine zoologist turned inventor David Baird has refused to let Parkinson’s Disease hold him back. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Carrowholly’s inspirational inventor creates new board game
I feel privileged to be able to write here in The Mayo News about one of my oldest and most valued friends, Dave Baird, who, I have every confidence, will agree with me when I say that he feels privileged to have been able to call Westport his home, after his marriage to Teresa (nee Quinn) of a well-known Castlebar family, in 1980, and since then.
Dave and Teresa’s home at Carrowholly directly faces Croagh Patrick, and indeed Dave, Teresa, their children Laura and Robbie, and their spouses Gary (Goggins) and Cristy (nee Reza Romero, all the way from Mexico!) may often have thought in recent years that they might need the intervention of Ireland’s patron saint to assist Dave with what has been the greatest challenge of his life to date: his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), with which he was first diagnosed in 2001.
As Dave told The Mayo News, however, he first began to notice something wrong some time before his diagnosis:
“I first noticed a tremor in my hand while sailing in Clew Bay during Spring, 1999. The PD was diagnosed in June 2001. I was told that when symptoms first present, 80 percent of the neurons in the affected region of the mid-brain … have died. These neurons are responsible for producing dopamine, important in motor control.”
This was what is known as Early-Onset Parkinson’s, which affects people below the age of 55 – Dave was 46 when he first noticed the tremor. Since 2001, things have gradually gotten worse for Dave, as he explains:
“PD is a progressive brain disease. I managed to maintain functionality, by regular daily exercise (30 minutes on a static bike, walking 2k). The main problem is fatigue, where I need two rests a day, and a condition known as ‘bradykinesia’, where it takes me twice as long as normal to do a task. Also, involuntary hand movements make using a keyboard or smartphone a challenge.”
Dave has never, ever, been a quitter, however. Whether it’s his lifelong love of sailing and chess – Dave was one of the founders of the Mayo Sailing Club, based at Rosmoney, and has played chess competitively all his life, most recently winning the Westport Winter Chess League for 2019 – he has always been ‘up for it’.
Here he describes the challenges he has met over 20 years, and continues to address, in what has been a long and hard journey:
“I had a Deep Brain Stimulator inserted to my brain in 2016. This practically eliminated pronounced tremor, and importantly, restored my facial expression. To recover one’s facial expression from the PD mask is liberating.”
However, the other symptoms continue to affect him, and now there are more, too:
“The current extra symptoms are the freezing of my gait when attempting to walk, and, since last year, my speech has been badly affected. These symptoms present when my medications wear off. The current medication is mainly Levapoda, which I swallow six times daily.”
Dave, however, expresses more than a glimmer of hope due to a potentially revolutionary research being developed by a team at Cambridge University in England. This research offers real hope that PD, even his PD after all these years, could be actually reversed.
An excellent video is available on-line which shows one of the leading researchers, Dr Roger Barker, Professor of Neuroscience at Cambridge, explaining, among other things, that stem-cell research offers the possibility of real progress in the relatively near future. The treatment involves inserting replications of cells taken from a patient’s body into their brain tissue to replace the cells already lost. Human trials of this therapy began last year. Dave is hoping to go to the Addenbrooks Hospital at Cambridge next year, all going well, to receive this treatment if it is successful.
Master of invention
A marine zoologist by profession, with a degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity College, Dublin, Dave originally came to Mayo to work in the fish farming business. With his then partners, he founded Clare Island Seafarm. With himself as CEO, the company steered itself through complex organic standards to become the first in the world to bring to market certified organic salmon.
The premium price achieved with this certification turned the venture to profit, but unfortunately a cash-flow crisis in 2004 compelled the sale of the farm that year. Agonisingly, Dave could only watch on as Clare Island Seafarm progressed profitably to become one of the leaders in the global organic salmon business!
Undaunted, in the last six years, he moved into the invention of devices. The first of these was a novel tidal turbine that achieved substantially better efficiencies than the theoretical maximum, known as the Betz Limit. Unfortunately, it has failed so far to find a backer.
Again undeterred, Dave initiated the development of a safety backpack for cyclists with a full array of lights, including turning indicators, on which a patent is currently pending.
And this year, he is launching a novel word-forming-and-combining board game, Acrosscheck, which he registered last year with the Intellectual Property Office.
A radical step-up from traditional board games such as Scrabble, it is described here in a separate panel by Dave himself – who better? I hope that readers of The Mayo News will check it out both online at www.acrosscheck.com, and at McGreevy’s renowned toyshop in Westport, one of Ireland’s oldest such establishments.
I can’t think of a better way of getting a unique, Irish-designed present for loved ones, especially family members with whom one could play this game together in these Covid lockdown days, and helping, by-the-by, one of our own who deserves a break! Incidentally, the game can be played as a solitaire option also.
What is Acrosscheck?
ACROSSCHECK is a novel word-forming-and-combining board game. The aim is to reach and cover one or two of the 37 ‘Premium’ squares, ranging in value from 2 to 5, with words composed of letter-tiles chosen from a letter-tile bank.
Crucially, rather than be given a random set of letters, which, on occasion, could be unplayable (if the player is given all vowels etc…) players may choose any one to eight of the initial 134 letter-tiles, to form a word, for their turn. Each of the Letter-Tiles is pre-assigned particular ‘Face-Value’ points, which are summed to determine the basic ‘Cost’ of that so-formed word.
The object of Acrosscheck is to accumulate the most ‘Surplus’ points. Surpluses are realised principally by multiplying the Face-Value of the chosen word by the Premium factor displayed [2 to 5] on the Premium square covered by the word played. Surpluses can also be realised by combining newly played Letter-Tiles, with Letter-Tiles played during previous turns, to form a new word. Obviously, as the game proceeds, individual letter-tiles become scarcer, so adding to the excitement.
This ‘choice’ feature has the advantage that the standard of play is automatically set by the players themselves; kids might tend to select letters to form shorter words, while aficionados might tend to opt for longer words. Accordingly, the game is suitable on the one hand as a toy both for children and adults – and on the other hand as a therapeutic aid for example for the recovery of brain injured victims.
This total freedom to select any word is rather daunting. Such a blank canvass is mentally stimulating, and so healing.
The Board Game folds neatly into a book-sized box, 19 x 19 x 5cm, which comes in a most user-friendly and attractive white cardboard box and slip-case.
Peter Thompson is a journalist based in Arklow, Co Wicklow. He is a regular contributor of obituaries to The Irish Times.