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Philip Hodapp thought he'd be dead in 10 years; 25 years later, he and his band play Saturday, Feb. 5, in Tualatin.

COURTESY: KATHY RANKIN PHOTOGRAPHY - Philip Hodapp plays alto saxophone for The Bitchins. The band played its annual Parkinson's benefit concert on Saturday, Feb. 5.

The Bitchins will play their annual benefit concert Saturday, Feb. 5, to raise money for a Beaverton-based nonprofit.

The band plays once a year, and some members even fly to Portland from out of state for the profitless gig, which benefits Parkinson's Resources of Oregon.

Their inspiration: band member Philip Hodapp.

Hodapp was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease on Aug. 4, 1997. It took five years of fighting to be heard by doctors, and a waterskiing accident to get him to a neurologist. He was 36.

Music has been a major part of Hodapp's life since he was in the fourth grade. Growing up in Alaska, he started on the piano — because his mom said so, he told Pamplin Media Group — but he learned the clarinet soon after, picked up the saxophone in ninth grade, and majored in clarinet performance at the University of Oregon. He then joined the U.S. Army Band, where he played on tours alongside Ray Charles and Dudley Moore.

Hodapp now lives in Battle Creek, Washington.

In his early 30s, Hodapp started to feel what he would later learn were Parkinson's symptoms. But he was young and active, and Parkinson's "was an old man's disease," he thought.

When he was diagnosed at 36, doctors told Hodapp he should "expect to be in a nursing home in five years and dead in 10."

But Hodapp had a family to worry about — his wife at the time was pregnant. When his son was born seven months after his diagnosis, Hodapp made a promise.

"I said I would live long enough to be his dad all the way through until he graduated from high school," Hodapp said.

Twenty-four years later, Hodapp's son is about to master's degree and go for a doctorate next.

"And I'm still kicking," Hodapp said.

Hodapp initially kept his diagnosis private. He didn't want to be pitied.

"I didn't want people to have to help me," Hodapp said. "I just didn't want that stigma, especially when I had a newborn son and I had to provide a living. Disability doesn't provide a living for a young family and a growing child."

So Hodapp kept living. He works for Beacock Music, where he travels to middle and high schools around Oregon and Washington, providing instruments to school music programs.

Hodapp's current wife, who he married in 2019, is a middle school band director he met through work. His son — the prime example of an "excellent human being," he said — is pursuing his dream of trumpet performance in school.

Even at home, Hodapp is surrounded by music.

With the Bitchins, Hodapp plays the alto saxophone. He also plays alto and baritone saxophones in the band Return Flight, which he said averages a couple of performances every month. But it's still not enough, Hodapp said.

The Bitchins started as a Super Bowl jam session between four friends in 1998, and Hodapp joined four years later. Soon, playing in someone's garage turned into charging $5 for tickets at the VFW in Vancouver, he said. From that show, the band gave profits to the veterans.

That was just before he told the band about his diagnosis, and right away, the band decided to raise money for Parkinson's.

The Bitchins hope to raise $5,000 this year for the Beaverton-based Parkinson's Resources of Oregon.

But while he's managing it and surviving as best he can, Hodapp's Parkinson's isn't getting any better. People don't realize more to the disease than just what they see, he said.

Tremors, rigid muscles and speech difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. Parkinson's causes depression, and simple tasks can become difficult or even impossible. It affects what you think and how you think, Hodapp said, and he has to practice more now because of the disease.

Parkinson's is progressive, and Hodapp said his worst day now could be his best day tomorrow.

"It really leads to debilitating depression, thinking about what I can't do," he said. "It's hard enough when you can't do something, and you wonder whether you'll ever be able to do it again because of Parkinson's. Is that just a momentary thing? Is this a bad day? Or is this the rest of my life now?"

But Hodapp won't let himself "whine" about it.

"I try to dwell more on what I can do today, than worrying about what I can't do," he said.

Hodapp works, plays music and sets goals for himself.

Last year, he climbed Mount St. Helens. Before that, he ran a half-marathon, then a triathlon.

Hodapp attributes some of his health today to these goals.

Everybody's different, he said, "but not being willing to give up … not resigning myself to a rocking chair and watching 'Matlock' the rest of my life, feeling sorry for myself — I think is part of what helps keep me active and going, and maybe staves off the disease a little bit."

Hodapp knows his disease is progressing more rapidly than it had before. He feels it. But he will keep fighting to be with his family, work and play music for as long as he can.

"This is my 25th year after diagnosis," he pointed out. "For somebody who was supposed to be dead in 10, I think I'm doing OK."

The Bitchins will play from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, in the At The Garages Satellite Pub, 17880 S.W. McEwan Road in Tualatin. Masks and social distancing are required. Tickets are $20 at the door.


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