Saturday, December 25, 2010

Minnesota man creates holiday musical light show to promote awareness of Parkinson's


PLYMOUTH, Minn. -— For every minute of Christmas music you hear outside of Mike Justak’s home, keep in mind that about 8 to 10 hours of sequencing went into that minute just so his front-yard light show can shine.

“It’s very well-choreographed. I’m wondering if the trees are real. It’s pretty darn cute,” said passer-by Kriss Griebenow.

The trees are real and so are the more than 8,000 shimmering lights and the seemingly endless attention.

“I just look out my living room window and it’s kind of cool. We are on the limo tours and we have seen three different limos pull up,” said Justak.

Attention isn’t something Justak always wanted. When he first learned he had a life-threatening disease he wanted to keep it a secret. Parkinson’s Disease made things as simple as brushing his teeth and writing his name into difficult tasks.

“It was the hardest, I think, on my wife. She wanted to tell her family and initially, I didn’t want to tell anybody,” said Justak.

But Justak had an awakening. Inspired by Michael J. Fox, who is also battling Parkinson’s, Justak started his own non-profit group called “Partnerships for Parkinson’s.” And to bring even more attention to the disease, this year he spent countless hours in his basement designing the light show.

Justak calls his show “P.D. Shimmers,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tremors that come with the disease. The syncing began before Labor Day and the work is evidenced by the 16 different cables running out of his garage that create a complex maze of extension cords under the snow.

But Justak’s message is paying off. He’s received letters from other affected by Parkinson’s, during a time when hope matters most.

“Those with Parkinson’s can have hope for ease of their symptoms, hope for slow progression of the disease, and I think everyone with Parkinson’s has hope that a cure will soon be in the works,” said Justak.

Justak began running his Parkinson’s light show at Thanksgiving and it runs seven days a week. It will end on Sunday.

Justak wants people to know that every 10 minutes someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

For more information about Justak’s Christmas light display or his non-profit organization, visit the P.D. Shimmers website.

Parkinson’s causes tremors and other motor control problems. Eventually, it can lead to difficulty eating, making facial expressions and thinking and remembering clearly. The gradual worsening can severely impair quality of life, but is not fatal and drugs can make the symptoms more manageable. It is thought to be caused by heredity and possibly exposure to certain toxins and viruses.