Steve Sorkenn knew that he was in for trouble when his left hand started trembling uncontrollably as he lifted a coffee mug at a meeting 18 years ago.
Though he was a publishing exec at the time for Medical Economics, he had been trained as a pharmacist, and with a little self-diagnosis, he was pretty sure that he had Parkinson’s disease.
Steve Sorkenn, who has had Parkinson’s for 18 years, helped organize the walk that will benefit the Fox Foundation.
"I knew too much for my own good," he said of Parkinson’s disease, a chronic central nervous system disorder that essentially limits the amount of dopamine that the body produces. Dopamine is the substance transmitted from the brain through the spinal chord that tells muscles how to move. The lack of dopamine makes movement difficult, and the condition gets progressively worse until Parkinson’s patients can no longer swallow, and eventually die.
Sorkenn, who is 66, considers himself lucky that he has been able to survive for so long; he knows people who have fallen to the disease within six months of their diagnosis. He was able to work for three years after his initial diagnosis, until the tremors, fatigue, and difficulty speaking made it impossible for him to continue flying from coast to coast giving sales pitches and speeches.
"I stood up one day and tried to address a group, and nothing would come out," he said.
And while he knows that he is beginning to reach the end of a long battle he uses a walker and a cane to get around and cannot button buttons by himself, he is still active enough to help organize a walkathon to fight the disease.
On Sunday, at 9:30 a.m., Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, of which Sorkenn is a member, will hold the shul’s third annual Murray Prawer Walk. Each year the walk, named for a congregant who died of brain cancer, raises money for a different cause. Its first year was raised money for brain cancer research, and this year it will raise money to help fight Parkinson’s.
The disease, which affects more people each year than muscular dystrophy, ALS, and multiple sclerosis combined, has been thrust into the spotlight as celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor, and Michael J. Fox have publicly battled it. Fox, in particular, has been at the forefront of efforts to fight Parkinson’s. He publicly announced that he had a young-onset form of Parkinson’s in 1998. Then, after he left his ABC show "Spin City" in ‘000, he started the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has helped raise some $74,000,000 for research into fighting Parkinson’s.
The proceeds from the walk, which will be held in conjunction with the shul’s mitzvah day, will be donated to the Fox foundation.
The afternoon will also feature appearances by former NFL all-pro kicker Dave Jennings and the Sawdust Pipers, a New York bagpipe troupe.
For more information or to sign up or donate money to the walk, visit www.bethrishon.org, and follow the link to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.