Living with Parkinson's disease
MILWAUKEE - Michael J. Fox has returned to NBC on Thursday nights with the new Michael J. Fox Show. His new comedy brings laughs but also awareness. The disease not only effects the star of the new show but also many right here in South East Wisconsin.
There's more people with Parkinson's Disease in South East Wisconsin than there are any where else in the state. Historically, some think diagnosis is a death sentence. But Bill Barnawitz of Milwaukee proves those people wrong every day as he continues living with Parkinson's.
For Bill, life didn't go as planned. But then again, that's usually how life goes.
"It's not really a diagnosis that anybody wants to get," says Bill.
Diagnosed when he was 42 years old, he was at the pinnacle of his career. He was the principle french horn player for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Music was Bill's life.
"I wanted to do it so badly," Bill remembers.
"Some people didn't think Bill had any symptoms," says Dr. Paul Nausieda with the Wisconsin Parkinson Association.
Dr. Nausieda is also Bill's doctor. He says the first signs were small.
"I would answer the phone and the phone would tap against my head," says Bill.
"He got other opinions and people told him he was just necrotic that he had nothing," says Dr. Nausieda.
Dr. Nausieda says you could have Parkinson's for years before ever seeing signs. The disease causes loss of muscle control. Twelve years after his diagnosis, you can see it's extremely hard for Bill to sit still.
"Shaking the horn out of your hand is not going to help you play well," explains Bill.
Medicine helped bill play for another ten years after being diagnosed. Deciding to putt down the instrument was awful.
"Something that you treasure that much. It's a death," Bill says.
There's no longer a horn in his apartment.
"If you are not going to play it well having it around is just it's like keeping the corpse in the living room," says Bill.
Still music stayed a part of his life.
"I found myself listening to classical music that didn't have any french horn in it because it just hurt too much to even be connected in that way," he says.
However, life as Bill knew it was over. But another era and a new career was just beginning.
"I'm going to school. I'm getting a creative writing degree which is just about as bizarre as getting a performance degree in music," he says.
No. Life doesn't always go as planned. But now that's what Bill looks forward to.
"I have a lot to look forward to," Bill says.
Like his daughters' graduation, his writing, and his future.
"It's not a death sentence. It's an awareness sentence," Bill says.
Bill credits the Wisconsin Parkinson Association for helping him out immensely. It helps those with Parkinson's deal with their diagnosis, and offers advice about medications. For more information about the Wisconsin Parkinson Association you can visit their website.