“I get locked in a straitjacket and lit on fire upside down, balance can’t be my issue,” Aron told his doctor. His balance was part of a much bigger issue: Parkinson’s disease (PD). In his next breath, the neurologist delivered his diagnosis and prescribed Azilect® and carbidopa/levodopa and asked Aron to come back in a month.
Aron is the great, great, great nephew of world famous magician Harry Houdini. Magic has been a part of his life since he received a magic set at 9 years old. Fast forward to his time in the Army, graduating with a Master’s degree in political science and working on election campaigns, “magic has always just followed me,” Aron said. His office would often ask him to perform and he happily would. One day, he performed his show in a casino, spurring his career change to a full-time magician and escape artist.
During a San Antonio show, Aron was performing “The Most Poisonous Escape” when he noticed his hand was shaking, which spread to his arm. Something was wrong. Although he successfully performed the trick, afterwards when he was talking to observers he forgot what he was talking about. When his forgetfulness started to translate over to his shows and he would perform the same trick back to back, he knew it was time to see a doctor.
Back home in Kentucky, Aron’s family doctor immediately put him on Mirapex. It worked for his inner shakes, but he still had a tremor. He was referred to a neurologist.
Months of tests and scans brought him to a follow-up appointment where the neurologist tested Aron’s balance. At 34, Aron knew he would pass the test when the doctor told him that all it entailed was gently pulling Aron backwards. Aron failed. He asked to try it two more times, but failed again. Even though Aron knew something was wrong, he was stunned to hear he had Parkinson’s.
After shock evolved to belief and his doctor adjusted his medications, Aron felt better. He continued to perform, until the day he felt “off.” In the middle of an escape he ended up staying in his straitjacket too long and injured himself, tearing ligaments. Surgery was a harsh way for Aron to learn that he shouldn’t perform during “off” periods and needed to adjust his medications to prevent it from happening again.
He went back to his doctor, who said that figuring out the right PD medication combination for someone who hangs upside down on fire was a first. The adjustment worked. Aron says that he can live with his most cumbersome symptoms, which are stiffness and tremors that appear during extreme emotions (like excitement or anxiousness).
Today, Aron still performs and uses his opening remarks to educate the audience about PD. He even performs a trick where his Parkinson’s plays a role.
Aron’s story doesn’t end there. PD ignited something in the left side of his brain that he never knew was there. When his 4-year-old son started playing with Legos, it just clicked for Aron. He quickly graduated to intricate kits — more suitable for engineers than preschoolers. This was the first time in his life Aron played with Legos. “I was that kid who got in trouble for doing magic tricks in school,” he said.
One day, he was watching his favorite show, AMC’s The Walking Dead, when he decided he wanted to merge the show with his new hobby. He started with The Walking Dead builder sets, and took it to a new level.
Aron has spent hundreds of hours building custom, scaled-down replicas of The Walking Dead scenes. He learned that hot glue was his friend because when his hand starts cramping or shaking he didn’t want to risk losing all of his progress. “I’m not building the Millennium Falcon. There aren’t moving pieces,” Aron said. “It’s become my meditation and therapy time. I sit down and focus on my projects, one at a time.”
When The Walking Dead comic book creator, Robert Kirkman, visited his hometown of Cynthiana, KY, organizers reached out to Aron asking him to bring his replicas and collector’s items in order to create a temporary The Walking Dead museum. The 10,000-person line to see the collection spanned four blocks.
Aron looks forward to Season 7 of The Walking Dead and can’t wait to see what new plot is going to spur his next wave of creativity. “I just want to close with saying that the show is not just about zombies,” Aron said.
Aron is right. The draw of The Walking Dead is not the disease that slowly cripples its victims, but is instead the group of people who do whatever it takes to beat their surroundings and the new challenges that constantly test their desire to survive.