In 2013, Mike Horak was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD) at age 48. The diagnosis of Parkinson’s was all too familiar – it is one he shares with 81-year-old father, who has been living with PD for 20 years, and his great-grandmother, who passed away in 1955. Given this significant connection to PD, Mike is determined to support the development of better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for Parkinson’s disease.
The Asheville, North Carolina resident and Parkinson’s Foundation Advisory Board member for the Carolinas Chapter has channeled this determination into action, recently stepping up as Reach Further campaign co-chair for the Carolinas. Reach Further is a four-year fundraising campaign with an ambitious goal of raising an additional $30 million to accelerate the Foundation’s work to advance research toward a cure and expand community care and programs.
“I don’t know if we will find a cure in my lifetime,” said Mike, “but I want to be part of the process. I think a cure is going to come. As someone with Parkinson’s disease, the Reach Further campaign matters. At the end of the day, it will increase our knowledge, our quality of life, and the kind of Parkinson’s healthcare we have in our communities.”
Mike is also participating in the Foundation’s new initiative, PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease. Supported by the Reach Further campaign, PD GENEration provides no-cost genetic testing to people with Parkinson’s, as well as genetic counseling to help participants understand their results.
Mike submitted his cheek-swab DNA sample by mail recently, which will be analyzed for clinically relevant Parkinson's-related genes. He is currently awaiting his results, which will be delivered via a telemedicine session with a genetic counselor. This information may provide answers about his family’s current and past link to Parkinson’s disease, potential clinical trials he may benefit from, as well as what the future may hold for his two college-aged daughters.
“I think Parkinson’s disease is well behind the eight ball in terms of what we know about genetics and genetic treatments. We are at the cusp,” Mike said. “I want to have a better idea of the source of my Parkinson’s and the source of my particular symptoms. I also wonder if I have the genes that make it more likely that my kids will get PD. If my father, who is also participating in PD GENEration, and I do get information that indicates we have a genetic component, I want to be part of the research. Knowledge is power.”
Mike, who has benefitted from cutting edge Parkinson’s treatments under the guidance of a dedicated movement disorder specialist, is also passionate about the expansion of Parkinson’s care and resources in medically underserved regions. He said, “In Western North Carolina, there are not many neurologists, and only one movement disorder specialist in the area. I’m excited that Reach Further will raise dedicated funds to expand access to quality Parkinson’s care in areas like mine.”
Managing Parkinson’s symptoms for Mike includes staying physically active; he and his wife Lisa are avid hikers. “Activities like taking a walk every day, getting on exercise bike, yoga — they all have powerful benefits for the body and soul,” Mike said.
Shortly after Mike’s diagnosis, the couple decided to fulfill a dream and hike 435 miles along Northern Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Reflecting on this, he said, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. No one knows what the future is — live accordingly and you are going to have a happier life.”
Mike offered the following advice to those newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, “Know that you are not alone. There is a whole community that will support you. Reach out, call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline, call your local chapter. You will find someone who will reassure you and remind you that it is not a death sentence, it is just a diagnosis. People with Parkinson’s live rich, meaningful lives. Do things that make you happy, support causes like the Parkinson’s Foundation that help improve quality of life and most importantly, keep active!”
Help Us Reach Further. Donate and check our campaign progress at Parkinson.org/Reach or call us at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636).