Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dad isn't fighting disease alone

Family has his back in Parkinson's battle

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For Blair Sigurdson, Parkinson's is a disease he must battle every day of his life. In his early 50s, he works full time at the Grant Park Safeway, but in the evenings, he trains for the fight, placing a backpack with 11.3-kilogram weights on his shoulders, walking for kilometres on the treadmill.

"I push myself from morning to night," Sigurdson says. "Even when I feel my worst, when I feel I just can't do anything, I'm tremoring a lot, I just go downstairs, put that backpack on and do three miles (4.8 kilometres). I'm determined to stay ahead of this disease."

What keeps Sigurdson going? He knows whenever he enters the ring to fight Parkinson's, he is never alone -- his family is beside him. They are quite an inspiring team -- his strong and loving wife, Karren, his determined and intelligent daughter, Jenna, and his kind and gentle little boy, Tyler.

When I first met 11-year-old Jenna last summer, she had recently been told her father had Parkinson's disease. From that moment on, she has been determined to raise awareness about the disease and raise money to support research for a cure. Last year, she wore holes in her socks going door to door getting donations to sponsor her in the Parkinson Superwalk. In the end, this little girl single-handedly raised $11,626 for the Parkinson Society Manitoba, thanks to the support of Winnipeggers.

But she is far from done. She decided that for the month of April, which is Parkinson's awareness month, she would create a new campaign.

"Before my dad was diagnosed, I didn't even know what Parkinson's disease was," says Jenna. "I think there needs to be more awareness, because there isn't enough. I thought, 'What could I do?' and realized, well, I love reading; why not make bookmarks?"

And so was born the Jenna's Toonies for Tulips campaign. The avid reader, whose bedroom shelves heave with books, spent weeks on her computer designing beautiful bookmarks adorned with images of red tulips -- the flower that symbolizes Parkinson's disease. On the back of each bookmark, the exhortation: "Let's find a cure. Together we can make a difference." People who donate a minimum of $2 get one of these bookmarks.

Jenna's school, École Julie-Riel, is supporting the cause, with Jenna running a school assembly she has meticulously planned to kick off the campaign on April 11, World Parkinson's Day. Jenna has organized speakers and her classroom has designed posters for the big event. The campaign will run at the school until April 26.

Jenna got sponsors such as Subway to donate lunch to the classroom that raises the most money. She has also got donations from Cineplex for a draw for movie passes, and Esdale Printing Co. printed the bookmarks for free.

"I still get a tear in my eye when I think of everything Jenna has done," says her mom, Karren, her eyes welling just speaking about it.

"Parkinson's is not a one-person disease," says Sigurdson. "It affects the whole family. What Jenna is doing is really helping me through my journey."

Jenna's Toonies for Tulips bookmarks will be sold in McNally Robinson bookstores throughout April. All donations will go to the Parkinson Society Manitoba.

"Jenna continues to be a real-life hero in her efforts to increase Parkinson's awareness and to raise money," says Howard Koks, chief executive officer of the Parkinson Society Manitoba. "She really is a champion, with her energy and creative ideas. Her latest endeavour, Jenna's Toonies for Tulips, is such a fun and positive way to get people involved. It can't help but be another success."

The Sigurdson family continues to inspire and motivate one another. For Sigurdson, his family has become his No. 1 cheer team, motivating him to keep exercising. Jenna is starting to train with her dad for an upcoming marathon. He also runs an early-onset Parkinson's support group at Deer Lodge the first Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.

For Jenna, her dad's strength and positivity are something to celebrate. She boasts about his exercising, saying he's keeping fit so they can continue to go on roller-coasters as a family.

To learn more about the Parkinson Society Manitoba, go to www.parkinson.ca. To make donations to Jenna for the 2013 Parkinson Superwalk, go to www.parkinsonsuperwalk.ca.

 

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at carolynshimmin@gmail.com.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2013 B2

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