For many people actor Michael J Fox is synonymous with feel good movies - most notably playing the legendary Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series.
But for Derry man Kieran Whoriskey, the 53 year old actor represents so much more.
For when 13 years ago, when Kieran was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease - a condition more frequently associated with older people - it was Michael J Fox who provided him with a strong role model to show that life could indeed go on, and be well lived.
Kieran was just 26 when he received the devastating diagnosis that he had Parkinson’s - after experiencing symptoms for the previous four years.
“It started with me with my foot shaking. I turned to the internet to look up my symptoms and from early on I pretty much knew I had Parkinson’s - although it was four years before I was given an official diagnosis.”
Kieran was determined not to lie down under the diagnosis - although he did try to keep his condition under wraps for a while. “It wasn’t a good place to be in,” he said. “But it was what it was, and I just had to get on with it.
“It was just something I had to deal with it - so I dealt with it the best I could. I didn’t go off the rails or anything, but it was a tough time.
Life would never be the same for Kieran. He soon learned that things he had previously taken for granted became quite difficult. As the condition progresse he developed dystonia (uncontrolled muscle spasms) and his speech would slur so he found himself on occasion being turned away from bars - with bouncers assuming he was drunk.
He is now unable to work - having to take medication every four hours to try and control his condition and keep himself as pain free as possible.
“The medication only works four hours at a time,” he said. “Without my medication, I can’t function. I can’t walk. I can’t talk. My muscles will stiffen up, my toes will clamp down. Then I just have to wait for the medication to kick in again - and believe me you know when it does! Sometimes it takes up to an hour and a half to work - and the pain can be excruciating.”
Parkinson’s is not the same for any two people - and Kieran said at times it can feel isolating. Having such a high profile role model as Michael J Fox - who has been very open about his condition and uses humour as a coping mechanism - has been a huge help to Kieran. “I like to have a bit of craic - use humour too.” Kieran said. “What else is there for it?”
A supporter of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Kieran and 175 of his closest family and friends took part in a charity climb of Mount Errigal in February of last year.
“Of course we did it in the sleet and snow,” Kieran laughed - but he was rewarded for his fund-raising efforts with an invite to the MJF charity gala dinner in New York.
“We were told Michael J Fox wouldn’t do a meet and greet. There were 400 people invited to the dinner, and that just wouldn’t be possible. but I was delighted just to be there.”
However during dinner Kieran got talking to one of the women he was seated with, who told him that if he had come all the way from Ireland - he was absolutely going to get introduced to his hero.
“It was amazing. He is such a nice man - a real gentleman and it was an honour to meet him.”
The experience helped Kieran feel less isolated by his condition - something he said you just can’t put a price on.
For the rest of his five day stay in New York he was introduced to many people from the MJF foundation and online friends who have Parkinson’s.
“It was an unforgettable and brilliant experience. To be made to feel such a big part of something - and to feel less isolated.”