ROGERS CITY - A Rogers City man again will honor his late friend and raise awareness about Huntington's disease with a walk on Saturday.
Aaron Veselenak said he still remembers how Mike Bisson suffered from the degenerative condition before it took his life. In 2003, Veselenak put together a walk honoring Bisson and all those who have suffered from, and died of, the disease.
Since then, Veselenak has raised thousands of dollars for Huntington's-related research at the University of Michigan Department of Neurology, he said. Bisson died less than three years after the first walk, but his memory lives on.
"He had such a good outlook about everything, everything," Veselenak said. "He had a fighting spirit, a very optimistic outlook, it didn't matter what it was, whether it was fighting his disease or hanging out with his friends and doing physical activities like ice skating or playing floor hockey."
Huntington's disease is a genetic disorder, and several of Bisson's family died of it as well, Veselenak said. Nevertheless, Bisson never complained about the uphill battle he faced after his diagnosis.
Veselenak is keeping up the fight, and the walk this year starts at 9 a.m. Saturday behind South Shore Park's Little League fields, he said. From there it follows the Huron Sunrise Trail to Hoeft State Park, around 5 1/2 miles northwest of Rogers City. Walkers can have lunch in the pavilion and get rides back to the starting point. There also are rides available to the park.
What: Mike Bisson
Where: South Shore Park to
Hoeft State Park, Rogers City
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
There's no cost to participate, and walkers can make donations or collect donations from others, Veselenak said.
"But people don't have to collect one cent, because there's the awareness side of it," he said. "We do collect money and get sponsors from other people, but just to have bodies out there walking for a cause and showing solidarity, that's what it's all about."
The walk will take place rain or shine, and participants get a free T-shirt as well, Veselenak said.
Hank Paulson directs the University of Michigan's neurodegenerative diseases program, which researches Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. There are many connections between Huntington's disease and these two, and researchers are hoping to learn more about how they progress.
Those who suffer from Huntington's disease start showing symptoms in their 20s and 30s, and develop motor control, behavioral and thinking problems, Paulson said. These issues get worse over the years, progressing to dementia and severe movement problems.
"It's a fatal disease, and we don't yet have a cure for this disorder," he said. "There's medication that can improve some of the symptoms, but nothing yet that has been proven to slow down the disease."
Researchers in Paulson's department are working to understand the mechanisms behind Huntington's, including a study examining why the disease protein affects and kills brain cells. They're also conducting clinical studies to test possible therapies. It's varied and extremely expensive work, and the money Veselenak raises helps to make it happen.
"We're really appreciative of what Aaron does, and we know how much this means to people who care about those who had" Huntington's, he said. "It inspires us to work harder when we know that people take their hard-earned dollars and donate it to this cause."