Jim Parker, the father of the Mount Shasta July 4th Walk/Run, has been diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Just before he announced the raffle drawing winner for a new car this July 4th in downtown Mount Shasta, Dr. Jim Parker was overcome by emotion as he told a huge gathering of participants that this would be his final year as director of the annual Fun Run/Walk event he founded in 1980.
Minutes later, car winner Frank Cardoza was being greeted by exuberant friends at the foot of the Castle Street Stage. A few feet away, Jim and Jacquie Parker shared an emotional embrace with feelings that went far beyond what Dr. Parker was ready to announce that day.
Jim Parker has been diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “It is a particularly virulent kind named bulbar ALS,” Parker wrote in a statement that is being published in its entirety starting below. “The typical lifespan is 1-2 years from start of first symptoms,” he said.
Parker, who opened his family practice in Mount Shasta in 1979 at age 34, has been one of the most public figures in the area during the last 30-plus years.
As the face and voice of the July 4th event, Parker promotes healthy living, volunteerism, community spirit, and the joys of small town life.
The Run/Walk draws thousands of people each year and has raised more than half a million dollars, according to coordinator Marcia Smith. Those funds have gone into a long list of beautification projects that transformed the look of downtown Mount Shasta and provided support for local sports programs.
Parker was the first local doctor to accept AIDS patients and was a founder in 2009 of the VHC Today program through which local medical professionals donate their time to provide free health care services to uninsured residents who are asked only to “pay it forward.”
He has won awards for his contributions to the community and his work with AIDS patients.
Last year he stood next to Governor Jerry Brown while accepting the Governor’s “Event of the Year” Award on behalf of Mountain Runners for contributing to youth physical fitness. The award came with a $10,000 check.
Those who have worked closely with him over the years point to Parker’s passion, vision, and desire to serve the community.
“His enthusiasm is infectious, and he’s good at getting other people involved,” said Rebeca Franco, who was involved in the 1980s with the Mountain Runners group that puts on the July 4th run.
“When he came here and settled here, this was it for him,” Marcia Smith said of Parker. “He wanted to serve the community well and make this the best place to live. He has done a lot of things for the good of the community.”
Smith said some 700 volunteers participated in this year’s July 4th event; and former city councilor and longtime Mount Shasta Herald editor Marge Apperson sees Parker’s hands in that.
“Mount Shasta has been a volunteer town as long as I’ve known it,” said Apperson, who assisted Parker when he was raising funds in the 1980s to purchase the downtown trees that are now so prominent. “He enhanced that culture of volunteerism exponentially. And look what it’s done for the town. It brought national recognition and money.”
Dusty Miller, a member of the Mountain Runners executive committee, praised Parker for his “vision and energy... Jim’s development of the 4th of the July Walk/Run into a major community event has been vital to the community economically. Besides bringing a large number of participants to Mount Shasta for the actual event, the 4th of July Walk/Run promotes the area as a destination for summer vacation and winter sports activities.”
Parker’s service to the community has included education, too.
In the late 1990s he suggested the newspaper look into the many ways healthcare was changing. That idea led to an award winning series of articles written by David Manley.
Last year he suggested an article that Paul Boerger wrote about the continuing threat of AIDS.
And in his most difficult time, Parker gave a moving address with an educational component during the celebration of life for his younger son.
Now, Parker said he is experiencing a heightened sense of appreciation for each moment.
After this year’s July 4th event, he said, “In my mind it was the best of all Fourths. I was able to slow down and appreciate it moment to moment. Seeing the sunrise, seeing how the street filled with people – like a time capsule – everybody pouring in. It was such a sweet Fourth for me.”
Parker said he’s always wanted to be “so used up” when his life ends.
“I don’t know what to expect, but I think it’s going to be a helluva ride,” he said last week.
He plans to do some traveling and plans to continue working as long as possible. He is also looking forward to helping establish the new July 4th race-funded park in a downtown Mount Shasta parking lot.
“Jim’s last major project as event director of Mountain Runners is the upcoming construction of the downtown park,” said Dusty Miller. “I think this park is a fitting tribute to a man who has contributed so much to his community.”
PARKER: 'I am at peace'
By Jim Parker
Friends and patients have expressed concern about my health these past few months. Although I would like to explain to so many of you personally and individually, the generosity of our community newspaper has allowed me to share my news.
A S.F. neurologist diagnosed me in early June with a disease named ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The type is a particularly virulent kind named bulbar ALS.
It started in the speech and swallowing center of my mid brain. The typical life span is 1-2 years from start of first symptoms. There are no ups and downs but a linear progression usually ending in aspiration pneumonia.
There is fortunately little cognitive decline during the nerve disease deterioration. My symptoms began last year with slurring of speech and then hoarseness.
If I could speak to each of my friends and patients, what would I like to say?
I would speak about small town medicine and my hope that I made a difference in patients’ lives and in the community.
I would speak of the chills felt in my spine seeing the sunrise over the mountain on July 4th mornings before any other person arrives to help prepare for the Fun Run/Walk. I would confess to the mischievous feeling of awakening the townspeople from their slumber on our nation’s birthday.
I might talk about how seeing the trees and lights on a quiet night of snow bring on a surreal feeling.
I would tell you the support you gave Jacquie, Nathan and me when our son died will never be forgotten.
I would speak of gratitude for being a member of a devoted medical community where now we can see the many uninsured patients with their heads held high, trading a pay it forward promise for free medical care on Sundays.
Then I would muse about being raised in the Deep South with racist, sexist, homophobic, and too conservative social views that were finally transformed when I became involved at the beginning with the most important epidemic of our time – AIDS.
Now, I want to spend time doing what brings me satisfaction, fulfillment and equanimity. That means practicing medicine as long as I can speak, being with loved ones, and continuing to contribute to my community.
There will be travel with my son Nathan, and a vacation. There will be time to find closure to patients and friends, many of whom I have known since 1979. My life’s journey has been full and I am at peace.
I read that doctors approach their final stage of life differently than most. We see the futility of prolonging the inevitable. We witness firsthand the staggering amount of medical resources that are spent in the last six months of life.
As we approach our twilight years, would it not be wise to examine our values and direct our care in those last months or years?
You have the power as I do to consider and use the Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment form. It is clear, powerful, and costs nothing to use.
The form allows you to plan your own end of life care, which for so many of us includes staying at home. The form is as good as a living will and is available at your doctor’s office. Use it for your family’s sake.
I thank Steve Gerace for allowing me to share my thoughts with a community I love.