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New London man raises Parkinson's awareness through comfort birds

Even though everyone's Parkinson's diagnosis is different, one New London man is encouraging newly-diagnosed people to stay active and not give up hope.
Patrick Pelkey says he used different material to create these beautiful comfort birds, and each project take 1 to 3 hours to complete.
Posted at 4:00 AM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 08:27:40-04

WAUPACA (NBC 26) — He's been living with Parkinson's Disease for more than two decades, but he eventually found some relief from his tremors through wood-carving.

Patrick Pelkey is overcoming those struggles while helping others by whittling wood and other material into comfort birds.

"It kind of gives me just as good of a feeling making it as to give it to somebody and knowing it's helping them," Pelkey said.

The New London native meets with the Waupaca-area Wood Carvers every Wednesday to socialize and so much more.

Patrick Pelkey meets with the Waupaca-area Wood Carvers every Wednesday at the Senior Citizen Center to socialize and talk about their creations.

"It's nice to get here every week and talk to everybody. You don't just talk about carving. Everybody is talking about things going on in their life. So, it's really nice," Pelkey said.

Pelkey has been living with Parkinson's for 21 years—a brain disorder that affects his movement for the rest of his life.

"It was just before my 50th birthday, and I just went out to my car and cried. I couldn't believe it, but I didn't let it get to me, and don't let it get to you," Pelkey said.

Pelkey said he started attending Parkinson's support groups to learn how to live with the diagnosis.

He says that's where he connected with another person with Parkinson's who told him about whittling wood to help reduce tremors.

Pelkey says he was skeptical at first, but he gave it a try, and it worked!

"I never even knew I could do this until I had Parkinson's. So, once I took it up and found out that it helps, I really like doing it," Pelkey said.

Pelkey said he started whittling wood into comfort birds and donating them to patients to raise Parkinson's awareness—all while easing his own symptoms.

"When I was first diagnosed, I was still working at the paper mill in Neenah, and it got to the point I was shaking so bad that I couldn't hold on to my tools anymore," Pelkey said.

Pelkey says he has carved more than 1,300 birds and donated nearly 900 of them.

He says it's a good deed that eventually got the attention of the Michael J. Fox Foundation where Pelkey was asked to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak with lawmakers about the disease.

He says he also helps with the Wisconsin Parkinson's Association.

He says even though everyone's diagnosis and symptoms are different, he encourages newly-diagnosed people to not give up hope.

"A lot of people just want to give up. Don't do that. Stay as active as you possibly can. The more active you stay, the better it will be," Pelkey said.

If you or someone you know is living with Parkinson's, The Brain Center of Green Bay has resources to help at no cost.