Astronaut Rich Clifford to share tale of keeping Parkinson's secret for 17 years

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Retired NASA astronaut Rich Clifford will be the guest speaker at Parkinsons Resources of Oregons gala event May 8. He kept his Parkinsons secret for 17 years.

Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon (PRO) has announced that former NASA astronaut Rich Clifford will be the guest speaker at its sixth annual Celebrate Hope gala dinner set for May 8. The event’s theme is Mission: Possible.

To be held at the Sentinel Hotel in Portland, the event features signature cocktails; dinner; silent and live auctions; lively entertainment; and an adMISSION Possible wall with tickets to plays, exhibits, activities and more. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate people who Parkinson’s disease has affected.

KPAM 860 radio personality Melissa Maki will serve as mistress of ceremonies and professional auctioneer Steve Talbot will manage the live auction.

NASA chose event guest speaker Rich Clifford as an astronaut in 1990. After his second space shuttle mission in 1994, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was 42. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disease that eventually renders many individuals immobile.

“Rich told me he had been given a clean bill of health and just happened to mention to his doctor that his right arm just didn’t feel right. He thought he had a pinched nerve in his shoulder,” said Lauren Tietsort, PRO development director. Clifford, his neurologist and NASA leadership kept his diagnosis a secret for 17 years.

“My symptoms were not very evident,” he said.

He was assigned to lead his third space mission, which was to dock with the Russian space station MIR, but not assigned to do the spacewalk.

“Rich said he asked why he wasn’t included on the spacewalk, and NASA said they didn’t think he would be comfortable. ‘Are you?’ they asked. He said ‘yes,’ and they let him do it,” Tietsort said. “The support he received from NASA was impressive. They trusted him to know his body.”

Clifford performed a six-hour spacewalk from the space shuttle, while docked with MIR, to install experiment packages on the station. He spent more than 27 days orbiting the Earth on all three missions.

Tietsort suggested that Clifford’s success in keeping his disease secret was due to support from NASA, being in good physical shape and utilizing resource tools to keep him vital, plus a positive attitude and inspirational zest for life.

After he retired from NASA, his neurologist urged him to share his story, which resulted in the creation of the documentary film “The Astronaut’s Secret.” Filmed by the neurologist’s son, the documentary tells the story of Clifford’s life achievements and why he kept the diagnosis a secret for 17 years. The film has been screened at multiple film festivals across the nation, with Clifford speaking about Parkinson’s disease, inspiring others with his positive message that “the sky’s the limit” as to what can be accomplished with the right attitude and determination.

“There are several versions of the film,” Clifford said. “A two-minute introduction, a 25-minute and a 55-minute version. I think we’ll show the introduction, then I’ll speak for about 20 minutes and then move onto the auction.”

Clifford speaks three or four times a month, raising awareness and advocacy for Parkinson’s disease.

“We’re making progress on treatment options and finding a cause,” he said. “Keeping a positive outlook is important. What Parkinson’s Resources is doing is great. What they are doing is impressive.”

Parkinson’s toll on the body steals away independence and clarity of thought and severely limits activities. An estimated 25,000 people in Oregon and Southwest Washington have Parkinson’s disease. There is no cure at this time and it is uncertain what causes the disease.

“This disease is unique to each person,” Tietsort said. “They don’t know what causes it; it is not genetic.”

PRO is seeking donations and auction items to help raise funds at the annual gala. Sponsorship and advertising opportunities are available.

Those wishing to donate or purchase tickets to the gala event May 8 can call Tietsort at 800-426-6806 or visit

For 35 years, PRO has served Oregon and southwest Washington offering programs and services including support groups, classes on enhancing daily living, educational programs, lending library, case management, outreach, bi-monthly newsletters, a toll-free help line and advocacy efforts. The office is located at 3975 Mercantile Drive, Suite 154 in Lake Oswego.

Tickets are $150 per person. Doors open at 5 p.m.; cocktails and silent auction begin at 5:30 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m.

Learn more about PRO online at

Contact Barb Randall at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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