Man hopes music helps fund MS

Tim Surkovich is a former technology teacher of small-town Hollidaysburg, and he looks the part.

But his Bill Gates-like appearance doesn’t tell the whole story, doesn’t reveal “the beasts,” inside him.

And that’s the part of him that he believes people can identify with, especially people with Multiple Sclerosis. So, he’s dedicated to communicating his life through music.

Through his songs, his goal is to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to help find a cure.

The culmination of 24 years of living with the disease, Surkovich’s lyric writing connected him to a progressive rock band and a celebrated New York City film director.

The result is an album titled “Project Diagnosis” and a music video that is scheduled to debut Feb. 8 at the Jaffa Shrine Center. Surkovich said 1,600 invitations have been sent.

Half the money raised by the Feb. 8 music listening party will be presented to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Duncansville, he said. The other half will be presented to the national headquarters.

“It’s going to feel good. I want to give back to the organization that has done so much for me,” he said.

Sharon O’Keiff, branch manager at the National MS Society in Duncansville, said the music video directed by Matthew Wachsman is top quality, but Wachsman did it at no cost- and he has the connections in New York to promote the music, performed by the band Progmium.

“A few tweets by someone with fame, and he’s golden,” O’Keiff said was her understanding of the business.

Wachsman spoke with the Mirror from his home in New York. He said the music is powerful.

“It stands on its own,” he said. “The 8th will give us a lot to work with moving forward. It could grow into something great. This could make a substantive contribution to finding a cure to MS. A cure can be discovered and every dollar, everyone coming on the 8th, brings millions of people a little closer to not having to suffer.”

All of the songs’ lyrics were written by Surkovich, 52. He’s had plenty to write about.

Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

Despite hesitations because of his illness, he was married and had a family, supporting them through a job as technology coordinator in the Spring Cove School District. While working, he experienced numbness in his extremities, tight bands around his gut and phantom pain in his right shoulder and arm, he said.

“I had a terrifying moment when I lost sight in my right eye while driving home from work. The job was killing me, but I needed to work to support my family.”

Heavy doses of steroid treatment stemmed the physical pain but gave rise to a problem reflected in the song, “The beast inside.” The drugs altered his mind.

“One minute I was happy and the next minute I started screaming at my wife and kids. I could watch myself acting like a maniac, like I was seeing it on TV, and I would cry about it while I attacked, but I couldn’t control it. My kids were unnerved. And my wife had had enough.”

His second wife, Lisa, has been his support, his children are his motivation. And physically, aside from weakness on his left side of his body, he has no complaints.

The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable.

“I’m a very lucky person. I’m still mobile,” Surkovich said. And he’s mobilized a board of members to run The Project Diagnosis Foundation, and a team of musicians and film director to make a difference in the lives of people with MS.

Singer Randy Sciarrillo of Altoona is the voice of Surkovich’s lyrics.

Sciarrillo has an extensive musical resume but has devoted his talent to singing for the band Progmium since Surkovich, one of his best friends, contacted him three years ago.

“I was sent some lyrics written by [him]. Tim had written an album’s worth of lyrics describing much of what he’s gone through while battling MS. I felt so connected to his words that I asked him if I could write the music for him,” Sciarrillo wrote for Surkovich’s foundation’s web site. “My band mates and I are equally passionate about this cause and ultimately inspired by Tim and the way he has persevered in the face of his fight.”

For now, Surkovich is left to wait and see how the music is received. He hopes the Feb. 8 music listening party will be a success.

“It would be overwhelming,” he said.

Former Hollidaysburg Area School District administrator and school board member Bill Padamonsky serves as treasurer for Surkovich’s foundation. The men worked together at the school district.

“I have so much respect for Tim. He took what he’s gone through- from prior to his diagnosis to after- He took those emotions and trials and put them in words. The fact they had a CD developed-I sit back and it’s mind boggling,” Padamonsky said.

“In addition to raising money locally, the hope is doing this for other MS societies for the Eastern coast, maybe nationwide.”