Popular Michiana clown fights debilitating condition, prepares for surgery

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Sparky The Clown. You may have seen him throughout Michiana in local parades, at fairs and other events.

For nearly three decades, he has made people smile.

But now, he's fighting a serious battle.

No matter where he goes, you can be sure a crowd will follow.

Friday, July 12, is a more relaxed day. There's a short line of children patiently waiting for balloon animals inside South Bend's Pet Refuge.

"Next," Sparky said.

"Um, I want a sword," a boy responded.

"Chrome?" Sparky asked. He is a master at this.

"These are easy," he said with a laugh, then quickly said "you're done!" to the boy.

The child thanked him and walked away.

For 27 years, Sparky the Clown has been magical, creative and silly to kids and adults alike. But two years ago, a frightening health scare changed everything for Barry Naragon.

"[I] was having trouble with my left hand, and writing turned into scribble," he said.

Doctors diagnosed Naragon with an essential tremor, a nervous system disorder that causes shaking. It's different from Parkinson's disease and usually targets a person's dominant hand. Barry is left-handed.

"If I pick up scissors, I can hold," he said of his right hand. "But in [my right] hand, it just gets worse."

These days, his voice and head also shake. Naragon said medicine only slows down the tremors, so now he's preparing for surgery.

On Aug. 2, he will undergo deep brain stimulation at Rush University Hospital in Chicago. The procedure will put a device in Naragon's body that will send electrical impulses to his brain and help treat his tremors.

"It affects me interacting with my grandchildren and my grown sons. I have three sons, so it's hard on us," he said of the condition.

And what's hard for Naragon is tough for Sparky the Clown, who also loves people.

"Are you scared?" NewsCenter 16's Kim Shine asked Naragon.

"Yes, but no," he replied. "All the stuff they're going to do scares me, but I've got faith, so put it in God's hands."

Naragon has a couple of performances before his upcoming surgery:

- Kamm Island, July 27 from noon-2 p.m.
- Serbian Festival, July 27, from 5-8 p.m.