Life is full of challenges, and while some might grow bitter after being dealt an especially bad hand, Dovid Rabotnick uses the magic of optimism and actual magic to keep his spirits up and give back to others.
In 2008, Rabotnick lost his mass mailing business, his home and his life savings during the Great Recession. With his wife’s support, Rabotnick, who volunteered as an emergency medical technician, went back to school for nursing.
Then, in December 2013, Rabotnick was dealt another blow: He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I used to have a very strange way of brushing my teeth in that I would brush the left side of my mouth with the right hand and the right side with my left hand, and one day I found I couldn’t do it with my left hand because I couldn’t make those circles,” Rabotnick said. “I have a history other health issues, so I didn’t think it was a big deal, but my doctor said it was early onset Parkinson’s. It was life-changing — but thankfully, I have a slow progression and I’m fairly functional with the help of about 20 pills a day.”
Rabotnicks’ wife, Robin, said that the diagnosis was a surprise and hit the family hard, but between laughing and crying about it, the family chose to remain optimistic. The diagnosis put his future as a nurse in question, but in the end, Robin pushed her husband forward.
“We figured what else was there to lose by him continuing his career in nursing and not know what else he would do if we didn’t pursue that,” Robin said. “We just had to hope for the best and that he would be a nurse for as long as he could.”
Doctors told Rabotnick he had to either use his dexterity or lose it, and rather than simply doing finger exercises, the lifelong magic fan took up learning sleight of hand. Parkinson’s disease mainly involves the improper regulation of muscle movements due to the brain’s inability to produce dopamine, but can also lead to other issues, such as sleeplessness, fatigue and depression. It typically manifests in two forms, one with tremors and one with rigidity along the left side of the body. Rabotnick has the latter form which causes his left side movements to be slower.
“In the beginning, I kind of sucked — but now, I joke that I’m the world’s OK’est magician,” he said. “When I was 21, I saw David Copperfield live and it turned me liking magic into a love because I saw things that I understand how to do now, but I thought were impossible at the time. I have had to alter my performance as the disease progresses, and my family has been tremendously supportive.”
In 2015, Rabotnick created a Youtube channel called “Slow-Motion Magic,” named after his manifestation of the disease, where he would post videos of himself performing magic tricks and rating his ability to perform them with his impaired dexterity, using it as a log of his progression with the disease. Rabotnick soon decided that he wanted to use his platform to help others, and his videos changed gears towards raising awareness of the disease.
“I wanted to bring Parkinson’s disease to the forefront so that people would donate whenever they saw the opportunity to,” he said. “There are a lot of organizations doing tremendous research, but that research doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the fuel for that research in our society is money.”
This past January, Slow-Motion Magic became a licensed nonprofit organization so that Rabotnick could issue tax receipts to donors. As a third-party nonprofit, Rabotnick said all of the money donated by Slow-Motion Magic goes directly to research.
Rabotnick posts weekly videos and hosts fundraising events like the local annual Conjuring for a Cure show to support his efforts, and performs private shows across Los Angeles while distributing literature about Parkinson’s disease.
Robin said that the development of Slow-Motion Magic has inspired their family, also.
“It’s amazing that he took the initiative to do this, to try to inspire people he didn’t event know and to fundraise money for Michael J. Fox’s foundation,” she said. “I’m so proud of him. I’m thankful that he’s still able to do all of this.”
Erik Shapiro, who has been Rabotnick’s best friend for 18 years, describes him as a generous, intelligent and humble man who always looks for opportunities to give back to others. Shapiro has been wheelchair-bound since he was in an accident 10 years ago, and said Rabotnick has taught him how to use humor and optimism as a way to manage the struggle.
“Dovid has really taken this challenge and turned something that would normally be seen as adversity into a positive way to help others,” Shapiro said. “He took on magic as a way to cope with Parkinson’s, but transformed it into something new — striking a balance between genuine talent and giving.”
While going back to school and being surrounded by young people may seem daunting, at age 49, Rabotnick graduated with his nursing degree and now works the night shift at an Antelope Valley hospital.
Rabotnick’s symptoms are slow progressing and he is currently able to mitigate most of them through medication and he is hopeful that research organizations will be able to achieve the lofty goal of finding a cure within his lifetime.
“There’s still part of my brain that still thinks that I’m misdiagnosed and hasn’t accepted it yet since I’m still early in the progression,” the nurse and magician said. “Whenever I have a patient that is in the late stages of Parkinson’s it’s emotionally very challenging because that might be how I end up, but I can’t let the patient know that. I can either cry or laugh about my situation and I choose to laugh. I hope to one day doing magic for my future grandkids and I’m not willing to just lay down and die.”