If you have ever seen the Food Network TV Show: Cupcake Wars then you will know who Justin Willman is. Justin Willman is not only a TV Show Host, he is also a magician & comedian known for his regular appearances on The Tonight Show, Ellen, Conan, and @Midnight. His debut comedy/magic special Sleight of Mouth premiered earlier this year on Comedy Central to rave reviews. The L.A. Times called him, "A new breed of comic who's making magic cool again for grown-ups. " Playboy dubbed him, "The freshest and funniest magician working today." Time Out says his live show, "Has to be seen to be disbelieved."
Justin was born in St. Louis, lives in Los Angeles, and does not own a rabbit. You may have seen the viral video of Justin and his newlywed wife Jillian Sipkins, when Jillian appears to make Justin levitate during their first dance as husband and wife. Now this is exactly the kind of relationship everyone think of when they imagine a magician and their spouse. A loving magical relationship where they both enjoy magic and they try to outdo one another on a regular basis. Well that's not my life! Not even close! Now don't get me wrong, I love my wife with all my heart and soul...but you see I've been fascinated with magic since I was a child and I have spent my life learning every day new magic tricks, studying other magicians, and trying to always be open minded to learning new and better ways to perform my illusions to enhance my performance. So the hard part for me is I don't have someone to share my ideas with, my wife HATES magic. If I even bring up the topic of magic she is frustrated and annoyed by it...considering this is how I make a living, you would think maybe she might want to pay attention and help give constructive criticism. But no sadly that doesn't happen either, if by chance I do catch her in the right mood to where she will give me some advise it is usually filled with eye-rolling, making fun of me, or talking about how corny or lame the trick or my jokes are. I don't let this discourage me one bit though, as I have a daughter, "Parker" and she LOVES magic and she gives me all the constructive criticism I need. Not to mention, it helps Parker and I bond as a father and daughter should. It also teaches Parker the tricks of the trade, that hopefully one day she will master for herself. She has already begun performing stage illusions with me, and we are putting together her very own show as well. What I do love is that my wife does conceal her magic hatred when it comes to our daughter. She will give very good feedback for her...so it's just me! I guess after 12 years of marriage I have just come to understand that it's not something my wife will ever enjoy, even if it's how food gets to our table. Now one thing that Justin Willman and I do have in common, is that both he and I are married to photographers who are extremely talented. That I must say is a true blessing, and I'm sure Justin would agree it's awesome having a wife that can take your photo shoots for you.
-Aaron Clark (The Amazing Ziggy)
Zander's 1st of 3 Surgeries:
Ziggy's work for Zander -Thursday, December 7, 2006
Zander's 2nd Surgery:
The Turning Point - Saturday, February 24, 2007 - Front Page of the Roanoke Times
It was about 6:30 a.m. when Aaron and Sheena Clark arrived at the University of Virginia Health System.
He led the way, lugging a bag of drinks and snacks, and another bag stuffed with DVDs and a DVD player. She followed with their baby boy, Zander, in a baby carrier.
Since he was born, Zander Clark has been rushed to the hospital, drugged and cut open so doctors could work on his malformed heart.
He's spent weeks in recovery, red-faced and wailing from the pain.
His parents hope that with his most recent surgery to correct hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a heart defect, 6-month-old Zander will begin to have a more normal life.
"This is like the turning point," Aaron Clark said as he stood in his son's hospital room Jan. 16.
After the operation, Zander shouldn't have to have another operation for at least a year or two. After that, he isn't expected to have to undergo another surgery related to the defect for years.
Sheena Clark kissed Zander, who was sleeping in her arms, before he was prepped for surgery.
"I'm going to wake you up now, monster," Sheena Clark cooed. "I sure do love you."
A long wait
With one hand, Aaron Clark shuffled a deck of playing cards and paced around.
He sat, spread the cards out on a table and collected them again.
"Let's play cards," he said as he stood up. It was almost 1 p.m., and the couple had been in the waiting room since about 7 that morning.
When Zander's operation was over, Dr. Benjamin Peeler would be down to let them know how things went. Then Aaron and Sheena Clark would get to see Zander.
Zander was born Aug. 17 with HLHS, a potentially deadly defect in which most of the structures of the left side of the heart are not fully formed, hindering the heart's ability to effectively pump blood through the body.
The Clarks, residents of Salem, were profiled in The Roanoke Times' Neighbors section a few months after Zander's birth and first surgery.
The cause of HLHS is still unknown and not curable. The defect can, however, be treated with a series of three surgeries at different points in the baby's life.
The first operation is performed shortly after birth. The right ventricle is made to pump blood into the entire body instead of to the lungs, which it is designed to do. With the second and third surgeries, a connection is created in the heart, allowing only oxygenated blood to the body and preventing or reducing the mixing of oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood, according to the American Heart Association's Web site.
"None of my family ... had a clue" about Zander's heart defect, Aaron Clark said.
The birth of their daughter, Parker, went without a hitch. Zander's birth was also problem-free, or so they thought.
At 2 a.m. Aug. 18, 12 hours after Zander was born, nurses woke Sheena Clark and told her Zander needed to go to Charlottesville immediately. Zander was rushed from Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital to UVa. Sheena Clark, still recovering from giving birth, couldn't ride in the ambulance with Zander on that foggy morning.
During his most recent hospital stay, she hardly left his side.
Time for recovery
Each time Aaron Clark walked into Zander's room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, he rubbed hand sanitizer on his hands and told Zander's visitors to do the same. He didn't want the baby to get sick, he explained.
Inside, Zander was sleeping. He had a tube in his nose for his respirator, and other tubes running from his leg, arm and chest.
"He looks better than he did last time," Aaron Clark said when he was able to see his son.
After the first surgery, Zander was much more swollen, Aaron Clark said. That time, Zander's vocal chords were nicked when the respirator tube was inserted. Aaron and Sheena Clark had to stay up all night, watching for Zander's cries that couldn't be heard.
This time, while Zander was in the intensive care unit, he had five seizures, each lasting about two minutes and increasingly violent, Aaron Clark said.
"His eyes and legs were kind of flailing and twitching, His eyes were rolling back in his head," Aaron Clark said.
"That scared us pretty bad when that happened."
One of Zander's lungs collapsed while he was in recovery, but that was resolved quickly, Aaron Clark said.
While he recovered, Zander couldn't be picked up. Sheena Clark said he'd look at her as if he wanted to say, "Hold me, Mommy."
To soothe him, Sheena Clark said she'd bend over Zander's bed and slip her hands behind his back so he'd think he was in her arms.
She'd stand that way for hours.
A future memory
Now, Sheena and Aaron Clark are constantly holding their baby boy.
Sheena Clark and Zander returned home from Charlottesville on Jan. 30. Sheena Clark had been intermittently staying at the Ronald McDonald House and the hospital. Aaron Clark had driven to Charlottesville from the couple's home in Salem when he wasn't tied up with his business, Ziggy's Entertainment. The couple's 2-year-old daughter, Parker, stayed with Aaron Clark's mother while Zander was hospitalized.
"He's been up all night long," Aaron Clark said. "His clock's all off."
For days, Sheena and Aaron Clark would wake up to Zander's "blood-curdling screams." Zander still wakes up at the same time he did when he was in the hospital -- 2:30, 6 and 7 a.m.
Zander takes phenobarbital, to prevent seizures; codeine, to prevent diarrhea and for headaches; Lasix, to prevent fluid buildup around his heart; aspirin to thin his blood, and other medications. Soon, he will be weaned off most of the drugs, Aaron Clark said.
Zander will have a third surgery when he's 2 or 3 years old. He'll be walking, learning to talk and better able to let them know when something is wrong with him.
For now, all Zander knows "is we took him somewhere, he got hurt and that's it," Sheena Clark said.
Aaron Clark echoed that thought.
"It's stressful to go from being a baby at home and now all of a sudden ... doctors keep coming and waking you up, probing you" and taking your temperature, he said.
Still, Zander smiled and wriggled around in his father's arms Feb. 1.
When he's older, Aaron and Sheena Clark plan to try to explain his condition and the surgeries. Then they will be able to talk to him and soothe him during the recovery after his third surgery.
They hope Zander's surgeries will become faint memories, if he remembers any of it at all.
Story by: Marquita Brown
Photos by: Kyle Green
The Roanoke Times
Zander's 3rd & FINAL Surgery!
Our Health Magazine wrote 2 stories about Zander:
The first talking about coping with illness and how a little humor goes a long way.
The second telling the detail of Zander's 3rd and Final Surgery.
It's difficult to believe that only three months ago, rambunctious, three-year-old Zander could not even run down the hall without labored breathing. But this, apparently, was typical for Zander before his third and final surgery for a rare heart condition called Hypo-Plastic Left Heart Syndrome - one of the most serious cardiac defects in newborns in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. Having recovered remarkably well from the first two surgeries, Zander returned to UVA Children's Hospital on October 2, 2009 for his final operation.
The outcome of the surgery, while painstaking with constant oxygen and lots of baby asprin, was not only a grand success for Zander, but also yielded a possible improvement to the standard procedure. During the stage three operation, the Fontan procedure, a hole, called a fenestration, is made to serve as an escape route for blood in case there is too much pressure in the lungs following the surgery. In Zander's case, a hold was made larger than normal, subsequently allowing more drainage to be released over a shorter period of time. As a result, Zander was free of drainage in five days as opposed to the normal tow or three weeks. Doctors are now discussing standardizing larger fenestrations in order to encourage more rapid recoveries among their patients. Zander's parents, Aaron and Sheena, agree that the significantly reduced stay in the PICU is a breakthrough, especially when it comes to a feisty three-year-old.
The Clark family has become accustomed to prolonged hospital visitations, and they have learned to make these visits more tolerable by finding entertainment and humor in the little things, such as a skeleton of the Toy Story Character, Woody, showed up in one of Zander's x-rays. As it turns out, Zander had been lying on top of his toy doll, Woody. Zander happens to be a huge Toy Story fan, and he has been seen more than once running through the hospital halls, proudly parading his Buzz Lightyear wings. It has earned him the nickname "Buzz" among hospital staff.
While Aaron, as a children's entertainer, admits that he thinks entertainment and humor played a role in Zander's healing process, the most important part of his job, he says, is that it has provided him flexibility to be with his family during the turbulent segment of their lives. Being able to plan Zander's surgeries around the slow season at work - along with sympathetic partners willing to cover for him - has allowed Aaron to spend much needed time with his son. Although Aaron has delighted in making children laugh for the past twelve years, his profession wouldn't be nearly as satisfying if he wasn't able to be there to cheer up the most important little boy in his life.
Two weeks after his surgery Zander was taken to the cardiac catheter lab, where Aaron and Sheena saw almost immediate improvement in their son's health. Just thirty minute after receiving cardiac catheterization, Zander, whose oxygen saturation level was in the low sixties, his lips and limbs blue, was suddenly able to sustain an oxygen saturation level in the high nineties, and he has been able to do so ever since. His protective five-year-old sister, Parker, who would always alert Sheena when she noted Zander wasn't breathing well, agrees that Zander is a bit harder to look after now wthat he has recovered from his last surgery. "Zander is gonna catch me because he's the pirate!" she calls over her shoulder as she is chased down the hall by a tiny Jack Sparrow.
Having emerged from a long and taxing journey, Aaron and Sheena are able to recognize the good that has resulted. They are appreciative of the many gracious people they've met along the way, such as the folks at the Woodlands in Charlottesville who, upon hearing the Clark's story, offered their facility at a more than reasonable rate. Sheena says, for the first time, they felt like they had "a place to go home to" - a luxury for Sheena and Aaron, who have spent long hours traveling back and forth from Salem to Charlottesville. "Wherever we are, we make it home," says Sheena, having acquired a greater sense of what's important in life. Sheena believes these trails have made them a stronger family. "It's easy to coast through the good stuff," she says, but she affirms the often times it is the trails that produce an appreciation for that which is truly significant in life.
One thing that has assumed a greater significance in the Clark family is their faith. When suddenly faced with Zander's formidable condition. Aaron and Sheena felt compelled to seek spiritual refuge. "I never felt the need to be part of a church community," Aaron says. But his perspective changed dramatically when he and his wife began attending Fellowship Community Church in 2006, where they experienced an outpouring of love and support. Shortly after, they became members of the church, and Aaron was baptized as an outward symbol of his newly found conviction in Christ. Although his problems didn't disappear, he reports he has since experienced a peace that surpasses understanding.
The church has also been a means of serving the community for Aaron and Sheena who are now in a position to give back. They recently participated in hosting an event for the Trust House Homeless Shelter, which provided dinner and, or course live entertainment, compliments of Aaron himself, who beguilded his audience with magic, balloons, caricature art, and juggling. Aaron and Sheena try to include Parker and Zander in events such as these, not just to entertain them, but to emphasize to their children the importance of serving others and to show them that it's not something they have to wait until they are adults to participate in.
Fortunately, now that Zander has overcome his final surgery, there won't be any more hospital visits for another six months, which is a relief for Zander and his parents. "They were drawing blood three or four times a day leaving IV's in for twelve hours," recalls Sheena. The memory of these episodes makes even the simplest check-ups distressing for Zander. But, fortunately, distasted fr doctor's visits seems to be the only vestige of his three year battle with Hypo-Plastic Left Heart Syndrome. The family can finally try to regain a sense of normalcy, not having to worry about further surgeries until Zander is eight or nine years old when he will have to have his narrow aorta repaired.
In the meantime, with no evidence of permanent repercussions, Zander's condition seems to have placed no limitations on his capabilities. Aaron and Sheena recall hearing many times, "he'll never be like other kids," and they recount the suggestions of well meaning individuals that they restrain Zander more in physical activities. But they both agree, "If he can do it and he wants to do it, he's going to do it." Perhaps their optimism can best be reflected by a moment in a YouTube video, which features Zander rousing from his final surgery. Not yet having spoken, he hears the voice of his father initiating the familiar expression of Buzz Lightyear, "To Infinity..." to which Zander finally replies, groggily, "and beyond."
- Jessica Wright
Our Health Magazine
Zander's Turning Double Digits!
Since we moved to Georgia we have made it a tradition to celebrate Zander's Birthday by going to Medieval Times in Atlanta. Zander loves every moment of the tournament, the horses, the knights battling, and of course the food. Here you can see Zander, and his younger brother Carver, with their Dad Aaron Clark celebrating Zander's 9th Birthday. Zander is so excited to be going to Medieval Times for his 10th Birthday and to also head over to Dave and Busters after the show for some video games and bowling. It makes for a great time and keeps us reminded of how lucky we are to have Zander! So many other parents with children born with HLHS have not shared the success stories as we are able to do. I give all the credit to God, and I also give credit for my salvation to Zander. If it weren't for his struggle to survive, I may have never come to have the relationship that I have with Jesus. I was baptized on March 29, 2009 and it was on that day that accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Over the past 7 years since I was saved I have become a devoted Christian, I have spent as much time as possible learning what it means to be Christian. My walk with Jesus has not always been on an easy road, many times its been extremely rough, but he is always there for me and I know he will always be there for Zander as well.
I am so happy to announce that Zander had his 10 Year checkup with his pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Miller in Roanoke, Va. while visiting with his grandmother over the summer, and Zander is perfectly healthy. His heart is in great condition and there are no more surgeries needed. Zander should live a long and healthy life as long as he takes excellent care of himself as he matures becoming an adult.
So now It's Time To Celebrate! Medieval Times Here we come!
-Aaron Clark (The Amazing Ziggy)
While at events I am frequently asked the same question: How many children do I have?
You see I perform for children on a very frequent basis and I love entertaining children. I believe it takes a special type of understanding of a child to be able to entertain, teach, or even to work around children regularly. The main thing you have to have is patience, you must have the very best patience to work around children.
So why then do people assume that I have children? I guess it's because I am so patient with the children and they see the father in me with the way I interact with their children at events. Well they are correct, I do have 3 kids, and they are my whole world. I love being a Dad, and from a young age I always knew I wanted to have kids of my own. I distinctly remember growing up and always having younger kids flock to me, they always wanted me to be their friends. Even before I got into magic. I learned how to juggle from my uncle starting at the age of only 4 years old. I remember having a juggling club with the neighborhood kids. As I grew I became more and more interested into magic so that lead to the younger kids loving me that much more! What's funny is I can see that same thing happening to my children now as they are growing up...I guess I know where they get it from.
So does having children make you a better performer then? I think so...
Well I think it gives you a better understanding of what the parents are wanting. I have always been good at putting on a show and making the kids laugh. But it wasn't until I had children of my own that I understood the importance of having a personal connection with your audience. I will give you a great example of what I mean. If you have never been to the Georgia Aquarium I highly recommend you going, as it is an amazing experience. They have a brand new show called the Dolphin Celebration, and let me tell you, this show is fantastic! However, the show they use to have was not so great! The old show had the Dolphins doing pretty much the exact same things that they do in the new show, a few things are different, but not much...But here is what they did to make that show so much better. They gave a personal connection to the audience by allowing a child from the audience to come down and interact with the dolphins and be part of the show. That kid will never forget the experience and neither will the audience! The old show had great music and lighting, it had singing, choreography, acting and it was more of a Broadway type show. But the problem was this...its not Broadway, and the actors were mediocre at best. So there was a lot of "over acting" they were trying to hard, and they didn't connect with the audience at all. The dolphins were fun to watch, but it was painful to watch those actors & singers. I am so glad that someone gave the Georgia Aquarium the hint because their new show is spectacular and I highly recommend everyone check it out!
-Aaron Clark (aka. The Amazing Ziggy)
#DolphinCelebration #GeorgiaAquarium #KidsLoveMagic #ConnectWithYourAudience #Zmagicshow #TheAmazingZiggy
The new presentation is a fun and exciting experience that showcases dolphin behavior and their relationship with their trainers while incorporating important education messages. Focusing on the beauty, grace, athleticism, and intelligence of bottlenose dolphins, this presentation uses a variety of new behaviors that focus on each characteristic.AT&T Dolphin Celebration is included in Aquarium general admission. Seating is first come first served, based on available seating. Guests are advised to arrive at the theater at least 30 minutes prior to the showtime.
Show times vary daily.
As many of you know I got my start in the entertainment industry at the age of 15, performing as Ziggy The Clown...and after 12 years of performing in makeup I decided it was time to focus on what I loved doing the most: Magic. I had performed 1000's of stage magic shows as a clown but I wanted to become a more professional looking entertainer. So 5 years ago I focused all of my attention on the art of magic and illusions, I moved from Roanoke, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia. Now to this day I still get calls, emails and private messages on social media asking me if I am Ziggy The Clown...my reputation certainly does proceed me. Most recently I received a facebook message from a past client who had me perform at her birthday when she was a child and now she has a 1 year old who she wanted to have me perform at her daughters birthday party. I will tell you I'm so flattered that she remembered me after all these years, but even more so I sure do feel old now...I'm only 35 but it just goes to show how much of a lasting impression I have been able to make on my audiences.
So since moving to the Atlanta area I have been putting all of my attention into stage illusions, as that is the type of performing I enjoy the most. I get such a thrill from being in front of a large crowd of people and being able to keeping them engaged on captivated by my performance. It takes years of practice to be able to perform stage illusions, and I am so proud to have a daughter, Parker, that is also interested in performing magic and illusions, she is following right along in my footsteps. I can only imagine at how much more successful she will be having a father that can mentor to her and support her in her career.
My Name is Aaron Clark and I'm know as The Amazing Ziggy. I've been a Professional Magician for over 20 years performing all over the US and internationally, but mostly for events on the east coast in the Atlanta Area.