Sunday, September 25, 2011

No Memory to Lose: Walking to Remember Alzheimer's Patients

"We are here to stimulate awareness about Alzheimer's Disease. It is hereditary, and anybody can get it at any age, and when it does, it hits like a ton of bricks."

That's the message Virginia (Jenny) Hankins and dozens of other walkers want to get out, as they got ready to take part in the annual Alzheimer's Walk fundraiser in Kingsport. The walk organized on Saturday morning September 17, 2011 along the Greenbelt that follows Reedy Creek at the Eastman Road bridge.

"We're walking for my grandmother Mrs. Eula Cartwright, my mother Imogene Hankins and my aunt Eula Leeper," Hankins says. "All three suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and it was very devastating."

"This is our (group's) way of supporting the programs the local organization offers."

Click here to see a slideshow of pictures from the 2011 Alzheimer's Walk along the greenway in Kingsport.

"The Alzheimer's Walk in Kingsport has been around since 1998," says Tracey Kendall, manager of programs and education for the Alzheimer's Association of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. "The awareness is growing at a tremendous rate, because more people are becoming affected, either by a family member or a friend. Often, families are thrown into turmoil because now they have a family member to care for. The numbers continue to grow in a ripple effect."

The Great Commission Church had a group in the walk. "I'm walking for Mrs. Ruby Brown, the church's First Lady's mother," says Octavia Hampton. "She suffers from Alzheimer's, and, having been a very independent lady, driving herself anywhere she needed to go, it seems like just overnight, the disease took over. At first, she was staying with our Pastor (Matthew Thomas) and First Lady (Pamela), but then as the disease progressed, it go to where they coudn't handle the care and needs that she had. They placed her at Preston's Place II over there on John B. Dennis."

Both Hampton and Hankins joined over 200 walkers walking the greenway in support of the local Alzheimer's chapter. "This is probably our record-breaking year in Kingsport as far as participants," Kendall says. "Our fund-raising goal for Kingsport and the entire Tri-Cities is $165,599 dollars, and right now, we're tracking far short of that. The economy has something to do with that, but we have until June of next year to meet that goal, so our fundraising is not over."

"Today was the 'big event,'" she says, but the fundraising continues. We need it so badly."

Most of the money raised by the Kingsport Alzheimer's Walk stays local, Kendall says. "The only portion of our money that goes out of the area is our researching. Obviously, we're not Nashville, we're not Emory in Atlanta, so we don't have big research projects going on, but we do help support those projects in bigger cities."

The Alzheimer's Walk has a two-fold purpose, Kendall says, " raise awareness, and to raise funds. "The more awareness we draw to the cause, the more people will be diagnosed early and can be treated quickly. That extends the quality of life, because there is no cure for Alzheimer's. The yearly walk is the way we fund our mission.. we want to make sure we are there to answer questions, provide interviews, and most importantly, SUPPORT."

"Without the funds raised by the walk today, we would not be able to support those programs."

Those programs are very appreciated by walkers today, and potential families tomorrow.

"To have your loved one there, but not there," Hankins remembers, "yeah... it was very hard to deal with."

Click here to go to the Alzheimer's Association chapter office based in Johnson City. That office and the website serves upper East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee and other areas in the Mid-South.