Walking to remember

Jamie Van Doren, Contributing Reporter

A group of children clad in purple t-shirts crowd together, striking the silliest poses they can imagine. Four members of the group hold another aloft and wait impatiently for their grandmother, Donna Adams, to snap a picture. On the backs of their shirts, in bright green puffy paint, is written “Grandma Vi,” which stands for Viola Buie, their great grandmother who passed away March 2011. Buie suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

On Oct. 7, 21 of Buie’s children, grandchildren, and great- grandchildren came to the Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland to participate in the 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Adams, Buie’s daughter, said that, this year, the family raised more than $1700 to support cure research. She and the family have done the one-mile walk for the last three years, and they will do it again next year.

The Adams family is one of many to participate in the walk organized by the Alzheimer’s Association. Participants walked to raise money and honor loved ones who have passed, as well as those still fighting the disease that is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

The 1500 walkers who braved the weather was less than the 2300 that the Cleveland chapter of the Association had expected, but their energy was still impressive.

The walkers waved spinning pinwheels shaped like flowers made from purple, yellow, or orange cloth. The flowers and smiling faces were a sharp contrast to the gray Sunday morning drizzle. Nevertheless, the flowers represented the hope for a cure that so many were taking about.

The walkers chatted like old friends. Some discussed the latest treatment research, like that being conducted by Dr. Gary Landreth at Case Western Reserve University. Some reminisced about lost family members whose pictures and names they wore on large buttons pinned to shirts or jackets.

Teresa D’Amico wore a button showing a smiling Harry Wade. In the picture, Wade wears bright rainbow suspenders, his trademark. Several members of the team, “The Wade Brigade,” sported similar suspenders in memory of the Marine veteran who lost his battle with Alzheimer’s and died seven years ago. Wade’s son-in-law, Chris D’Amico, said that if his father were alive today, he would be walking with them.

Cheryl Passov, co-chair for this year’s walk, wore a button too. It showed the smiling face of her mother, Getty Breen. Passov does the walk each year because she wants to give back to the Association, she said.

“When my mom was sick, somebody told me about the Alzheimer’s Association. They gave me so much help. You know, when you’re at your wit’s end and you just don’t know how to handle something, you call and they have people to talk to. They were so wonderful in their help when we needed it. I said ‘I have to give back’.”

Her mother’s decline has a permanent place in Passov’s memory. “She didn’t know who we were by the end. She couldn’t feed herself. We had to put her in a nursing home because she stopped walking also. So, my dad went and fed her breakfast everyday and I went and fed her dinner every night. It was so hard to watch. It’s heartbreaking. We need to find a cure.”

For Passov, the scars from witnessing the decline of a loved one are some of the most painful and lasting aspects of the disease.

“I can’t get the old mom in my head anymore. I only see her in a wheelchair. And it’s been three years and it’s like I’d watch videos, I’d try to bring that [image of my mom] back and it’s not working.”

In addition to her mother, Passov’s grandmother, her two uncles, and her aunt have all suffered from Alzheimer’s. She worries less for herself, however, and more for her own children and grandchildren.

Adams worries about her children and grandchildren as well. “We just need more support and research, because hopefully we can make a difference for the upcoming generations. That’s why I walk. I walk for my grandchildren.”

With those last words, tears fill Adams’ eyes. Before they can spill down her cheeks, a rush of purple shirts push their way towards her and she’s enveloped in the arms of team “Grandma Vi”. Three generations cling to one to another sharing support, heartache, and memories of those loved and lost.