By LAINE GRIFFIN
Daily News-Record 11/4/19
Celena Johnson watches people every day lose their memory and become less of themselves.
Johnson works in the memory care unit at White Birch Communities, an assisted living facility in Rockingham County.
“I see so many residents who have Alzheimer’s, and it’s just heartbreaking to see them lose a piece of who they were,” she said. “And there’s no cure to this awful thing.”
Johnson attended the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday with other employees of White Birch Communities.
White Birch has sponsored the Alzheimer’s walk, and a number of employees always come to be a part of the local walk.
“I had a great-grandma who passed away from it,” Johnson said. “So even though it’s hard, I love working with the people struggling from Alzheimer’s and helping them, because they can’t help themselves.”
Jessica Dobbs and her sister, Marla Poteat Waynes, also had a great-grandmother who died from the disease.
The sisters are physical therapists with Amedisys Home Health and Hospice Care, which had around 15 employees at the walk.
“Being a part of this walk is meaningful to us for many reasons,” Dobbs said. “It’s great to see people raise money for research for a cure. This affects so many people, and that’s just another reason we need a cure.”
Prior to the walk Saturday morning, participants held yellow, orange, blue, purple or white flowers, which had different meanings.
The yellow flower designates caregivers, the orange is for advocates, blue is for those suffering with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, purple is for someone who has lost someone to Alzheimer’s and white is for survivors.
The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research, according to its website.
As Virginia Terry walked, she remembered her mom, who died with Alzheimer’s in 1991.
“None of us know when it’s going to happen, and I’m scared I’ll have it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are or where you’ve been. You never know who will have it next.”
Terry said seeing so many people show up Saturday was heartwarming.
“This is something great to see people here that have been affected in some way, have the disease or are just advocates,” she said.
The goal for this year’s local walk is to raise $190,00. As of Saturday morning, $162,312 had been raised, according to Mary Sandbridge, the director of communications and marketing for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“People have until the end of the year to donate so I have no doubt that we can raise the remaining $27,000 to reach our goal,” Sandbridge said.
James Madison University’s sorority Sigma Kappa raised $61,310 of the total so far.
Jackie Gerrard and Joanne Bell were at the walk for the first time, particularly to honor a close friend whose friend is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Gerrard was also walking for her husband, who had a form of dementia.
“We see how difficult it is to be a caregiver for those with Alzheimer’s and the strain it puts on family and friends,” Bell said.
Gerrard said everyone is susceptible to it at this point.
“So if we can find a cure, maybe these JMU students or the kids here with their family won’t get it,” she said. “That is my hope. That’s why I’m here.”