Walkers gather to fight Alzheimer’s

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 26, 2008

NATCHEZ — Shamieka Thomas sees the pain involved in dealing with Alzheimer’s each day.

With her job at Natchez Community Hospital’s geriatric counseling center, Inspirations, she comes face-to-face with the terrifying disease daily.

And that’s exactly why Thomas and six of her coworkers got up Saturday morning for a six-block walk in the crisp morning air.

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The walk began at the gazebo on the Mississippi River Bluff.

“We see it every day,” Thomas said. “We came out here to support the research efforts for Alzheimer’s.”

Thomas and her group from Natchez Community Hospital were just one team that hit the streets in Natchez’s second annual Memory Walk for the Alzheimer’s Association.

The team from Inspirations didn’t reach their $100 goal, but Thomas said any amount raised will make a difference.

Overall, Tom Holman, director of behavioral health at Natchez Regional Hospital and event organizer, said the event was a success and an improvement over last year’s inaugural walk.

Holman said the 109 walkers at this year’s event was an increase over last year’s number of 100 people.

Katie Porter-Foster, event co-chairperson, said that there were more teams formed this year.

“We had four more teams this year than last year,” she said.

Humana was one of the groups that formed a team for Memory Walk. Team member Corky Vess was one of the first participants to complete the six-block course.

Vess said it was important for her to come out and help raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s because of the impact the disease has on not only the patients, but also the family.

“It is a terrifying disease,” Vess said. “I’ve had family members diagnosed and it is simply terrifying for them and their family.”

Vess’s Humana teammate Nancy Bowman agreed that the family suffers along with the individual diagnosed.

“It is one of the scariest diseases out there,” she said.

The walk, which is the main fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, also raised more money this year.

Last year’s event raised about $5,000 and Holman said he hoped to increase that total by 50 percent and raise $7,500 this year.

At Thursday’s bank night, more than $5,300 had already been raised and Holman expects to reach his goal once the final numbers are tallied.

And thanks to a last minute drive-up donor, the group is one step closer to reaching its goal.

“We just had a guy drive up and give me a check for $1,000 and then just drive away,” Holman said.

“He said he gave it in memory of his mother,” Porter-Foster said. “It just gave me chills.”

Foster said it isn’t uncommon for people to walk in support of or in memory of a family member.

The memory flags hanging on a rope at the gazebo on the Mississippi River Bluff are evidence of that. The flags are designed like Tibetan prayer flags.

“Each time the wind blows the flags a prayer is released,” Holman said.

The money raised at Memory Walk events nationwide is used for research for the disease and also assists in educating families dealing with Alzheimer’s.

Holman said that a large portion of the money is used each year to educate and support the primary care givers for Alzheimer’s patients.

Every dime is important, he said, since every 71 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.