Samantha Gholar/News Sun (center) County Commissioner Greg Harris and State Representative Dr. Cary Pigman cut the starting tape at the Walk to End Alzheimer's event Saturday morning in Downtown Sebring surrounded by the YMCA cheer team, volunteers, Alzheimer's patients, caregivers and family members.
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published: Sunday, October 13, 2013
'We take care of her because she used to take care of others'
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING -- Alzheimer's is a disease that can easily tear a family apart. But for one Sebring family of strong women, the disease has brought them much closer together.
Saturday morning's Walk to End Alzheimer's brought the De Jongh family out in full force as mother Jessie and her daughters, Gaby and Sandy, made their first appearance at Sebring's chapter of the nationwide walk.
The De Jonghs had a good reason to be out showing support for research, raising awareness and giving their time for the cause: the family's grandmother (Jessie's mother) Rafela Perez.
Perez, 88, was diagnosed 10 years ago with Alzheimer's. Jessie De Jongh recalled when she realized that her mother was facing a serious problem.
"It was back in 2003. The family had all come to Puerto Rico to visit and it was around Christmas time. We spent every day of the week walking up and down this area (and) we walked past this bridge several times on a daily basis. Then I noticed one day my mom said 'Oh, I don't remember that bridge, it's so beautiful,' and she kept saying it. I thought, 'How could she not remember it? We pass it every day.'
"That's when I knew something was wrong, so I called my brother and we got her to a doctor," Jessie De Jongh said.
After her initial diagnosis, Jessie moved from Puerto Rico to Sebring to take in and care for her mother. Sandy, an SFSC student pursing a nursing degree, and Gaby both pitch in with their grandmother's care.
"She is not in a facility. She lives at home with us," said Gaby.
"We keep a very close eye on her. We watch her. She's never wandered away. She can eat by herself. We have to do the cutting of food and things like that for her, of course, but she can do a lot herself. All of her medicines are natural except maybe one."
Perez, who spent her life working as an registered nurse, is now being repaid her many years of service by the ones who love her most.
"We take care of her because she used to take care of others," Jessie said.
The family enjoyed Saturday's event in downtown Sebring.
"This was a great walk. We heard about it from the paper so we decided to come. It's our first year, but we will definitely be back. We will keep walking for her," said Jessie.
The 2013 Sebring Walk to End Alzheimer's featured guest speakers such as State Representative Dr. Cary Pigman, County Commissioner Greg Harris and several Alzheimer's Association board members, leaders and volunteers.
Six local assisted living facilities, including Change of Pace, Lake Placid Health Care Center, Oaks of Avon Assisted Living Facility and others participated in the walk Saturday.
There are currently 5,000 people in Highlands County who suffer from Alzheimer's and 7,500 caregivers helping these patients. Highlands County is one of 17 counties included in the Florida Gulf Coast Alzheimer's Association.
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