Loss of a Stem Cell Champion: An Appreciation of Nancy Reagan

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The world was moved when former President Ronald Reagan wrote his brave open letter, revealing that he was “one of the millions … who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Even now, three sentences in that letter strike home to me and my family:

He

Although I never met anyone in the Reagan family, I have an idea of the “painful experience” the President saw ahead.

Nancy Reagan’s experience happened to a friend of mine. She (we’ll call her C.) was a slender, delicate woman with medical problems of her own.

Her husband, (M.) was a big man, and very strong. Sometimes, as his Alzheimers’ progressed, he would grow frightened, and clutch onto his wife’s fragile arms, leaving bruises.

Once, when C. was being treated in the hospital, and M. had not yet been institutionalized, he became confused, and went for a walk in the the night. He got lost, and was seen walking on the freeway. Fortunately, a woman passerby recognized the symptoms. She called the police, then drove close and stopped, opening her door in such a way as to corral him. Then she got out and talked softly until help arrived.

When M. could not recognize anybody else, he still appeared to faintly know his wife. He would become nervous if she had to leave, even for a moment. And so she stayed, all through the long days and weeks and months. When her own health broke and she had to use a walker, still she stayed. When the last days neared, and he was lying in bed with his eyes closed, and she would say, “Open those beautiful blue eyes, honey, let me see those beautiful eyes,” and he would smile and look at her, and maybe for a few seconds, he might remember better days.

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