In 2002, Mary Reheard was determined to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s after the disease claimed the life of her husband, Harry, at the age of 74 in 2001.
Nineteen years later, Mary, 91, is still working toward that goal. She has no intent of stopping.
“Not until there’s a survivor,” she said. “I will be raising money until we find a cure or until I pass away.”
Reheard and her daughter Linda, both of Lancaster, have raised just over $300,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association by their count, and have already raised more than $11,000 so far this year for their team known as "Harry's Heroes."
Much of it is raised by dozens of regular donors Mary and Linda write to — they send hundreds of cards out each year. They also make household items such as dish cloths, bookmarks and refrigerator magnets to solicit donations.
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Mary said she expects their fundraising total to be “down considerably” versus last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but optimistically adds she is “going to be happy with whatever we get.”
This year's Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Lancaster occurred virtually, encouraging supporters to walk in their own neighborhoods.
In addition, walkers were guided to an online stream of their local chapter’s festivities along with a memorial known as the “Promise Garden Ceremony” to remember, commemorate, acknowledge and support those who have died from, or are living with, the condition.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is ultimately fatal. In Pennsylvania, 280,000 people are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s and that is projected to rise more than 14% to 320,000 by 2025.
It was the sixth-leading cause of death in the state in 2018, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the estimated cost of care for those afflicted nationally is projected to total more than $305 billion this year.
Linda recalls the final years of her father’s life as both difficult and hopeful.
“There were periods of a glimmer of recognition there,” she said.
“Up until he got into the nursing home, he pretty much still knew who (Mary) was.”
She recalls her mother asking Harry if he knew who she was. "He responded ‘Well if you don't know, we’re both in trouble,’” Linda said, laughing.
Now almost 20 years later, Mary, just shy of turning 92, uses a walker to get around. Linda, recuperating from recent back surgery, is learning to walk again.
Both said they would continue to walk for a cure.
“I want to walk at least a little bit because I think this disease needs as much publicity as possible so more people realize the severity of it,” Mary said. “Heart disease and cancer get so much coverage and I just want people to understand where Alzheimer’s comes in.
“I miss him,” Mary said. “I'd take him back with or without (Alzheimer's) any day.”
To donate to Linda and Mary's team, visit their Alzheimer's Association donation page.