Always the One: A Valentine’s Day Love Story

Robert and Kimberly Reid

There are currently 16 million Americans providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Of the unpaid Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers, 86% have provided care for at least the past year, and a half have been providing care for four or more years.

While facts and figures are an essential part of recognizing this crisis, they only tell part of the story. They don’t humanize the daily caregiver’s struggle with mental fatigue, social isolation, and despair. They don’t illustrate the beautiful love behind the hard choices and the heartache of those who still remember when others have forgotten.

We share caregiver stories of lessons learned, lives lived, and love that endures through tragic circumstances to bring awareness. Like Robert Reid, the pain is real for those that remember, and their stories deserve to be told.

Always the One

Kim and I met in middle school in Hopkinsville, KY. I saw her walking down the hall one day. I bought a rose and asked my friend to give it to her between classes, and he did. That started the conversation that allowed us to get together. Unfortunately, my mom passed away, and we went to live with my father, who was stationed in Ft. Bennon, GA. We stayed in touch.

I was a sophomore when I moved to Georgia, but we stayed in touch all through Georgia. I actually married someone else right out of high school, but it didn’t last. After that, Kim and I ran across each other. We were both coming out of relationships, and we ended up getting back together. We got married in September of 1989. She graduated from Western Kentucky, and the very next day, I packed her bags, and we headed down to GA.

When we first got married, we lived in Riverdale. We bought our first house in College Park. We purchased our current home in Hampton, where we’ve lived for 22 years. We have been married for 31 years, we have two children, a 24-year-old 26-year-old.

A Change in Kim

Kim was making a living in the Transportation Industry as a Freight Manager at a Logistics company when she started noticing that there was a forgetfulness pattern. It started out with minor items, but the pattern soon escalated to more critical things that would not only leave her very frustrated but very uncertain about herself. She wondered at that time if she was going crazy!

Having slight anxiety attacks incorporated with hot flashes, Kim made several trips to her primary care physician to find a solution. After several appointments where the memory concerns were mentioned to the doctor, they were not taken seriously. They were naturally played off as her being menopausal or just plain getting older.

Because she is so young, just 50 at this time, they wouldn’t’ even consider it being something with her memory. It wasn’t until she had gotten so frazzled that we had to really do something about it. After a series of appointments, I knew we had to get our family physician to consider that it could be something other than aging. I could see something potentially wrong with her memory, so I was determined to join her on her next doctor’s visit.

After hearing them give her the runaround, I personally expressed my observations of Kim’s condition. I convinced the physician to step back and take a moment to reconsider the initial diagnosis and to consider our concerns. We did some cognitive tests. She recognized that something could be wrong with her memory and referred us to a neurologist and neurologist psychologist.

On June 15, 2017, it was official. Through a teleconference with Kim’s Neurologist, it was finally confirmed. At the tender young age of 50 and after about 2 years of uncertainty, my lovely wife Kimberly was officially diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

The conversation went silent…

BUT, at the same time, there was a big sigh of relief since the Lord had already shared the result with us; His children.

What Do We Do Next?

Our first step was to counsel our Neurologist, who examined and prescribed the standard memory medicines, stressed diet and exercise, mind development games and activities, and even financial advice. 

Kim, being the fighter that she is, needed more. She needed Understanding. She asked just like anyone in a similar situation would, “Why Me?”

It is unfortunate, but it took Kim’s diagnosis to officially search her family history and find out that Dementia issues run through both the paternal and maternal sides of her family. Both of her grandmothers were never “officially” diagnosed with Dementia due to blacks’ little or no healthcare options back then but would indeed be diagnosed today. Sadly, Kim’s mother passed away with Parkinson’s Disease with Lewy Body Dementia. Her surviving father has been diagnosed with Dementia. 

Since her diagnosis, Kim has been living each day as a Blessing. Though she no longer drives, she maintains her faith and fills her day with personal reflection with God through study and prayer. Kim does work around the house and exercises her brain with memory games and her body with exercise. She enjoys Family Time the most, looking forward to the evenings after work and the weekend when the family has time to get together.

Personally, even though I have been Blessed to retire from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) with 30 years of service, I have continued to work to try to get the family’s finances in order in preparation for the future. It is incredible, but over two years ago, God told me to finish what he started by getting the finances in order. He told me that I had two years to do it, and through His Will, I have reached the point where I can step back from my current job and provide full-time care to Kim, without concerns about the finances. God will provide!

We are blessed to have 2 beautiful children, now ages 24 and 26. Both of which help in every way possible, volunteering to reside at home to assist while working and going to school.

In Kim’s constant personal search for a cure and her desire to be the first to beat Alzheimer’s Disease, she actively found a Clinical trial in 2018, hoping that it might help. She has completed that trial, and unfortunately, it did not help her directly. Still, it did allow her the opportunity to contribute valuable knowledge for a future cure.

Family Affair

My kids are super helpful. They both have graduated from college, but both still live at home and help out as much as they can. They work, have relationships, but they help so I can still work even though I am retiring for the second time at the end of this month. Our daughter is 26 years old. She’s a super-smart young lady, went to Ga Southern, and graduated with a teaching degree; she teaches 3rd grade at Lake City Elementary.

We are a close-knit, religious family. We go to church together. My son is 24 years old and graduated from Clayton State with a degree in Marketing. Due to COVID, it’s hard to get a job, but he works as a videographer for various sporting events locally. They are great kids. They love their mom; the love extends both ways. When they found out about it, they didn’t quite know how to handle it. Since they have been very supportive. They have always been so supportive.

Kim is home with the family. We do everything; I probably do 75% of the work. I want it done the right way, so I do as much as I can. Anytime I ask the kids to help me, they pitch in. Diagnosis official in 2017, but she had been having issues for about 2 years before that. At 53, Kim looks so young, but she has aged quite a bit as the disease has progressed. Up until recently, you would never know she had it. By looking at her or holding a conversation with her, you would not know. The sundowning and the 5-minute forgetfulness remind you.

She is in tune with the diagnosis. We don’t hide anything from her; we made an agreement. She has accepted it, and she is open to talking about it. It’s why she sought out a clinical trial so she could help someone in the future.

The company that I work for has been very supportive since the beginning of COVID. I talked to them about my situation, so I worked 3 days per week from home, coming into the office 2 days per week. When we began to quarantine, it put me on lockdown, and I could be home 5 days per week with Kim. Even though I’m at home though, I have meetings all day long, I don’t really get to spend time with her. That’s why I’m retiring.

Kim is in great physical shape, even though her mental condition continues to progressively decline. COVID has brought on neediness in Kim because I’m home. Now that I’m back in the office, it is hard without me there. She doesn’t understand. She’s calling and texting me when I’m gone. She’s at a point where she can’t take care of herself with basic needs, so I need to be there with her. I fix her lunch and dinner before I leave, so she has that. My daughter is working from home, so she will make sure she eats, and she’s taken care of.

I decided to quit working full time at the end of October to spend more time with her, which would not be an option if God had not allowed everything to fall into place. We are comforted in knowing that God keeps his steady hands on us and has continued to shower us with His Grace and Mercy, and Loving Kindness as we travel this journey together.

Where to Get Help

The Alzheimer’s Association has, hands down, been a valuable resource. We were fortunate enough to be a part of the Walk To End Alzheimer’s in Peachtree City, Georgia, as team KADIER for the first time in 2017 and be recognized as the 15th Top Fundraising Team. In 2018 we were again recognized in the top 15 Teams. That year, Kim was recognized at the walk by standing on the stage to represent an individual who currently has Early Onset Alzheimer’s while her story was read. In 2019 we were able to increase our fundraising and was recognized in the top 10. We are now in our fourth season. We are currently in the top 5 in fundraising for both participation and as a Team. The relationships that are continually formed through the Alzheimer’s Association and have been invaluable. 

We owe our fundraising success to our family and friends, but more importantly, to my Employer, Gresham Smith, and my co-workers, who donated extensively towards success.

For the last two years, the Gresham Smith firm has matched all funds up to $1,000 contributed to ALZ by employees. Also, the GDOT Board has an annual event with local charities that are sponsored by Gresham Smith.  In 2018, the GDOT Board event was held at Emory Healthcare’s Neurology Program, and I was asked to speak on behalf of Kim’s Journey. I was seated at the table and shared the podium with Emory’s esteemed Neurologists. They provided the GDOT Board with a beautiful presentation about Alzheimer’s and Emory’s research.

It was here, in our story, where the pieces come together. All of those relationships, placed in our path by God, would both humble and amaze us.

Faith and Fate Collide

I continue to feel that God is a God of Relationship. On this journey, He showed us his goodness by honoring the relationships that He allowed to be formed on Kim’s behalf. 

After I retired from GDOT after 30 years of service. I went to work with Gresham Smith, where I was recruited through former working relationships. Gresham Smith sponsor’s a GDOT Board event with Emory Healthcare, where I shared the podium with one of Emory’s esteemed Neurologists and was able to speak about Kim’s journey.

After Kim completed her clinical trial, her condition slightly worsened. In one of our appointments with our regular Neurologist, she had arranged a referral for us to see one of her colleagues at Emory.

Our original Neurologist arranged a referral to see one of her colleagues at Emory. Unfortunately, the waitlist for appointments was over 6 months. She said she would reach out on our behalf to see if they could squeeze us in. The next day, we received a personal phone call from the Emory Neurologist, who just happened to be the same esteemed Neurologist that I shared the podium with at the GDOT Board event!

He scheduled a personal appointment with us, where he provided us his personal attention. Although he could not give the life-changing diagnosis that we hoped to receive, it gave us comfort by having a confirmed diagnosis by a leader in the Alzheimer’s field.

We are blessed by so much and so many; we are grateful. From here, we will continue to fight. We won’t give up or give in. It’s not what we expected, but we trust in Him.

To learn more about the care and support services the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter provides in your community, please visit Helping You.

Published by ALZGA

Communications Manager, Alzheimer's Association, Georgia

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