By Ginny Kjellesvig

A few years ago I was working at Hammer’s Gardner home. I had been married less than two weeks, and it was my first shift back – Friday through Saturday afternoon. Only one of the ladies, Miss Dawn, was home that weekend. Just as she was getting settled for the evening, I got an urgent call from my husband. He had been let go from his job.

Dawn 2In an instant, I went from marital bliss to total shock. I was scheduled to work alone until noon the next day. I did my very best to remain professional and keep my panic quiet, but I couldn’t stop a few tears from falling. Dawn asked me why my eyes were red and I looked so worried. I told her I was alright … I just had some things on my mind. If I recall correctly, her exact words were: “You’re not fooling me. Tell me what’s really wrong.”

I was busted, so I told her my news. She hugged me and asked if she needed to give someone a piece of her mind. It made me laugh. She then made it her mission to cheer me up, despite my encouragement to focus on having a relaxing weekend. We went to Caribou Coffee, she threw a dance party in the living room, we cooked together, and she sang me a very moving rendition of High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together.” Let me tell you, I was not a fan of the song until that day.

With those acts of selflessness, Dawn showed me that the care and love in our Hammer family isn’t a one-way street. The people we support are as vital a part of it as the staff. We may be the hands and feet, but they are the heart and soul.

That woman, and her beautiful mind, has a 75% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Supporting her as she struggles is NOT the way she deserves to be repaid for her love and kindness. She deserves much better. As do the number of other individuals with Down syndrome who face the same challenge.

jim l 2Unfortunately, the extra chromosome these folks possess is responsible for producing an overabundance of the protein that is believed to cause the plaques and tangles in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s. This not only accounts for the Down syndrome community being 6 times more likely to develop the disease than others, it is also the reason for the young age at which it presents itself. And, as of right now, there are no medical treatments to prevent this. (Read more about the correlation between Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome.)

When it comes to supporting those we love and serve in their final days, this has been a particularly taxing year at Hammer. We’ve mourned the losses of Laurie, Dan, Alfred, Heidi, Ken, Don, Jim, Jeremy, and most recently, Jim (pictured above). Six of these nine fought Alzheimer’s. There is no doubt that many of us are feeling the weight of their passing. We’re great at supporting individuals in their final days, but we could definitely do a better job at supporting each other. As caregivers, we also have to make an effort to ask for support when we need it – which is much easier said than done.

Walk to End Alzheimers

Coincidentally, we have an opportunity to give and receive support coming up very soon! Hammer is forming a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 27th at Target Field. All are welcome to join the team – staff, volunteers, donors, board members, families, and those we support. Contact Ginny Kjellesvig at vcarlson@hammer.org  by Friday September 12th to join. If you don’t want to walk but would still like to show your support, you can sign up to be a volunteer. You can also make a donation to our team by clicking here. Dawn was right, we’re all in this together!